IN a time of increasing religious tolerance in East Germany, the authorities have lifted a 38-year ban on the Christian Science church. On Friday, at an East Berlin meeting with church representatives, they officially recognized the denomination and the first Christian Science Society in East Berlin.
Christian Science was banned and church property confiscated in 1951, when Stalinism was especially strong, says Dieter F"orster, a church spokesman in West Germany.
Churches in general had a difficult time during the 1950s and '60s.
``The Communist Party believed Christianity would die out and they wanted to speed up this process,'' says Dietrich Ritschl, chairman of the theology department at the University of Heidelberg in West Germany.
Small churches, and those with Western connections, had a particularly rough time, he says, though only three denominations were banned outright by the government.
Although the Protestant Church - the leading denomination in East Germany - survived this period, it was restricted to activities ``only within the church walls,'' Mr. Ritschl says.
To be a member of any church meant ostracism at work and in social life, he added.
Christian Science got its start in Germany in the late 1890s in Dresden, today part of East Germany. It was banned during Adolf Hitler's Third Reich, and after the second ban under communism, followers tried numerous times to apply for reinstatement of the denomination.
Four years ago, they decided to apply only for permission to receive church literature, published at the denomination's headquarters in Boston. Permission was granted, on the condition that those who wanted the literature sign a list registered with the Office for Church Affairs in East Berlin.
According to Mr. F"orster, three services were scheduled over the weekend and today in Leipzig, Erfurt, and Karl-Marx Stadt. The services were to be held in Mormon and Protestant church buildings. He expects that Christian Scientists in East Germany will hold ``informal'' services as a first step toward forming branch churches.
Over the last few years, East Germany has taken a more liberal view of organized religion.
``We think things are developing so that we will be able to work there,'' says Karin Nowosatka of the Salvation Army, which is still banned in East Germany. At the Salvation Army's meeting of European leaders this month, she says, reentry to East Germany will be a key topic.