Response 1: Mike Davis
Reading a selection from the Scriptures has long been a part of Sunday services in many Christian denominations. And it’s been an official part of Christian Science Sunday services since August 1889, when Mary Baker Eddy published the first Order of Service in The Christian Science Journal. She wrote “I recommend that you . . . adopt this simple service. Before the sermon read one hymn, sing once. Read a selection from a chapter in the Bible, and, if agreeable to pastor and Church, a corresponding paragraph from SCIENCE AND HEALTH. Repeat alternatively the Lord’s Prayer, the pastor repeating the first sentence and the audience the following one. Unite in silent prayer for all who are present. Close with reading hymn, singing, silent prayer, and the benediction” (p. 210).
In 1889, Christian Science churches had pastors who preached sermons they’d written themselves. But even after reading a Lesson-Sermon from the Bible and Science and Health took the place of personal preaching in 1895, a Scriptural selection, separate from the Lesson, remained in the Order of Service.
Other than her initial recommendation to “read a selection from a chapter in the Bible,” we’ve not found any statement by Mrs. Eddy in which she gives advice on what verses, or how many, to include in the Scriptural Selection. And we don’t know of any documents in which she discusses its purpose. But we do know the supreme importance Mrs. Eddy gave to the Bible. It thus seems appropriate that a reading from its inspired pages is featured early in the Order of our Sunday services today.
Response 2: Jill Aaron
Mrs. Eddy left no particular instructions as to the content and length of the scriptural selection. Even so, the context in which it appears in the “order of service” tells us much about its role.
Opening the Sunday Service with reading from the Bible supports the First Tenet (see Science and Health, p. 497). Because the scriptural selection comes before any mention of Science and Health, it demonstrates to those attending the primacy of the Bible to Christian Scientists. And it is a fresh Bible perspective for those who have been studying the Lesson all week.
I love to think of the Sunday Service as a spiritual meal in which the Bible Lesson Sermon is the main course and the scriptural selection is an appetizer. The scriptural awakens thought—whets the mental appetite—for the feast that is to come.
Like a culinary appetizer, the flavors — ideas— in the scriptural should harmonize with the rest of the meal. So you’ll want to select Bible passages which are consistent with and support the theme of the Lesson or a significant idea brought out in the Lesson. A good scriptural selection is simply an introduction, which opens thought to the ideas to come in the Lesson. It isn’t a Lesson summary or another Lesson section.
Of course, as a skillful chef would not want to over-feed guests with appetizers, leaving no room for the main course, the Reader will want to pay attention to the same thing. Between two and three minutes or twelve to twenty verses is a good range. The key is to keep the whole service in balance, considering the relative length of all the elements together.
The scriptural selection is also the primary opportunity a Reader has to connect the congregation with the Bible Lesson. For example, something might be happening in the community or church family which needs healing or redeeming. The scriptural selection can relate the ideas in Bible Lesson to meet that need.
For me, choosing a scriptural selection (and a benediction) is really fun and inspiring. It requires focusing on the complete message of the Bible Lesson and humbly listening for divine direction to choose passages that will bless the congregation. And doing this makes for good reading and inspired services.
So have fun cooking!