Delayed for more than a year, the grand opening of the Church of Scientology Mission of Richmond Dec. 14 looked a lot like any old ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Big red bow stretched across the doorway at Cary and Nansemond streets? Check.
Founder of the church mission indulging his teenage son's rock-star dreams with a rented public address system and a captive crowd? Check.
Plates of holiday cookies and punch? Check.
Slightly off-putting future man in black suit, black shirt and bright red tie? Check.
Free personality “audits” and demonstration readings using the religion's fabled electopsychometer? You bet your thetan!
Scientologists are used to a certain skepticism bordering on outright hostility.
The religion was the brainchild of famed science-fiction author L. Ron Hubbard in the 1930s. Initially branded a cult, it espouses tenets similar to Buddhism and eastern mysticism, but with healthy doses of Hubbard's brand of psychoanalysis (called personality auditing), some unconventional beliefs about space alien life energy and reincarnation, and a benign pyramid scheme-like recruiting model.
But while espousing views often branded cultish by critics, the church members present Sunday were open, honest and earnest about their beliefs.
“Scientology, man, you hear a lot about it on TV and stuff,” says Keith Pounds of Richmond, a 20-year member of the church. “Basically, it's applied philosophy: You get down to the rock-bottom truth of things.”
“Fun is poked at us all the time,” says the Rev. Susan L. Taylor, president of the Founding Church of Scientology in Washington, visiting for the day's event. “If someone wants to poke fun, let them.”
Cue the arrival of the mostly pubescent cast of “A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant,” a play first staged in New York and about to begin a week-long run at Richmond's Firehouse Theater.
Standing in the church's lobby after the ribbon-cutting, Dylan Moon, 17, who plays Hubbard in the production, looked uncomfortable in his black suit and black shirt with white tie when he caught the attention of Dr. Mat Pastore, a Chester chiropractor who will run the local Scientology mission: “We'd like to invite you to come,” Moon suggests, offering Pastore a copy of the playbill signed by the cast.
Pastore, a well-coiffed, serious man, looked pained as he took the poster and then made his exit into another room of the newly opened church. He made no promise to attend.
“A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant”
Runs Dec. 18 to Jan. 18
Tickets: $25 for adults, $10 for children
Church of Scientology Mission of Richmond
3500 W. Cary St.
Open Monday, Wednesday, Friday; 6:30-9:30 p.m.
Free personality audits
Copies of Hubbard's collected works on Dianetics: approx. $3,000