Question: "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?"
RESPONSE 1: SUSIE JOSTYN
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.
I remember awhile ago when I moved to southern Spain, knowing only a few people and being fairly new at speaking the language. I wasn’t sure how church would come into my life and it was heartening to see all the ways it happened.
One time when I couldn’t find a church (I got hopelessly lost on my way to one I’d never attended before), I was determined to have church anyway. I found a park, sat on a bench among tropical trees and flowers, and went through all the elements of a service: recalling hymns, reading through the Bible Lesson, praying. Birds joined me with cheerful singing and people who stopped by to chat said how much they appreciated what I was doing. I was grateful for what they all added to my church experience that day.
During the week, I joined informal groups of people who were just learning about Christian Science and studying Science and Health together. While at first I didn’t really understand everything they said, I loved the fellowship and could feel their energetic spirit and love of God and His Word. I could tell that healing was going on for them and me. Years later, they formed a Christian Science Society.
Generally on Sundays, I listened to The Mother Church service broadcast online. I remember one day when I wasn’t feeling well. I laid on the floor of my office (where my computer was), listening. It was wonderful to think of all the other people attending and listening to this church service with me. I felt so grateful to be a part of the global Christian Science movement. I thought of how the healing message of this service was going out, touching everyone in the world no matter where they were or what they believed. I wasn’t on the floor for long.
I did pray almost daily about church—with prayer that supported all the elements included in church, knowing I had a concrete role to play in them, and listening for God's leading about how to do that. The fulfillment of that prayer came when I joined First Church of Christ, Scientist, Madrid. Because it was so far away, I could only get there once a month, typically attending one Sunday and one Wednesday. When I was in town, I attended church business meetings and worked especially hard on whatever tasks needed to be done. It was very rewarding and I have fond memories of my time there. I attended other branches in Spain as well.
I could go on and on about when I've felt church—while walking with others in the woods, while enjoying the periodicals and feeling gratitude for my fellow readers and authors, while listening to a service by phone as I overlooked a sun-warmed valley and rested from mountain biking, while writing on the discussion forums on tmcyouth.com and christianscience.com.
The sense of warmth, home, family, giving, of learning, growing, and healing along with your brothers and sisters in Christ can be experienced wherever you are and no matter what language you speak. I'm so glad you’re looking for it. I know you'll find it and many ways to nurture and participate in it with others.
RESPONSE 2: ABIGAIL WARRICK
Christianity by its very nature must be shared. It must be utilized to bless others. This sharing is spiritual fellowship, and it is of the Holy Ghost. Guided by divine Spirit, sharing gives an unselfishness and uplift to our commitment to God and church far greater than we might imagine. Every Christian endeavor, whether Joseph in Egypt, or Paul in Rome, or a new student of Christian Science in Beijing, is forwarded by a divine energy beyond one’s own. God is the source of it, Spirit empowers it, and divine intelligence guides it. The aliveness of church in our hearts is its capacity to touch other hearts and minds to a deeper and clearer understanding of God, who is Love.
If we ask ourselves what it is that we want to feel a part of, one answer could be: A movement that overturns materialism, heals the sick spiritually, and improves the brotherhood of humankind. Church includes uniting with others to strengthen our commitment to these ideals, and that unity and commitment transcend language barriers.
Wherever we are, joining with Christ's church includes, "preach the gospel to every creature" and "heal the sick." A natural part of living those commands could be to start a church group in one’s own home. Every church began with one individual getting together with others and making a commitment to provide a center for worship. Perhaps it's our turn now. We can provide for others what we have received through church. This might seem challenging, but we're never alone. Divine Spirit is always with us. Letting Spirit lead, we'll find inspired ways to share the Comforter, divine Science.
One could even consider visiting the church of a friend or colleague, and choose to support them in their religious devotion. Both could grow from this experience and build a bridge.
The Bible Lesson, hymns on CD, the inspiration and testimonials shared by other church members in our weekly and monthly magazines comfort and feed us with truth, and are designed to strengthen our individual spiritual progress. These resources can feel such a natural part of our lives that we may not fully realize how much of a sense of community and care for our deepest needs they provide.
Wherever anyone is, God is. And God is providing a way for His Christ to be known wherever we are. Whenever our heart feels love for our neighbor that translates into Christian action, we're experiencing God's church. And we'll feel His love through the love we extend to others in our midst and no longer feel alone or isolated— wherever we are.