With its dedication of the new Church of Scientology and Celebrity Centre Las Vegas last month, the Church of Scientology International is poised to assume a higher profile in Southern Nevada than it has during its 40-year-long presence here.
Tommy Davis, spokesman for the Church of Scientology International, notes the Las Vegas center is the eighth new church the denomination has opened in the past 12 months, and that more than a dozen others are scheduled to open this year.
The churches are part of Scientology ecclesiastical leader David Miscavige's goal of establishing "very public, open churches" where those who aren't familiar with Scientology may learn about it, Davis says.
"It's just really going out there and saying: 'Here we are. This is what we believe. Come in and see for yourself and make your own decision,' " he says.
The new church, at 2761 Emerson Ave. -- formerly the home of Congregation Ner Tamid -- now serves as Scientology's Southern Nevada home. Church spokeswoman Jessica Feshbach estimates that the local church has "a couple thousand members."
The Las Vegas facility also is designated as a "celebrity center," the church's name for facilities that are designed to serve the needs of performers and artists through specialized classes and such amenities as private entrances. Celebrity centers are, the church says, a product of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard's high regard for artists and the role they play in society.
For nonmembers, the church's most prominent feature is a public information center that features audiovisual displays, films and other aids that tell of the church, its history and beliefs, and its work in such areas as promoting human rights and combating substance abuse.
The 40,000-square-foot church also houses a chapel where Sunday services and such activities as weddings are held. Feshbach says Sunday sermons typically revolve around Hubbard's writings, lectures, and audiotaped and videotaped messages .
There is a facility for "purification rundowns," which are vitamin, exercise and sauna regimens members take to rid their bodies of toxins and drugs which, Hubbard believed, impede mental and spiritual growth.
And, there are study rooms where members take classes to learn about Hubbard's work.
Davis says the cost of courses -- which cover such topics as child-raising, communication and personal values and integrity -- typically range from $50 to several hundred dollars, depending on a course's intensity and length.
The center also is equipped with counseling rooms, where members participate in a process called auditing, a form of spiritual counseling. During auditing, members seek to uncover unconscious memories that, Scientologists believe, prevent a person from realizing his or her full potential.
Such memories are uncovered using a device called an E-meter. It is, Davis says, "a fundamental principle of our religion, which is largely a scientific concept, that thoughts have actual mass or weight." The E-meter, in conjunction with an auditor's questioning, reveal physiological reactions "just below their level of awareness" that, with the help of a counselor, a person may eliminate.
However, it's also a key tenet of Scientology that "nobody is telling you, ever, what's wrong with you," Davis adds. "You're being assisted in discovering for yourself what is troubling you."
"The entire concept, if you want to talk about fundamental religious belief, is we believe that the individual is an eternal spiritual being whose capabilities are infinite but not fully realized," Davis says.
The facility also contains a library that is open for use by the public.
Davis says there are no charges for people to attend Sunday services, use the library or partake of other such services. The church doesn't require that people officially become a member to utilize its offerings.
"There isn't a conversion process in Scientology -- 'Oh, now you're converted,' " he explains. "If you want to call yourself a Scientologist, more power to you. You can choose to join the International Association of Scientology and be a card-carrying member if you want, but that's not a requisite to participating in our services, it's not a requisite to participate in auditing or training, or to go to Sunday services. Anybody is welcome. The whole idea is to have the tools."