Scientologists find a new SA home

2013-03-10 10:00

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The Union Buildings has a new neighbour: the Church of Scientology.

Five heritage homes on Pretoria’s Stanza Bopape Street have been refurbished to create the new complex.

The dilapidated homes were used to house the builders who constructed the Union Buildings, between 1910 and 1913.

Previously, the church’s Pretoria home was in Brooklyn, but late last month its chapel, cafe, bookstore – which stocks volumes about the religion – purification centre, guidance centre and academy were opened to the public.

Curiously, there’s also an office for Scientology’s founder, American science fiction author L Ron Hubbard.

Hubbard has been dead since 1986, but he has an office, with a name tag on the desk, in every Scientology church or mission across the world.

In the guidance centre, trained Scientologists offer spiritual counselling to people who want to live drug-free, healthy lives.

The academy is a training centre. Here, adherents who want to become spiritual counsellors, or “auditors”, learn their trade.

Scientology is a set of beliefs created by Hubbard and was formally registered as a religion in the US in 1953.

The church is no stranger to controversy.

Late last month, the Associated Press reported that two former members of the church in California were claiming in a lawsuit that the church and its affiliates deceived members into donating millions of dollars to misrepresented causes.

The church has denied their claims.

Scientology has also been the subject of several tell-all books, which have raised serious questions about it.

But the court cases and questions have done nothing to deter interest in Scientology, as a visit to the new church proved.

In the public information centre, curious youngsters were glued to television monitors that constantly play films about the church, its humanitarian and community initiatives and its founder, Hubbard.

A boy no older than 10 made himself comfortable in a leather chair as he watched a video featuring Scientologists talking about how the church had changed their lives for the better.

There are just more than 11 000 Churches of Scientology across the world.

Church spokesperson Shaleen Wohrnitz said the new Pretoria church would cater for the already strong following it has in the area.

More than 1 000 people flocked to the new premises’ opening, including ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga.

“Scientology is the study of knowledge about life. It respects all other religions and doesn’t discriminate against any one religion,” Wohrnitz told City Press.

“In fact, I was brought up a Hindu but saw the teachings and how, spiritually, it made me grow as a person for the 20 years since I discovered it. I’ve never looked back.”

Fabio Amicarelli, from the office of public affairs at Scientology’s headquarters in Los Angeles, said he was certain more churches of Scientology would be opened in South Africa in future.

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