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?

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.

  1. This is such a useful question! When I was young, my family lived for several years in Nepal (where we were the only Christian Scientists). I remember having Sunday School each Sunday with my mother; church was definetly still a part of my life.

    Since that time, I've always had the priviledge to live near a branch church or society and attend services. But sometimes, especially when travelling, it can be impossible to attend a service. I can remember several times when I've found myself on a large international flight on Sunday morning, and have thought about my fellow passangers as a "congregation". After all, we are all seated and looking in the same direction! One of my favorite moments in a church service is when the first reader chooses to start the meeting by saying "welcome to this healing service." I've taken to mentally saying this phrase to myself from time to time, whether I'm on a plane, a crowded city street, or even alone. And then cherishing how whatever happens next can really be a healing service, even if it's not in the format we usually consider a church service!

  2. I love Abigail's suggestion to attend a service with a friend at their church and support their religious devotion. That's exactly what a loving friend and neighbor who was a Christian Scientist did for me so many years ago. She enriched my search for a better understanding of God by encouraging that search right where I was, sometimes sharing a Sentinel and explaining her ideas about God and man's relationship to Him, but never pushing her religion on me. It wasn't long before I was attending the local Christian Science church, and a couple years later joined a branch, TMC, and had class instruction, and I've been loving sharing my discovery with others.

  3. As a retired foreign service officer I have lived in many countries. There were times when there were CS churches that were large and other times when there was only a handful of people. I remember Wednesday meetings where there was the reader and myself. I have always felt priviledged to participate in services in other lands and in other languages.The spirit of the Christ is very present even in small bands that gather together. In fact I have found it most strong in such little groups of Christian Scientists. Now that we have the Internet, with spirituality.com and Daily lift etc the world is growing smaller and we are all becoming closer and able to share ideas on a daily basis. I remember once when I was working for the summer at a resort and there were no CS churches nearby in that part of Italy. I held my own services and these kept me on track. All it takes is one person and our ability through God's grace to express the Christ. It is the Christ that unites us to all our fellow church members world wide and to all humanity.

  4. I spent the month of October in Turku, Finland installing computers on the new mega-cruise ship "Allure of the Seas" as it was under construction. Before I left the US, I contacted the Helsinki branch church website to let them know I was coming. The Web master was great about informing me of the local services and Reading room, but the closest was about 100 miles away. He offered to come to the ship yard to participate in a church service in Truku, but local security precluded that possibility.
    Then I remembered that Jesus told his disciples to, “… go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.” (Matt 10:7,8).

    So I decided to take church with me and share it with others aboard the ship. I even took literature appropriate for the area to hand out. The Allure of the Seas has a chapel on Deck 17 called The Pinnacle. Just a trivia fact, but I held the first religious service in the chapel on Sunday October 10, 2010 with the reading of the Bible lesson, “Are Sin, Disease, and Death Real?”. There were two attendees.

    In 1971, when I was serving in the Army, I was privileged to be designated as the Christian Science representative for NaTrang, Vietnam. I held weekly services in a private room and did not have any attendees, but was able to be in contact with other Christian Scientists in the area. There was certainly a lot to pray about and I know these services were effective. My family and relatives regularly sent supplies and materials I could share with others.

    While it would be nice to have an established church to attend each week, that’s not what the early Christians had. They were truly Christian soldiers, mobile and active. Christian Science is not a sedentary religion. We must be moving onward and our church and fellow members are always with us.

  5. I appreciate Michael's final paragraph. I have occasionally reminded myself of this over the past few months. Currently, I am living and working in the southernmost part of South Korea where there are no church services to attend.

    For me, the most helpful connection to an established church has been the weekly broadcast from The Mother Church...even if it is already Monday here. I particularly love hearing the special welcome that is given to those of us listening on the internet around the world. This always makes me feel as though I'm virtually right there, in attendance.

  6. When we moved to Baja California, my wife and I invited neighbors fpr Wednesday evening gratitude and inspiration sharing. At the end of the year one mother came each Wednesday with her copy of Science and Health and we shared a stimulating hour of Q&A.
    We hold Sunday School each Sunday for our chinldren, and 3 to 5 neighborhood children regularly attend.
    The idea above that CS is a movement that overcomes materialism fans the fire of purpose for taking a scheduled time of worship and sharing.

  7. I love what everyone's sharing here! A few months after I found Christian Science for myself, I had to move back in with my parents, who lived a long way from any Christian Science church - and who were not at all enamoured of my new "weirdo religion". So I had a year of essentially keeping it all under wraps nearly the whole time. But I had the weekly Bible Lessons and a few Sentinels and Journals I'd scrounged, and I just kept reading and praying and learning to trust God with everything. I'd sing hymns to myself and sometimes even hold my own church service (even with only our dog and cats for an audience) when I could. It was a hard year, but I know I learned a lot and came out all the stronger for it - and even though I couldn't be there personally, I always felt part of Church in the larger sense, because I was learning that nothing could ever separate me from God.

  8. Thanks everyone for sharing your inspirations and experiences! I've been living in Central America for several years and have been without church services during that time; yet my sense of church, the awareness of hundreds of loving members reaching out with healing thoughts, is stronger than ever. I make time each day to read the lesson and quietly commune with God. In that space and at any time, I'm aware that Mind's infinite inspiration is being expressed in countless prayers all over the world.
    I've always loved the sharing of healings and gratitude at Wednesday meetings, and I think everyone gains from giving thanks. One way to create a more spiritual connection with those around me is to share gratitude for good with my students, co-workers and friends, which inevitably inspires them to give thanks as well.
    When the idea of isolation comes knocking, I turn it away declaring God's everpresence. Love is a constant companion in the deserts of Iraq, the depths of the ocean, the rainforests of Congo or the farthest mental reaches. And I often sing my favorite song/verse from camp days - Whither shall I go from thy Spirit or whither shall I flee from thy presence?... Thou art there.

  9. Over a peiod of about 4 years I lived mostly in England but often spent weeks and sometimes months living in Southern Ireland. Living in a small community there was no Church around, the nearest a three hour car ride to Dublin, I thought many times about Mary Baker Eddy, a woman on her own with these new ideas named Christian Science, she never gave into discouragement, I longed to have other like minded people to talk with about the ideas written about in Science and Health. Eventually, a bookshop talk with a Christian Science lecturer was arranged in a local town and many interested seekers attended, from that talk a group formed who were interested to follow and find out about Christian Science and read and study Science and Health.
    It was a wonderful time of sharing and so inspiring to see how Divine Love brings it ideas together. I love what Abagail says that "God is providing ways for His Christ to be known." and thanks Susiee for reminding me how the Christ brings out a sense of warmth, a sense of family and unity in the community. Love was always at work, opening my thought to see more or His wonderful laws.

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