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VOL. 121 | NO. 31 | Friday, February 3, 2006

Church of Scientology Toys with Move

Wants to be closer to parishioners in eastern suburbs

By Andrew Ashby

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ON THE WAY OUT?: The Church of Scientology Mission of Memphis off Central Avenue is a familiar - if cryptic - Midtown landmark. It might be moving east in the near future. -- Photograph By Andrew Ashby

The Church of Scientology Mission of Memphis tested the local real estate market by listing its building on www.realtor.com in January.

David Slaughter, the church's trustee or mission holder, said the 10,500-square-foot church at 1440 Central Ave. was just exploring the possibility of moving.

"I've looked around, but I haven't
really found anything particular," he said. "So it's a matter of doing a lot of research. The whole purpose was to kind of see if we could get more centrally located to better service our public and all of the communities."

The Mission of Memphis is the only Scientology organization in the city. The next closest are in Nashville, St. Louis, Baton Rouge and Kansas City. Parishioners come in from as far away as Collierville and Lakeland. Prominent local members include Isaac Hayes and Lisa Marie Presley.

"This is the main Scientology church for the whole area and that's why we were trying to look into it being more centrally located for everybody in the city to be able to get to," Slaughter said. "As traffic has increased and as we've seen growth, it would be better for all of the public to have a more accessible location."

On the inside

Slaughter retired from business in Clearwater, Fla., last spring and was looking for a way to advance the aims of Scientology, a religion founded by L. Ron Hubbard in 1955 that's centered on people's ability to rid themselves of painful experiences through self-knowledge and spiritual fulfillment.

He took over the Memphis location in August and declined to put a number to his congregation, claiming he hasn't been in the city long enough to have a definite idea.

The church's current building was constructed in the early 1900s and served as a private residence for about 30 years. St. James Episcopal Church called it home for around 50 years after that.

"I've looked around, but I haven't really found anything particular ... The whole purpose (of listing the church property) was to kind of see if we could get more centrally located to better service our public and all of the communities."
- David Slaughter
Church of Scientology Mission of Memphis trustee

The Church of Scientology Mission of Memphis bought the building in 1997 for $475,000, according to The Daily News Online, www.memphisdailynews.com. It opened that fall after renovations.

"It was pretty widely publicized at that time," Slaughter said.

The building has about 7,500 square feet of space on the top two floors. This includes a worship area, several meeting rooms and a library.

The basement has been renovated to furnish a 3,000-square-foot purification center.

"It's where we help people rid themselves of the harmful effects of toxins and drugs, which they can free themselves of because they get stored in the fatty cells. There's an actual process that we do where they can free themselves of the harmful effects of those drugs," Slaughter said.

The organization's mother church is in Los Angeles.

"A civilization without insanity, without criminals and without war, where the able can prosper and honest beings have rights, and where man is free to rise to greater heights are the aims of Scientology," Slaughter said, reading from one of the religion's books. "We respect man and believe he is worthy of help, and we respect you and believe you are worthy of help. So that is what the purpose of the Mission is, to provide help to Memphis and the communities around it with the technologies of Scientology and Dianetics."

Neighborhood perspective

Central Gardens resident Gwin Scott walks by the building every morning. He said the Scientologists have always been quiet neighbors.

"I never see them. I've been here 28 years and I don't even know when they meet. I never see one bit of activity," Scott said.

Lacy Apperson has lived in the neighborhood for five years. She saw the Scientologists bring a large group of volunteers to the nearby Red Cross building during the recent Hurricane Katrina relief effort.

"I don't really see anybody over there," Apperson said. "Other than that I just haven't had any interaction with them."

If the Church of Scientology did decide to sell the building, Apperson would like to see it become a residence again. That would involve getting rid of additions like the fire escape on the back of the building and other features.

"There has been a lot of stuff added to make it a business or a church, so I wish they would restore it to the way it looked originally," she said.

Scott visited the building before the Church of Scientology moved into it.

"It's a beautiful home," he said. "It's a good location for whatever you would want to put in it."

Another neighbor, Martha Pipkin, often walks her dog, Bosco, near the church. She's lived in the area for a long time.

"It would be nice for it to be another church - it was built that way," she said. "I would rather it be a church than some business."

The church doesn't have a timeline for moving, if it decides to do so, Slaughter said.

"It's just a matter of moving along in that direction to see if we can get more centrally located to help with our expansion and service our existing public better," he said. "The main thing is the church is here to help. We're interested in helping anybody who desires help."

Anyone who's interested in the property may call (901) 276-5686. To learn more about Scientology, visit www.scientology.org.

MORTGAGES 54 374 1,120
BUILDING PERMITS 177 767 2,425