Response 1: Annette Dutenhoffer
There is no guideline in the Manual for the length of silent prayer during our services, but certainly it shouldn’t be so brief that the congregation is surprised to hear the congregation saying, “Our Father,” before they’ve even bowed their heads. And, it shouldn’t be so long that they’re tempted to get out their smart phones and check their e-mail while waiting!
In First Church of Christ Scientist, and Miscellany, there is a brief description of the silent prayer at the end of a communion service held at The Mother Church: “When, after five minutes of silent communion at the end of the service, the congregation began to repeat the Lord’s Prayer, they began all together, and their voices rose as one in a heartfelt appeal to the creator” (p.32).
Five minutes of silent prayer during a church service seems extremely long, but I’m sure it felt right that day. Inspiration is never based on time. Just as the scriptural selection is shorter on some weeks than others, because of the inspiration that led the First Reader to select it, it seems natural that the silent prayer would also vary in length from week to week.
As attendees of the church services, we can acknowledge that every note of the hymns, every word that’s read, every second of silence—even if it’s only fifteen seconds—is governed by God and has a healing effect on that congregation. It’s not so much how many silent moments do we have, but what can we do with them? In Science and Health it says, “One moment of divine consciousness, or the spiritual understanding of Life and Love, is a foretaste of eternity” (p.598). If one moment could be a foretaste of eternity—just think of what fifteen moments could be!
All of the seconds of silent prayer combined in all of our branches and societies is an undeniable and transforming force in the world! When the members of First Church of Christ, Scientist, Atlanta, dedicated their church, Mrs. Eddy told them, “The silent prayers of our churches, resounding through the dim corridors of time, go forth in waves of sound, a diapason of heart-beats, vibrating from one pulpit to another and from one heart to another, till truth and love, commingling in one righteous prayer, shall encircle and cement the human race” (My., p.189).
Response 2: Curt Wahlberg
I couldn’t agree more with your idea of giving “the best we have to offer.” And certainly that means including in our services sufficient time for conscientious prayer.
When I was a reader, my fellow reader and I considered and discussed the issue quite a bit. The two of us also felt that we all maybe needed more time than what we’d typically had during services. With that in mind, I introduced our time for silent prayer by asking the congregation to take a “couple minutes” for it.
I don’t know exactly how long we prayed in the services during those three years, but I think there was some sense in the room that the silent prayer was important and powerful.
I’ve looked at it in terms of this citation from Miscellaneous Writings: “We, to-day, in this class-room, are enough to convert the world if we are of one Mind; for then the whole world will feel the influence of this Mind; as when the earth was without form, and Mind spake and form appeared” (p. 279). Indeed, I like to think that our prayer and worship service can profoundly help us to unite in one Mind and so help convert the world to a much diviner sense of things, a stronger sense of God’s presence and activity.
Perhaps this expectancy is the key for us to individually resolve your question. In the end, we need such expectancy in our prayer, more than we need additional time for it. Five seconds could prove to be sufficient, if there’s great expectation and clarity. To that end, I make a conscientious effort to clear my thought before the services and to then be ready minutes later, to immediately focus my prayer on the effort of feeling the presence of one Mind acting in the congregation.
I’ve gotten better at this, even when I only have those fifteen seconds you mention. I’ve better disciplined myself to focus on the job at hand and not think about the random things that come to me. This is something I can address.
I can’t directly do much about the group’s actions, but I can bring the best that I have to offer and thereby indirectly encourage collective progress. Recently after a service, someone asked why I seemed so intently focused. She apparently had picked up on something. I’m convinced that we can find ways to be a force in the congregation to support everyone in giving the activity the weight it deserves.