Responses by Susan Mack and Rebecca Buhl. Every small Christian Science Branch Church or Christian Science Society has to face this question: "What are we going to do about music? Can we figure out a way to have live music or do we need to use recordings?"
Your questions—your Church community’s answers. Each week, we’ll feature a new question from the Field, with responses from two experienced spiritual thinkers to kick off the discussion. Next, it’s your turn to help bring new insights, ideas, and solutions to light by posting a comment or participating in our discussion forums.
Responses by Anne Cooling and John Biggs. This is a good question and your compassion will guide your church as to how to best address the needs of the youth in your community. There is very little in the Manual of The Mother Church about what not to do and what to do in terms of the By-Laws related to Sunday School (see p. 62). However, Mary Baker Eddy did provide us with a powerful, timeless structure to her different audiences: The Mother Church, branch churches, and Christian Scientists, as we are obedient to it. The inspiration that fills that structure, she left to branch churches’ unfoldment.
Responses by Ginny Luedeman and Kate Johnson. For me, anything that interferes with clear thinking is an enemy, whether it's alcohol, drugs, or addictions of any kind. I love to think clearly. It has brought forth the ideas that God gives us as His loved creation and has brought light and healing radiance in my life.
Responses by Jon Benson and Jacklyn Williams. Church members and community can thrive without thought for thriving, focused instead on living church everywhere, all the time, and at this moment.
Responses by Lois Carlson and Dave Stevens. To me, being members of the body of Christ means we find our unity in our shared experience with Christ. Christ is working among us and in the hearts of each member. This secures branch churches on the Rock of Christ and shows how the whims and weaknesses of human organization can be neutralized.
Responses by John Q. Adams and Lisa Troseth. Often, joining a Christian Science church is a big step because one is going public with his or her commitment to the teachings of Christ. These teachings emphasize, not simply a belief in God, but an understanding of God as infinite Life, Truth, and Love. And because Jesus' teachings promise mankind a full salvation from sin, disease, and death through one's understanding of God, they require much of their followers. In Science and Health, Mary Baker Eddy wrote, "A great sacrifice of material things must precede this advanced spiritual understanding" (p. 16). This sacrifice has to do with surrendering the declaration of the material senses as being absolute, and a strong affirmation of God, infinite Mind, as being real and all-inclusive.
This understanding and our desire to prove it, does not have to be accompanied with fearful apprehension.
Responses by Melanie Daglian and Curt Wahlberg. However, in defense of Christian Scientists who you think “just” sit and pray, and also with the hope of encouraging us all in a bigger demonstration of good, I’ll mention that about 20 years ago when I started getting quite involved with the church and in the practice of Christian Science, I deeply explored your same question. . .And to make a long story short, over the course of several years, I found that in fact, my prayer and our collective prayers were essentially what would enable any progress for the church and humanity.
Responses by Mike Davis and Annette Dutenhoffer. Without a doubt, the definition of a book has changed to include the digital or e-book along with our traditional type of paper books. Many are finding this new form of reading helpful. For example, most computer literate students of Christian Science have experienced the value of Concord—the e-concordance to the Bible, Christian Science Hymnal, and the writings of Mary Baker Eddy. But do these new e-books have a place in our church services?
Responses by Mark Swinney and Anna Bowness-Park. There are many angles from which to respond to this question, but the short answer is, yes! Yes, it is entirely appropriate to share with people how you’ve been blessed. In fact, it’s appropriate to pray for opportunities to do so.
Responses by Melanie Wahlberg and James Spencer. I appreciate your desire to see progress in this area, and I think it’s reasonable to feel hopeful. In fact, I recently witnessed a large-scale discussion about the order of service in Christian Science branch churches, and I was encouraged (as were others) by the amicable tone of the lengthy discussion. Although the topic was important, it’s probably safe to say that any of our individual salvations depended on the outcome of the discussion. However, the qualities that were expressed on either side—softened hearts, humility, a dedication to church, intelligence, self-discipline, and childlikeness—were tangible supports to salvation.
Responses by Peter Jackson Maryl Walters. I remember a church service I attended a while ago, where I learned an important point. During the lesson-sermon it appeared that no matter how much I tried to concentrate on the words being spoken, I couldn’t stop my thoughts from wandering away on to unrelated matters. This went on for some time until eventually I paused to examine my own thinking. Was there any joy there? Any love? Hmm…I had to admit I could do better!
Responses by Janet Hegarty and Susan Collins. There is no rule against decorating our church buildings at Christmas, and as your question thoughtfully points out, the community may wonder why a Christian church does not publicly appear to celebrate Christmas. We would want to choose these decorations wisely, however, to ensure that they reflect the spiritual sense of our celebration.
Week 33: "Even to those not well-informed, the similarities between Christian Science and New Thought seem obvious. My question is why the schism? In this age of ecumenism, it seems to me that a merger of New Thought/Science of Mind/Christian Science movements would be mutually beneficent in the long run. Or, at the very least, a close association of these organizations would be greatly beneficial. So, why is there no such movement?”
Responses by Giulia Nesi and Scott Putnam. Mary Baker Eddy herself had a love for all who loved God and a deep respect for each individual’s spiritual practice. Undoubtedly, Mrs. Eddy earnestly desired that Christian Science be widely known and that her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures be read and the spiritual principles utilized by individuals wherever they were on their spiritual path. In fact, she dedicated Science and Health to “…honest seekers for Truth” (Science and Health, p. xii).
I have found though, that as you dig more deeply into the foundational teachings of New Thought and those of Christian Science and clarify the meaning behind the language used for spiritual concepts, there emerges fundamental differences and distinctions which would make merging them difficult to do.
Week 32: "Since the Church Manual provides that no less than 16 people, including one Journal-listed practitioner, can organize as a church, do you think we should be ‘branching out’ to form more churches, rather than consolidating into fewer, larger churches with several practitioners and many members?"
Responses by Tim Mitchinson and Wendy Wylie Winegar. While the decisions raised in the question are all individual—and I would be out of place to tell another church what it should do—I do know that the purpose of each Church of Christ, Scientist, is to heal the ills of its community. This has nothing to do with numbers. Jesus even commented, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).
The real question for each individual Christian Science congregation is, are we affording proof of our utility by rousing the dormant understanding in our congregation and community (see the definition of Church, Science and Health, p. 583)?
Responses by Tad Blake-Weber and Manya Kaseroff-Smith. First let me say I can empathize somewhat with your sentiment of having pets at church. I haven’t actually experienced a service where an animal was present. So, I must admit I would be surprised to see a pooch in a pew. On the other hand, to me, church is a place of inclusion. Often people come to church holding on to something not as blatant (or as cute!)—fear about money, addiction, illness, or anxiety.
Responses by Rich Evans and Ruth Geyer. Jesus dispatched his disciples to heal based on what he had taught them—to love God, the divine healing Principle, and to love their neighbors so completely that they could remove ills without harm and affirm the presence of the kingdom of heaven, the presence of harmony in every place he sent them. He advised they should remain to be fed by their hosts because, “The labourer is worthy of his hire” (Luke 10).
Responses by Jim Corbett and Joy Carr. A branch church’s full round of activities reflects the unrestricted spiritual idea of Church unfolding to the congregation overall. The direction the demonstration of that idea takes varies from branch to branch. Thus, agreeing on permissible uses of our edifices is a matter of prayer more than of policy.
Week 28: “During the last 50 years while so called evangelical, Pentecostal, and charismatic churches have grown—some substantially—the ‘main line’ churches have dwindled. While Christian Science is not considered ‘main line’ and doesn’t publish membership figures, it’s widely perceived that its numbers have dwindled substantially. What is the church doing to reverse this troubling trend, and why has it happened to a church which by the very revolutionary nature of its teaching ought to have weathered rather well the disenchantment with ‘main line’ denominations?”
Responses by Kate Sims and Ethel Baker. Here’s an exciting thought—we don’t need to wait for “the church” to do anything—we are the church!
Week 27: "Our church is reaching out to the community in many ways, but our Reading Room has moved back into the church, and the Reading Room hours are very limited. We spend mega bucks on a Christmas program for the community complete with choir and brass band, but I question if we’re truly sharing the "bread of life." We’re very generous financially with the community, but it seems we’re off course. My initial reaction is to wonder if all the work done on the Christmas program, etc., were given to lecture preparation, we would witness greater fruitage. My first reaction is to move my membership elsewhere, but I know that running from a problem is never the solution."
Responses by Eric Oyama and Jodi Crump Beatty. Great encouragement can to be found on page 1 of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: “Desire is prayer; and no loss can occur with our desires, that they may be moulded and exalted before they take form in words and in deeds” (p. 1). Your sincere desire to share the Comforter with your community is one that you can trust with God. We have centuries of examples throughout the Bible to show that God takes care of His children no matter what obstacles confront them.
Week 26: "Could you give me some ideas on how a church can include those who are physically challenged? Our church has a chair lift in the hall but that's about all. There's a tendency to think that if we put in some structural aids, we might be accepting the physical difficulty, and not encouraging healing. What are other churches doing in this regard?"
Responses by Annette Dutenhoffer and Paul Grimes. In the Bible in the book of Mark chapter 2, you’ll find an account that directly addresses this question. As church members, are we like the four friends who loved their friend with the palsy enough to take down a roof and lower him into a building where Jesus was? They knew the presence of the Christ was there to heal their friend. Shouldn’t we also be willing to remove the stumbling blocks for our fellowman, so they can experience healing in our church services?
Week 25: "Church Alive seems to be saying that participation in church work is necessary for spiritual advancement. Where does that leave people who feel too ill or too old to do physical church work? Does that mean they are less spiritual than church workers? I don't think so. My experience is that the more “church work” people do, the less they’re interested in the true work of Christian Science, i.e. healing and loving their neighbors, as they are too busy on committees, etc. (I’ve been a church member for over 50 years.)"
Responses by Daniel Scott and Janet Clements. To some degree it depends what one means by church work. Church is all about loving our neighbor, elevating the race, and healing the sick. True church work is doing the true work of Christian Science collectively. No one is ever too ill or too old to engage in this kind of church work.
Week 24: "Mary Baker Eddy said that most Christian churches would approach the truths of Christian Science by the year 2000 [see Pulpit and Press, p. 22:9]. What I believe is true about Mrs. Eddy's prophecy is that world thinking is approaching those truths, albeit slowly. I also believe we need to be in a local church (building), exercising our high standards of ethics, morals, love, and truth. It shouldn’t matter if that church is not a Christian Science church if Mrs. Eddy is to be proved right. Occasionally, I attend the local Church of England-- two minutes away. I have read some biblical passages in the church and found that my voice has resonated through the church more effectively than it ever did in my former job where I often spoke publicly. I spend a lot of time on the reading so I’ll convey what I believe to be the inspired word. Is this a way forward? Or am I deluding myself? My other choice is to travel over 20 miles to a Christian Science church where the numbers are also declining and there is little apparent progress going on.”
Responses by Anthony Whitehouse and Michelle Nanouche. Sharing Christian Science in the way you do is entirely admirable. Posing this question as you do demonstrates a great love for Christian Science and its future progress. Without that love no progress is going to be made on any front. Nonetheless my sense is that we need to be consistent in the way we go about things. We need to go beyond a personal sense of what it is “comfortable” to a point where we tackle the issue of decline head-on.
Week 23: Mary Baker Eddy appreciated and utilized the modern innovations of her day. Is it appropriate to integrate technology into our churches? And if ‘yes,’ how can we more effectively do this? The Mother Church has been working to make it easier for Christian Scientists all around the world to tune in and understand Christian Science better via the web, but how can we do that on a more local basis?
Responses by Steven Salt and Sabrina Stillwell. Google, texting, Twitter, Yammer, Skype, Facebook, You Tube, Vodpod, and Flickr are just a handful of ways people are talking to each other in 2011. And it’s not just chatter. There is real learning going on. Should this technology be used by our churches? It already is.
Week 22: "I think many young people don't transition from Sunday School to church because young people are not used to sitting and listening to someone read to them for 30 to 40 minutes. Is there any reason why the ‘Present Order of Services in The Mother Church and Branch Churches’ listed for the Sunday service (see Church Manual, pp. 120-121) isn't being looked at for possible updating?"
Responses by Lyn Smith and Michael Fish. For me this question of transition from Sunday School to church is really more about preparation rather than needing to change the order of services.
Week 21: When I adopted my daughter I agreed to give her medical treatment when needed. Medical treatment was unnecessary for many years because she always experienced quick healings through Christian Science treatment. However when she got sick recently she did have medical care because I was unable to help her through Christian Science treatment. She continued to pray for herself with no results from either her prayers or from the medical help. She is very discouraged and thinks we have been cursed and God has abandoned us. She is used to the effective nature of Christian Science treatment, and because she cannot have Christian Science treatment while she is having medical treatment, she feels hopeless. Is there anything we can do?
Responses by John Minard and Rebecca Odegaard. Never doubt that turning to God—the divine Mother-Father of us all—when a child is ill is the best Motherly love you can bring to the situation.
As adoptive parents, too, my wife and I understand how our obligations to the state may play a role in health care decisions for our children. Like you, we want only the best possible care for them. So, if an illness occurs, we turn quickly to prayer, with the children praying, too. And, like you, we’ve had wonderful success! However, if things don't go as anticipated, or a hospital becomes involved, no one need ever think that Christian Science has failed, or that they’ve failed to live up to its standards.
Week 20: How can we bring more joy, life, brotherhood, charity, praise into our Sunday and Wednesday services? It’s important to stay within the Church Manual provisions for our services, but it seems that the hour spent in church is so solemn and without the joy of a brotherly community coming together for praise, gratitude, and healing.
Responses by Julie Ward and Dave Stevens. Actually, there’s nothing in the Manual provisions that precludes joy and brotherhood! In fact, these provisions provide a safe, stable “launching pad” for praise, gratitude, and healing. But we don’t go to church to get these things, but to give them. So the real question becomes: How can I bring that spirit of love and joy into my daily practice of Christian Science?
Week 19: The Mother Church decided to remove the requirement that new members be free from alcohol and tobacco use. Many branch churches have not yet updated their membership applications accordingly. I think we should support new Christian Scientists who may be trying to quit smoking, for example, but need help and support with this. Others seem to think that new members should make this demonstration prior to being accepted as a church member. What do you think?
Responses by Dave Hohle and Cali McClure. A branch church I was a member of considered this question several years ago. We discussed the issues you mention, and eventually voted to simplify our application process that previously required applicants to be free from alcohol, tobacco, and drug use before they could become a member. The overriding consideration for us was what Mary Baker Eddy included (and didn’t include) in The Mother Church membership application forms printed in the Church Manual of The Mother Church (see pp. 114, 116, 118).
Responses by Colleen Douglass and Tony Lobl. I love the outward thought expressed in this question. You’re so right that the world needs our prayers today as much as ever. Thank you for your compassion. As a lifelong Christian Scientist myself, I’ve loved both the solitary and the universal aspects of prayer. While we each commune with God on an individual basis, we pray with universal truths that apply to and surely bless all humankind.
Responses by John Kohler and Dawn-Marie Cornett. Love is attractive! Or as Mary Baker Eddy says, “Love is reflected in love” (Science and Health, p. 17). To me the crux of Sunday School and teaching is the sharing of love.
Responses by Sandi Justad and Lois Herr. At the risk of being redundant, the bottom line is always love. When I have found myself in discouraging church situations, my prayer usually becomes, “Father, show me how to love more.” And yes, it has sometimes been a prayer of desperation, when I’m at my wit’s end. Then I have been reminded of the enthusiasm of one member, the love for little children of another, the handyman’s generosity, the faithful attendance of another, and so on. These qualities I can love unconditionally because they represent what is real and true about each member.
Responses by Jill Gooding and Joel Magnes. You are right! There is no “group” consciousness, just one Mind expressing itself individually as man.
Mary Baker Eddy wrote of Jesus: “His mission was both individual and collective. He did life's work aright not only in justice to himself, but in mercy to mortals, — to show them how to do theirs, but not to do it for them nor to relieve them of a single responsibility” (Science and Health, p. 18).
Responses by Martha Moffett and Robert Ennemoser. The amazing thing about the Church of Christ, Scientist, that Mary Baker Eddy founded, is that it has a spiritual foundation and superstructure (meaning it is God-inspired). In that sense it is not like any other church in the world. In a certain sense, then, it’s not dependent on the personalities of its members. Indeed, instead of the members changing the church, the church changes the members.
Responses by David C. Kennedy and Jenny Lobl. Like Paul, we all have much yet to learn and demonstrate of Christ—the Truth exemplified in Jesus and revealed to this age in Christian Science. But full reliance on Christian Science for healing is natural at every stage of our spiritual progress. We’re never too new or inexperienced to rely on it, because this Science is the Comforter promised by Jesus, which is available to all.
Responses by Olga Chaffee and Lyle Young. How do we measure ages? When does one start or end? Ages are marked by the degree of spiritual growth in the understanding of the nature of God and man, manifested in human affairs—such as education, health, government—and the organizations or institutions formed to implement them worldwide. . .So at present, it might be helpful to start by asking ourselves: Is our spiritual understanding of what our Pastor is imparting, and our demonstration of this understanding, such that it indicates we are now in an advanced age?
Responses by Ricardo Saldivar and Marilyn Perkinson. How wonderful to know we don’t have to accept any erroneous view of church, church work, or fellow members! Mary Baker Eddy wrote in her book Unity of Good (p. 20:4), “We undo the statements of error by reversing them.” In Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, she wrote extensively of this important process of reversing error with statements like, “If you wish to know the spiritual fact, you can discover it by reversing the material fable, be the fable pro or con,—be it in accord with your preconceptions or utterly contrary to them” (p. 129). It’s the spiritual fact about our branch church members and branch church work that is real.
Week 10: "Recently, PBS [Public Broadcasting System] aired a three-part documentary titled, "God in America." The program traced the history of religion in America from the landing of the Pilgrims in Provincetown, Massachusetts to the current era. I earnestly watched all episodes. I neither saw nor heard any mention of Mary Baker Eddy or Christian Science. This omission was quite surprising considering the impact of her work and the establishment of what has become a worldwide religion. The Mormans were also excluded. Why do you think this WGBH Boston-produced program excluded Christian Science?"
Responses from Ken Girard and Eric Nelson. You raise an interesting question and it’s one that I think many people—not only Christian Scientists, but those from other faith traditions that began in America—have wondered about. The fact that the focus was primarily on religions of European origin would indicate to me that this was simply the view of the filmmaker, David Belton. . .That being said, we are still left with your concern as to how Mary Baker Eddy’s impact on the world via Christian Science could have been omitted.
At this season, when so many are seeking the real spirit of Christmas, what do you do to find and keep the real spirit of Church?
Responses by Tom Asher and Judi Bell. At the Wednesday meeting, and at various times through the week, I like to affirm that our church is “full”—full of unselfishness, full of inspiration, full of healing, full of gratitude. I think of each member and visitor as bursting with good, because I know God has not surrendered His control of anyone of us to some form of emptiness. The creator of abundant good is not the creator of lack. God forms us to be complete and not beguiled by evidence of limitation.
Responses from James Spencer and Curt Wahlburg. In order to understand and effectively practice the Science of Christianity that Mary Baker Eddy discovered, one needs to understand its source, appearing, and authority. This understanding answers the question of the place Mrs. Eddy holds in relation to her discovery.
Week 5: "How can one develop a sense of church while living in a foreign country where there’s no church or not one close to where you live?" If one does exist, the church services may be mostly in a foreign language, and in English maybe once a month. How does one create an atmosphere of church community when feeling alone and isolated and nowhere to go to church to share, except maybe online?
Responses by Susie Jostyn and Abigail Warrick. I love church and everything it has to offer: a rock-solid spiritual home, a warm feeling of family support, opportunities to give, the challenge to grow, practical solutions to all sorts of issues, and a gentle healing influence…just to name a few. So, it’s important to me to experience these things wherever I go.
Responses by Robin Hoagland and Lindsey Biggs. I love the root word of community—commune: to talk together, to be unified together. Each church has opportunities to discover natural ways to connect with those who already come together for services.
Responses by Judy Wolff and Mark Swinney. Navigating a church through the waters of conflicting viewpoints can be a rollicking, but ultimately, unifying adventure. Part of the adventure may be discovering what draws us to church. What really attracts people—whether attendees are old or young, liberal or conservative, casual or formal—is Christian Science.
Responses by Lois Carlson and Karl Sandberg. Think of the humility it must have taken for Nicodemus, a nationally known religious leader and Pharisee (also a member of the powerful Sanhedrin, a council of the 70 most outstanding Jews in Israel), to come to Jesus under cloak of night. Jesus explained that his teachings and healings were based on a clear understanding that the origin of life is Spirit. The conversation was earnest, but Jesus' answers were met with resistance and misunderstanding of what it meant to be born again. Great freedom was being offered Nicodemus to let go of his identity anchored in human history and live in the Christly relationship of sonship with God—to be new-born of Spirit.
Responses by Kevin Graunke and Barbara Pettis. As a Christian Science lecturer, I’ve visited scores of branch churches and societies in North America and, yes, I’ve attended services where the congregations were small and of “advancing years.” Yet, I’ve also found frequently that the smaller the congregation the larger its vision, and the more alive its members’ presence in the community.
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Responses by Dawn-Marie Cornett and Robert Gilbert.
"How can we help our churches from being self-centered to being focused on loving our neighbors to the point that we become active participants in the community once again?"