By adopting strict preventive measures early on, hundreds of Scientologists avoided coronavirus infection.
It’s difficult to drive or walk around Hollywood without seeing a member of the Church of Scientology or catching a glimpse of one of their many buildings. Especially their West Coast headquarters, the iconic powder-blue compound located on Sunset Boulevard, across from Kaiser near Vermont Avenue in East Hollywood.
But if you’ve walked past that intersection over the last month or paid attention to the church’s parking lot, you would notice an unusual lack of cars. You would also have a hard time finding any staff handing out brochures near the Sunset/Vermont Metro station. At a glance, you might assume that the church has emptied due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In reality, only the cars have vanished.
Inside the Church, staff hunkers down just like most Angelenos. But unlike a handful of churches that have made their way into the news for fighting back against orders from city and state officials and doctors, the Church of Scientology was quick to don masks, practice social distancing and adjust how they operate.
In fact, while some churches were fighting the state to remain open, Scientology volunteers were knocking on doors and handing out pamphlets with information on how to stay safe.
So we reached out to the Church to ask them specifically about their approach to this deadly pandemic, how it differs from other California churches and who they will look to for guidance to return to normal operations. Bari Berger from the Church’s public relations department provided us the answers.
What safety measures have you implemented for the people who work at the church there and the living quarters?
We’re adhering to the safer-at-home order and applying, and exceeding, all regulations because the well-being of our staff, parishioners and community is our priority. One of the first steps we took was to identify the most powerful decontaminant and put this into use to disinfect our churches and staff living quarters from top to bottom every day, multiple times per day, including with special fogging equipment to reach all surfaces.
We suspended congregational gatherings in early March, implemented social distancing protocols and took the temperatures of each parishioner with a no-contact thermometer before they entered our church. Staff have their temperatures taken daily and all are wearing masks when outside.
Concurrently, we collected reliable information on effective prevention measures and published this in the form of booklets, which we provided to our staff and parishioners, including How to Keep Yourself & Others Well, How to Protect Yourself with a Mask & Gloves and How to Prevent the Spread of Illness with Isolation. We created an online How to Stay Well Prevention Resource Center to make these tools available to all, in 20 languages.
Each of the booklets can be downloaded on the website, along with signs on prevention protocols. You can also watch a number of videos there, for example, one on how bacteria and viruses are spread — the kind of thing you need to understand in order to grasp the importance of the preventive measures we’re all being encouraged to take right now.
From what I understand, you hold classes at your building on Sunset Boulevard and L. Ron Hubbard Way. Have you limited the class sizes or done anything else differently due to the coronavirus?
You’re right, our church has numerous course rooms where parishioners study Scientology scriptures. In the “Scientology Network Launch Special,” cameras take you inside our Los Angeles church so you can see what those spaces are like — the best way to do so while everyone is at home.
Before safer-at-home orders went into effect, all of our course rooms were adjusted to accommodate social distancing guidelines. This involved physically spacing out chairs and tables and will enable us to be prepared for when we reopen our doors.
As for right now, the primary way Scientologists are currently progressing on their religious services is through extension courses. These courses can be done online and involve studying one of many books written by L. Ron Hubbard and listening to Mr. Hubbard’s recorded lectures on the subject of those books, allowing Scientologists today to learn the principles of Scientology from its founder himself — just as Scientologists who originally attended those lectures did — and from the safety of their own homes.
What would you do if someone who lived at your church contracted the virus?
Fortunately, in no small part because of the extensive measures we have put in place and how closely we have followed guidelines, this hasn’t occurred. But we would immediately follow all isolation and quarantine protocols and medical advice.
One of the things you are best known for in Los Angeles is the free personality test. Due to social distancing, is it impossible to conduct those or have you figured out an alternative?
Some L.A. churches have turned to either livestreaming or taping their services and posting them on their websites or YouTube. Not long ago, you bought the former KCET studios on Sunset Boulevard. Are you using that video production facility to broadcast to your members so they can stay inside?
Yes, we broadcast from the former KCET studios on Sunset Boulevard, now Scientology Media Productions. From there, the Scientology Network launched in March of 2018. It streams in 17 languages at scientology.tv and can be watched on DIRECTV Channel 320, allowing us to stay in touch with Scientologists and the world at large.
For example, just last week we launched a new series, “Scientologists @home,” which showcases the many people across the globe who are staying safe, staying well and thriving in life. Our members are also staying connected with the Church through social media, webinars and other online events and conferences.
Why was it important to the Church to react so early and swiftly in response to the coronavirus before similar measures were adopted elsewhere?
Because an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure, which is why from the get-go, the goal of our ecclesiastical leader, Mr. David Miscavige, has been a ton of prevention so as not to require an ounce of cure. He has been the driving force behind the Church’s response to this crisis.
In terms of fast action, while this pandemic is unlike anything we have ever experienced in our lifetimes, it is, at its core, a public emergency and the Church has a long history in the field of emergency and disaster response.
Our Volunteer Ministers have been in virtually every major disaster worldwide since 9/11, and we are often among the first to arrive. In 2018, for example, Volunteer Ministers were on site within 24 hours of the Woolsey Fire breaking out, with a total of 500 Volunteer Ministers providing disaster relief services across Agoura Hills, Camarillo and Thousand Oaks. So we have never been ones to wait for instructions to do what needs to be done. We act fast and that can make all the difference.
Because you are a church, you are exempt from certain things that other places are subject to. So what will it take for you to reopen as things were before? Will you be looking for guidance from the mayor, the governor or someone else?
Yes, we will, of course, be looking to the mayor, governor and health officials for guidance and will continue taking every measure to protect our staff, parishioners and the community.
We are seeing other churches of different denominations fighting for their right to practice in person. In other counties, some churches are suing the governor, while others are holding drive-thru services. One Ohio woman who attended a Christian service said she was not worried about becoming infected because she was “covered in the blood of Christ,” which would protect her. Forgive me for being ignorant, but are Scientologists more rooted in science than other churches? Is that why you have adjusted so quickly to this pandemic?
I’m here to answer your questions, so please don’t worry. I’m glad you’re asking them. The word “Scientology” comes from the Latin word “scio” which means “knowing” and the Greek word “logos” which means “study of.” We share that “scio” prefix with “science” and, yes, Scientology is all about knowledge. It is a very practical religion, intended to be studied and applied to improve your life in the here and now.
As a result of that practical orientation and emphasis on knowledge, we sought out and implemented reliable information — the tried-and-true best practices we’ve consolidated on our Prevention Resource Center and are applying across the boards.
Does the Church have a message that it has sent to its members about the pandemic like “It’s going to be OK,” “This will make you stronger” or anything like that? Or does the Church not say things like that?
Our Church’s message to its members is: An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure. Set a good example, employ all possible precautions and take care of your neighbors, families and friends. Even though we are all keeping our distance, we are all in this together.
We are also urging people to spread the one thing every one of us can: a smile. We recently released an uplifting music video to that end, featuring artists from around the world like Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Diego Verdaguer and Tebogo Louw, and quite a number who call L.A. home, including David Campbell and Mark Isham. All united to show the power of togetherness, even in a time when we’re all apart. The video quickly went viral and, in fact, just surpassed 10 million views on YouTube.
Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke?! Jazz giants. Do they often record songs for the Church or was this a unique situation?
There’s no question this was a uniquely inspired collaboration which is what made the video so special. Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke were part of a group of 60 international artists who teamed up to help spread a smile and stay well, in collaboration with Smash Mouth’s Greg Camp, radio and television personality Kerri Kasem, Australian icon Kate Ceberano, Chilean singer-songwriter Alberto Plaza, Argentine star Diego Verdaguer, Israeli guitarist extraordinaire David Broza, Cuban-born bass virtuoso Carlitos Del Puerto, Idols South Africa star Tebogo Louw and Colombian actor-comedian Andrés López.
All wanted to convey the message that even if you’re stuck at home, you can lift the world up by spreading positivity.