Week 4: "How can our church come together?"

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.

  1. I believe that each branch church has the freedom to decide which activities,outside of the standard weekly services, they wish to sponsor. I don't see anything wrong at all with having an informal "social hour" following the Sunday service. In fact, the CS Society in San Juan Capistrano invites all of the attendees to meet after the service for refreshments on the patio. I have been to a local church here in New Jersey which had a social hour after the Sunday service. Also, the Mother Church, for a period of time, hosted an "informal social hour" after the Sunday serice (with refreshments) for a period of time in the Sunday School building. (This was just a year or two ago.) I was very disappointed when they discontinued it. I think that the Christian Science church has to look into new and creative ways to reach the newcomer. It has to break out of the traditional ways of doing things. Perhaps then we might see a reversal of the slow and continuing decline.

  2. As far as I'm aware, the only social activity that Mrs Eddy saw fit to discourage (not to outright ban) was "receptions" or "festivities" after a Christian Science lecture (see Church Manual Article XXXI Section 4). There is absolutely nothing in her writings to say "thou shalt not reach out to thy fellow members and newcomers in natural, welcoming, loving fellowship"! It need not be something that the membership votes on as an "official" activity. I've been part of many informal gatherings after church - lunch at a member's place or a nearby eatery, for example - where regular attendees and newcomers are equally welcome. Anyone can offer to arrange these (often spontaneously), and look out for people to invite after the service. Before long, the love starts catching on!

    Reading Rooms, too, can easily hold informal gatherings for anyone who wants to join in: reading the Lesson together, discussing Bible stories or S&H, listening (and contributing) to the live chats on spirituality.com, finding news items in the Monitor to pray about together... (I visited The Mother Church's Reading Room last year, and they did things like these regularly.) Because Reading Rooms are (hopefully!) open more hours than the actual church, they're a great place to bring people together and reach out directly to the community.

    I guess it comes down to what both responses to this question say: expressing divine Love. We don't need to be taught how to love; we just need to DO it! And "Love... reflected in love" can be trusted to both wash away any resistance in thought to ideas that are productive and helpful, and steer us away from any ideas that aren't.

  3. Growth is unfoldment and not merely amassing and counting bodies for validation. Mrs. Eddy knew this when she directed us not to "number the people."

    When we look inward, focus on personalities and become obsessed with what we perceive as "what Mrs. Eddy meant" instead of looking for her in her writings, we stagnate. Nothing grows well in stagnant conditions--especially churches.

    When we look upward and reach outward with love and selflessness--forgetting those things which are behind and pressing forward . . . , growth takes place naturally, unconsciously and plentifully.

    Observing and and practicing the following passages from the Bible and Mary Baker Eddy's writings insure growth:

    Phil. 3:13
    Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

    My. 155:9
    May it catch the early trumpet-call, take step with the twentieth century [twenty-first century], leave behind those things that are behind, lay down the low laurels of vainglory, and, pressing forward in the onward march of Truth, run in joy, health, holiness, the race set before it, till, home at last, it finds the full fruition of its faith, hope, and prayer.

  4. Thanks, Courtney for bringing up that point about the Manual (Article XXXI, Section 4) referring specifically to the discouraging of a social reception after a lecture (but not specifically to any other service). This kind of opens up the situation for each branch to decide on a individual basis what they want to do after the Sunday service.

    I would just like to mention an interesting article I read via CSDIRECTORY.com (under their NEWS tab). It spoke of First Church San Diego and their attempt to revive a dwindling attendance and membership. This coming Saturday, November 13th, they have invited the CS group "Living Love" to hold an informal service with an inspirational speaker and a gospel/rock band. Apparently, many CS churches are beginning to experiment with new and innovative ways of dealing with a declining interest in "traditional" ways of presenting CS to the public.

    Also, there is a new CS group meeting in the St. Louis area (I believe it is called Next Generation CS) They have a fairly traditional early Sunday service and then, afterwards, another service which is much more non- tradtional.

    Finally, there is an informal group in the metro Chicago area which meets in the CS Society building in Des Plaines. They have a discussion group kind of meeting every other Sunday afternoon. I have found the posted accounts of their meetings very inspirational and thought provoking.

  5. Almost two years ago our church started a weekly My Bible Lesson group in the Reading Room. It was designed for new comers. Occasionally new comers stopped in.
    Then it morphed into a group that gathered because they loved it. They loved the fellowship. The jokes. The moments of humble insight. It filled a need. It was no longer a group formed "because we should do something" but a group formed out of inspiration, fellowship, sincerity. Then, all of a sudden it bloomed. There are new comers every week. The group has grown. It's fun. There is laughter. Insights are shared.

    What ever you do, let inspiration, love and freedom design it.

  6. Our church members and visitors enjoys meeting for dinner at 6 p.m. on Wednesdays. Most attend the church service afterwards. Sometimes, we have dessert in the Sunday School after the Wednesday night service. This has brought us closer together and there is a real sense of family in our church. Visitors are warmly greeted on Sundays and Wednesdays and are encouraged to sign our guest book. We also have a web site which is reaching out into all the world where visitors can listen to the Wednesday evening lesson read aloud and find information on our services and reading room. Our business meetings are alive with inspiration and brotherly love.
    We're also giving yearly lectures again after several years of no lectures. We continue to pray to find ways to reach out to meet the spiritual needs of our community and the world.

  7. For many years, our church has been involved in supporting the local area food bank which was started by other areas churches several decades ago. We donate food, especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and this year we were able to donate a significant amount of school supplies at the beginning of the school year. Additionally,each year this group sponsors a "Walk for the Hungry" and we have participated for many years as well. This year, members of our congregation that walked or manned the water station at our church (our church is on the walk route) wore T-Shirts we designed that had "...feed the hungry, heal the heart..." from Mrs Eddy's hymn 207 printed on them. Believe me, a lot of people noticed this precious reference.

    Our Church has also had gatherings after church on our patio area a couple of times a year after a Sunday Service where members bring snacks and all of us can share a little fellowship. Everyone that attends has a great time. Two years ago when Christmas Eve was on a Wednesday, all those attending that meeting enjoyed hot cider and sweet treats after singing a couple of Christmas Hymns. It was a terrific way to get our church family and visitors together at this wonderful time of year. It brings a smile to my face to read about all the creative things our branch churches are doing! Keep up the great work!!

  8. I forgot one other thing our church does to stay involved in the community. For years our church has been represented on a local interfaith counsel. This gives us an opportunity to educate other faiths about Christian Science. In addition, we offer readings at the National Day of Prayer gathering at City Hall. This has led to offering invocations at City Council's meeting for different cities. For those of us that have done this, it has been a real privilege. As Jesus so poignantly stated, "Freely ye have received, freely give"

    Go for it, folks!!!

  9. Judy (#6), you've reminded me of a reminiscence by William Lyman Johnson, who was in his teens in the mid-1880s when his family became Christian Scientists. (His father, William B. Johnson, later became one of the first Directors of The Mother Church.) In his writings, William Lyman gives a heartwarming description of the suppers several church members used to have together in a small restaurant in Tremont Street, Boston, before the evening testimony meeting each week (which was on Fridays then). If our moderators will forgive a lengthy post (please?), I'd like to share an excerpt:

    "Here, over a simple meal, the work that was laid out for the coming week and the experiences of each since they last met would be talked over. A review of what [Mrs Eddy] had said to them... would follow, or the result of a meeting held for some special purpose; then questions on the interpretation of passages of Scripture and of Science and Health. This hour of the evening meal was filled with a wonderful sweetness. There was a free and generous exchange of thought, a simple association which bore the fruits of faithfulness and unity...

    "There was no idolatry among these early Scientists. They were not sentimentalists, for they had been tried in the fires of struggle and the battles for right. They were middle-aged people who had learned much of the world before coming into Science, and the quiet and reverent way in which they referred to [Mrs Eddy], their gentleness, and their ever-present love, spoke the impress which the spirit of Mrs Eddy had made, a spirit that was ever with us at our meal. If things got too serious Mr Munroe, who was a bit of a wag, was sure to bring everyone back to a cheerful state by saying some funny thing that did not fail to make us all smile. Then Father... would invariably take out his watch and say, "Friends, it's time to be on duty and welcome friends and strangers," and so would end the evening meal, a prelude of serious thought and uplifting hope for the work that was to come."

    (From W. L. Johnson, "The History of the Christian Science Movement" - quoted in Robert Peel's "Christian Science: Its Encounter with American Culture", pp. 128-9.)

  10. Hey guys! Wake up Get mortal mind out of the picture!
    How does God -- one infinite, divine Mind -- SEE your church? Why they are all His ideas. Already together!!
    All the so-called human ways and means does not build a church. Let the Christ idea be present as your thought
    and and include all mankind beginning with those we see
    in church. Healing results. That is church alive.

  11. I have enjoyed reading all of the responses. It is heartening to hear of all of the creative and innovative things the different branches are trying. Thanks, Big Mike from California for your input and also you, too, Judy.

    As Marge says in the previous post, "All of the human ways and means does not build a church." While I do see Marge's point, and no one would ever say that these "human" activities take the place of healing and metaphysics, the "human" activities do have their place and give a warmth and friendly atmosphere to the churches, especially for the newcomer. Most other Christian denominations would take for granted that some kind of social activity would follow the Sunday service. The amazing thing, to me, is that to the CS churches this idea is something of a radical breakthrough.

  12. Our branch church began a monthly Fellowship outreach activity after church in the Sunday School about two years ago. Refreshments are always served, and the kids love to "pour and pass." These gatherings are perfect times to introduce newcomers, welcome new members, say hello to visiting families, goodby to those moving away, even greet new babies. We also have a Fellowship Book Club that meets once a year to discuss books of spiritual inspiration, especially those reviewed in the periodicals, such as Three Cups of Tea. We have Table Topics to share lively and amusing experiences.

    Tomorrow we'll stuff "turkey pinatas" with leftover Halloween candy that merchants have donated. We'll bring them to organizations like the Salvation Army and others that serve needy families and kids.

    We've seen that nowadays few of us live near each other, and therefore have no opportunity to see each other during the week at the supermarket or a PTA meeting. So we get to know one another in this informal, joyful setting. It's a way to let the love from "upstairs" linger a little longer "downstairs" after the service. We love it!

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