An inside look at Auckland's new Church of Scientology

By Nicole Barratt

Welcome to the Church of Scientology - a place where you can pray, grab a coffee or sweat out toxins that block spiritual progress.

The church has opened its doors to its new Auckland headquarters, giving members of the public a glimpse inside what is often considered an secretive world.

The heritage-listed Grafton building - which used to house the Whitecliffe Art College - is impressive. It's bright and spacious with polished wooden floors and a sweeping Oamaru stone staircase.

Equally pristine are its 170 church volunteers, dressed in black waistcoats and pressed collared shirts. They are smiley, but tight-lipped.

Nestled on the second floor, in a clean white room featuring a bold New Zealand-inspired mosaic, is the Purification Centre.

Auckland Church of Scientology spokesman Nick Banks told the Herald toxins, pesticides and drugs lodged in the fatty tissues of the body.

These could block someone's spiritual progress if they didn't sweat these out.

"It's where people will take vitamins, where they sweat out different toxins."

Nearby, a man sweated inside the Church's sauna.

"It's all done by a medically monitored programme. That's one of the first baby steps."

Despite perceptions that the Church of Scientology is closed off to non-members, its new Auckland centre suggests otherwise.

Banks said the church was "open to everyone" and "a hub for the community".

"We are pan-denominational ... It's an Ideal Church of Scientology, which means it's a church that embodies the beliefs and practices of Ron Hubbard, but what's very unique to them is they're open to the community."

The Herald was taken on a guided tour this afternoon. Children climbed the stairs eagerly and volunteers greeted those exploring the church by their first names.

Banks said there had been a lot of interest at the open day today.

"People I think are very curious and interested about Scientology," he said.

"People can spend two minutes or spend two hours [here]...They can grab a coffee and find out about Scientology and all our different humanitarian projects."

The new Church of Scientology headquarters at Grafton. Photo / Doug Sherring
The new Church of Scientology headquarters at Grafton. Photo / Doug Sherring

The church's information centre could be described as a crash course to the religion.

The centre was museum-like, with Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard's books lining shelves in impressive rows and touch-pad televisions playing short films.

Banks said it was a key way for others to find out exactly what it was the church believed in.

"There's a lot of services going on here. There's also a team specifically dedicated to the humanitarian programmes."

The church placed a strong focus on its worldwide drug education, prevention and rehabilitation programme.

Banks said there were several thousand Church of Scientology members in New Zealand.

"We always need people here for any parishioner or visitor coming in."

Despite the church's declared openness, a sermon was stopped abruptly as Herald staff entered the Chapel.

The woman speaking was warned of a photographer's presence and instructed to talk about the weather.

Banks was keen to stay on topic, directing conversation to the original architecture of the chapel.

He said the church was proud to have been allowed to repair the historic building.

"We worked with Heritage New Zealand the whole time ... We're pretty proud to have been allowed to take such a historic building and repair it, because it was a bit in disrepair."

Banks said the restoration came with challenges.

"We actually had to get in some master crafters to work with the Oamaru stone and the different wood flooring to restore the particular pieces of it."

Some of the stone roses on the front of the building were hand crafted.

"You restore as much as you can, but if you can't and if it's crumbling, then you recreate. Part of that is keeping the look of the building."

He said there were some interior similarities to other Scientology churches, but the Auckland building was unique.

Restoration of the building:
• The building was constructed in 1844
• Scientologists bought the site in 2007 for $10 million
• A further $6m spent on transforming the historic building
• Master crafters worked with the Oamaru stone and different wood flooring

The church features:
• Public Information Centre
• Dianetics and Scientology Bookstore
• Purification Centre
• Hubbard Guidance Centre
• Cafe
• Chapel

- NZ Herald

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