Question: Our church is looking for ways to grow and serve the community but it's really hard to see how we can present a united and loving picture to others when all our members don't even know each other or our regular attendees who are not members. How can the church come together?
Response 1: Robin Hoagland
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. This may also include events and activities beyond the regular church responsibilities and demands. These informal gatherings—whether at a Reading Room open house or a church holiday hymn sing or even in members’ homes—can open up a new appreciation for the common bonds connecting members and visitors to each other and to the wider community.
But if we’re rethinking the way we’re doing things in our churches, let’s consider Mary Baker Eddy’s poignant questions to reformers: “Have you renounced self? Are you faithful? Do you love?” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896, p. 238). Getting self out of the way eliminates self-righteousness and self-satisfaction, both of which would keep healthy connections from developing within our congregations. If we’re faithful, we never lose sight of the mission of spiritual healing, and all our activities and efforts are folded into that broader vision. As healers, we first need to “bind up the broken-hearted” (Science and Health, p. 366)—to help everyone coming to church understand they are welcome and worthy and genuinely appreciated.
And finally, do we REALLY love? Then how do we show it? There are innumerable ways to draw divine Love’s inclusive circle of love around church family and friends and neighbors— that is, if we’re willing to be open to them. Sometimes just reaching out to a fellow member who has never seen eye-to-eye with us takes both humility and courage as we strive to obey Jesus’ command to love one another.
These genuine motives of reform recognize all kinds of opportunities for true fellowship, for a sense of church so big it includes all those who participate in its services and has more than enough room for the whole community as well. But it all starts within our own hearts, with the love that reflects divine Love. Our textbook Science and Health tells us: “The vital part, the heart and soul of Christian Science, is Love” (p. 113). More than anything else, it is Love that redefines our church experience.
Response 2: Lindsey Biggs
If the members’ desire to nurture church and serve the community is coming out from an earnest prayer to express divine Love, then thoughts and actions will naturally reflect that love.
For example, members can certainly mentally cherish each attendee present and share and speak with at least some of them after the service or meeting. Just because the service is over and it’s time to leave, doesn’t mean the sharing has to stop at the door of the church. Members and attendees can continue to get to know each other after church in another venue or even at another time. Perhaps at someone’s home or going out to eat—not just to socialize but to share Christian Science with each other and the community, and in this way support one another’s practice of Christian Science.
Other ways to serve the community could include members and attendees signing up for a prayer watch on a community issue. Or volunteering in a soup kitchen. Or reading a book together related to a world issue, then share with each other healing ideas. The opportunities are already present. Being receptive to those opportunities can open eyes to seeing inspired and unique ways to share Christian Science.
Every instance of any one member telling someone about Christian Science, supporting a friend, or a kind word to a stranger, is church in action. Part of the definition of Church is: “The structure of Truth and Love; whatever rests upon and proceeds from divine Principle” (Science and Health, p. 583). So, Church certainly isn’t confined to a building or a particular form. A friend recently said about someone she knows, “If I can’t bring her to church, I’ll bring Church to her!”
Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). If one’s motive is based on divine Truth and Love and the desire to really listen to the needs of the community and fellow Christians, then the Christ will be there—all the blessings and healing of God’s goodness and grace will be abundant. While it can’t be outlined how this will look and feel for an individual church, we all can start today by expressing the divine Love calling in our hearts, whether through prayer or a prayer inspired activity.
A marginal heading in Science and Health reads “Love the incentive,” referring to Mary Baker Eddy’s statement, “Love inspires, illumines, designates, and leads the way. Right motives give pinions to thought, and strength and freedom to speech and action” (Science and Health, p. 454). Loving and living this concept, will open the way for church members and attendees to know each other better and serve the community more. Love will open ways that will bless everyone.