Scientology Business would like to express our sincere thanks for the warm welcome we received to the Church of Scientology Sunderland yesterday. While on a trip up North, Canadian ex-Scientologist Jeff Beaumont (PTS for Life) and I were caught by surprise when taking pictures of the exterior of the building, which is clad in scaffolding. The front doors swung open and a friendly staff member appeared.
“You can come in if you want, it’s not a very nice org”, she said.
The invitation to tour the building was a complete surprise and not something we were expecting in light of our prominent role in the organisation of a large-scale Scientology protest less than a week ago. We even signed in to the guest book using our real names and personal email addresses, although we made up a cover story when asked why we were there.
Eva (pictured), who described herself as a Swedish Scientologist who has been active in the Church for 15 years, gave us a tour of the Org and explained the basics of Scientology: “It’s not a religious religion”, she began.. “it’s more of a practical thing you do.”
Considering Scientology has been battling for religious recognition for decades, and a recent court ruling classifying the group’s buildings as “places of public worship”, our tour guide actively tried to play down the religious element of their activities. “People come and study here, but we only have a course room on the evenings and weekends”, Eva explained.
In the ‘Chapel’, a whiteboard was mounted on the wall displaying this week’s statistics: 30 BIS (Bodies In the Shop). This is an average of just 5 people visiting the Org a day.
According to Scientology policy letter HCOPL 5 Feb 1971 ‘Org Gross Divisional Statistics Revised’, the “total number of Bodies in the Shop includes the total number of preclears in the HGC, total
number of students in the Dept of Training and the total number of preclears and students in Review
and Cramming and includes staff enrolled and attending, counted ONCE for the week.”
Scientology’s weekly statistics are reset on Thursdays at 2pm, meaning our visit on Wednesday afternoon allowed us to establish a reasonably accurate picture of how busy the Org is on an average week.
2021 census data shows there are just 33 Scientologists in the North East. With 30 Bodies In the Shop, these statistics suggest Scientology is far from the “fastest growing religion” and is in fact shrinking – or at the very least stagnant.
The LA Times explained in a 1990 article: “Behind the religious trappings, the Church of Scientology is run like a lean, no-nonsense business in which potential members are called ‘prospects,’ ‘raw meat’ and ‘bodies in the shop.'”
The Org Board, which charts all staff members and their positions in the Church, reveals Sunderland currently has just three staff members. The Executive Director, Nicola Whittaker, has reached the state of Clear and no staff are posted in Division 6, the area responsible for recruiting new members into Scientology.
This might explain why Scientology have failed to begin renovations on the new ‘Ideal Org’ property it purchased more than 15 years ago. The Grade-II listed building, which was purchased for £1.5million in 2007, has sat vacant ever since. Historically, local Scientologists are expected to raise the funds required for renovations rather than tapping into the Church’s ‘International Reserves’, which is estimated to be worth between $3 and $6 billion dollars.
Our tour guide Eva was very friendly and even invited us to visit the Church’s Saint Hill headquarters when we returned to the South. “Would we be allowed on a tour?” we asked. “Of course, I don’t think that would be a problem” she confirmed. When she mentioned the IAS event last weekend, we asked if she attended to which she said “no” before swiftly changing the subject. She was very guarded about what happened at the event but was happy to explain Sunderland were expecting to receive a DVD copy imminently, so they could play David Miscavige’s speech at a showing to local Scientologists this Saturday.
She was happy to take a photo of us in front of the Materials Guide Chart, which shows L. Ron Hubbard’s books and lectures in chronological order. When Jeff worked at Vancouver Org, he was the Book Store Officer and with myself as Director of Public Booksales in London, the Materials Guide Chart is what connects our Scientology experiences and so we thought: ‘what could be more fitting?’
We weren’t invited to take an OCA Personality Test, but we were given plenty of reading material including copies of the IMPACT and Source magazines produced by Scientology’s internal publishing arm, New Era Publications.
Having used our real names and email addresses when signing the guest book, we expected to be declined entry but with no receptionist and just Eva on the front lines, there was no way to check our status with the Church until after we left the building.
Sure enough, the following day we were followed by what we suspect to be a Private Investigator as we made our way to the train station to head back to London.
So, what does this trip tell us?
- Scientology Sunderland is in a sorry state of affairs, with just 27 parishioners and 3 staff members.
- They were not expecting us to visit. Once again, we caught them by surprise.
- The visitor book is monitored by OSA. After leaving, our names would’ve been entered into Scientology’s Central Files system and clearly flagged up – Scientology now knew where we were and promptly dispatched somebody to keep close eyes on us the following day.
- Despite fighting to be classed as ‘places of public worship’ in court earlier this year, Scientologists actively introduce the topic to newcomers as “not a religious religion” with no belief in a deity.
Thank you Eva, for showing us around and giving us first-hand experience of Scientology’s unprecedented shrinkage.
The flap continues….