Week 58:"How important is it to have members in their places five or ten minutes before the service begins and to silently prepare mentally for the service, or to allow others this preparation time?”

Response 1: Becky Buhl

This invites a lively discussion since there’s no Manual-mandated answer. I’ve been in congregations where silence prior to services was uncomfortably deafening, and others, where joyous fellowship promoted healing—and—vise versa. It’s as individual as members and churches.

But two phrases jump out from this question: “in their places” and “to silently prepare.” The place of a Christian Scientist is fundamentally mental—being immovably God-centered; perpetually prayerful. Are we coming to services (and meetings) embodying the power of church alive? What are we bringing to church?

In an article titled, "Healing the Multitudes" by Florence C. Boyd, (Christian Science Sentinel, July 1, 1916, p. 867), it says:

"Mrs. Eddy once said to a student that she longed for the day to come when no one could enter a Christian Science church, no matter how sick or sorrowing that one might be, without being healed, and that this day can come only when every member of the church studies and demonstrates the truth contained in the Lesson-Sermon, and takes with him to the service the consciousness thus prepared."

Dear friends, isn’t this our goal? It’s not accomplished in a few minutes. It’s ongoing. We can and must claim the ever-presence of this healing consciousness, the irresistible Christ-power active in our services. It’s ours by reflection, and must be demonstrated. During those 5 to 10 minutes prior to the service its acknowledgement may be silent affirmations of truth and denial of error; joyous fellowship; quiet reviewing of the hymns; thoughtful conversation with the friend or stranger next to you; gracious listening to the musical prelude—or all of the above and more!

At the Tampa Bay Society where I’m a member, the Sunday School joins the congregation in the first hymn. Rarely is there pre-service silence, rather, friendly conversation and palpable joy; and occasionally the little ones tear around the room before the service begins. This innocent vivacity couldn’t possibly interrupt the healing power of the Christ! Speaking of the children our Master said, “Allow the little ones to come to Me, and do not forbid or restrain or hinder them, for of such is the kingdom of heaven composed” (Matt. 19:14, Amplified Bible).

Choosing not to scrutinize congregants ten minutes before services, or any moment, frees us to see everyone embraced in the infinite oneness of God’s Love. That heals.

Response 2: Tim Mitchinson

For many years I played clarinet with various ensembles. I played with large orchestras, concert bands, marching bands, jazz groups, and clarinet quartets. We always “warmed up” before every performance and practice session. Why? We needed that time to make sure our instruments were “in tune” with each other. If they were not, the music would be discordant from the beginning.

The same is true for church. It is very important to have the time to mentally prepare for each service, to turn to God and harmonize with His thoughts before the service begins. It gives us the opportunity to turn away from all the mental clatter that takes place outside the edifice (and sometimes even inside), and go into the closet Jesus spoke of in the Bible (see Matthew 6:6). Often it is helpful for usher committees and Sunday School officers to have a meeting where silent prayer and a brief reading from The Bible or Mrs. Eddy’s writings is offered as a “tuning note,” similar to a concert note given so that all members of the orchestra have their instruments in tune.

One time Mrs. Eddy invited the Countess of Dunmore to visit her. In the conversation, she and her family asked Mrs. Eddy how she was able to heal so proficiently. In essence, Mrs. Eddy answered that she was always ready to heal—her thought was always attuned to God. Then she told them very emphatically, “Keep your violin in tune” (Christian Healer, p. 265). Taking those moments before the service begins, is our opportunity to come together to get our thoughts in tune with God.

Silently praying for the service—knowing that the Word of God blesses each one who attends—is a powerful way to bring the harmony of divine Love more clearly to the mental atmosphere. It naturally brings out the “notes” of joy, spontaneity, grace, compassion, and affection to the service. This blesses the congregation, as we all feel the beautiful harmony of the sermon, readings, and testimonies. We want every service and meeting in our churches to be full of healing—so let’s keep our violins (or clarinets) in tune!

  1. I heartily agree that if the prayerful work supporting the service is done before we arrive at the edifice, then the 5 or 10 minutes (or 45 minutes or an hour -- depending upon when we arrive) is a joyful acknowledgement of the work that is already done, and an eager expectation to see the fruits of metaphysical work that is complete. While I think it's thoughtful and helpful to provide a calm and peaceful atmosphere in the sanctuary in the minutes before the service begins to allow all participants to actively put off mental distractions in preparation for the service, I'm grateful to know that can be done without dead silence since our church entry has no door between it and the sanctuary. Hearing them arrive, I'm reminded to lovingly include non-silently arriving Sunday School students and late-comers in the prep work for the service!

  2. Dont know about any other churches but I know our Branch church members have a degree in turning up at 10.59 !! each week ,church starts at 11
    asking members to arrive early is really proving difficult & it ain't happening at the moment ...
    really agree with the comments made above , i think one thing to remember about cs branch church services is that they are only 1 hr , i have christian friends whom are really devoted to local church of a different denomination they often start at 10 thru till 2pm they usher, say a few prayers before there main service starts. If our fellow christian friends can make the effort then so can christian scientists .
    saying a few silent prayers b4 the service starts makes all the difference.

  3. We advertise our church services to begin at a certain time, so outside of those ushering, directly involved in the service, I wonder what it really means to have members "in their places". To me, part of our daily prayer on Sunday would include church. Our arrival at the church service would not be disruptive or distracting, but reflecting the attributes of God, tuned up, ready to go! We would want to be careful not to define the time before the service in a Pharisee construct: some formula of behavior that the success of the service is measured or determined. As loyal dedicated members, are we going to allow another's behavior to distract from our mission? Becky's question: "Are we coming to services (and meetings) embodying the power of church alive?" should be answered with a Yes!

  4. Thanks to all of the previous responses and comments bringing out many good ideas and suggestions. I appreciate the most the one that says "As loyal, dedicated members, are we going to allow another's behavior to distract from our mission?" There are those who do sit quietly in prayer before our services, setting a good example. But all need not participate. There is room for allowing friendly conversation as well. I would love to hear the voices of children before any service. I'm sure the teachers do try to keep them quiet. In our church our Sun. School students join church periodically for the final hymn and closing, and we try to arrive as quietly as possible, but there are times when the little voices can be heard. We are actually most grateful to have those voices to hear.

  5. I love to spend the time before church in prayer, and sometimes reading from Science and Health. My prayer is to see only the Christ, to hear only the words of Soul, to love all who come as the children of God. That said, it is an individual thing for each of us how we prepare for the church service. Our organist starts playing about 10 minutes before the service, and that is kind of a signal to settle down and think of spiritual things rather than chatter with our friends about secular things. Our ushers welcome each one and chat a bit as people come in. We have a foyer where that takes place, so the auditorium itself is quieter and more geared to the service and those who wish to pray. There can be room for both if we respect each other and love what we are doing.

  6. I'm thanking God,Truth, Life, and Love for all of the above - all one with the Almighty One expressing diversity not division!

  7. Mary Baker Eddy wisely provided for music before the service in the form of a prelude. I like to think of this a a wordless inspiration and invitation to commune with God. These few minutes help prepare me for the service, quiet wordy thoughts, and calm my material senses. I love how ushers are available in the foyer to greet those entering the church and the auditorium provides a space for communion in deeper thought with Divine Love, Mind. Both are necessary.
    Rushing in at the last minute seems too bad. Imagine missing the glorious organ music and an opportunity to pray for the service!

  8. It certainly is appropriate for anyone with "duties" at church such as Sunday School teachers, readers, ushers, etc. to arrive early. Unfortunately it seems to be part of U.S. culture to arrive at the last minute or even late. I think that's part of the illusion of multitasking; being busy appearing to get things done. Getting their early to pray and to be ready to welcome and to be ready for unexpected contingencies; it's the responsible thing to do.

  9. Thank you all for your sharing.

  10. I'd be thrilled if my fellow members arrived 1 minute before. My experience has been that during the musical introduction to the 2nd hymn, there's a large rush of latecomers into the auditorium (the usher having asked them to remain in the foyer during the reading of the hymn). I've tried really hard not to let this bother me and it shouldn't matter to me. Why does it? I guess because it speaks to a casualness about the sacredness of the hour and allowing material claims to usurp the importance of getting to the service on time. A dear friend and practitioner once commented that Christian Scientists have a terrible laxity about being timely for their church services. As for me, I teach in the Sunday School now! And yes, we have some chronically late teachers....

  11. I sing along with Christian CD's while driving to church.
    It is awesome how singing loud and clear, "Choose God" or
    "I Walk with Love along the Way" and so many of our inspiring songs prepares me for church. I arrive happy, knowing who I am as God's beloved daughter in whom He is well pleased. These joyful songs lift me out of whatever stuff I am "working on" and transport me to a higher plane, spiritually. Makes me ready to receive more at the fount.
    I perceive church service as an extension of that fount, pouring forth grace and love and blessings. I thirst and am satisfied.

  12. Actually, I agree with everything that has been said and appreciate the thoughts and ideas. But the "error" of lateness for church services isn't only a US problem. Here in Tokyo, it is the same....sadly. I wonder what visitors think when they arrive to a mostly empty church that continues to fill little by little even up to the last 15 minutes. If we don't cherish and feel the importance of the services by arriving at an appropriate time, why would anyone else see any need to come to our church services? We all need to do better, and we can.

  13. Thanks for this discussion! I love some of the ideas shared here, particularly that each church has its own feel, and each individual has their own way of being prepared, whether it's sitting quietly or arriving just before the service but in a truly healing frame of mind.

    As a reader, I'm trying to find ways to encourage people to appreciate the music as part of the service. Just last night I included an announcement lovingly encouraging everyone to remain during the postlude and appreciate the music and the chance to reflect on the healing messages of the Wednesday service. And almost everyone sat and stayed until the music was finished!

    We're also going to have more music (a minute or two) on Sunday between the conclusion of the Lesson Sermon and the start of the collection. Again, a chance for spiritual lessons to soak in instead of rushing to get on with the next part of the service.

  14. Gratitude and love for every attendee - no matter when they arrive - creates the healing atmosphere that we all crave. Gratitude and love can be expressed both ways - silently AND audibly!

  15. I started arriving earlier on Wednesday evenings because of a newcomer's example who came 15 minutes early! This little sacrifice supports the musician and ushers and the service and Reader. As a substitute organist on Wednesdays and Second Reader on Sunday, I very much appreciate members' supportive prayers and presence that little bit beforehand.

  16. We have the calming Prelude already in place. Some effort to call attention to the music includes posting the names of the pieces on the bulletin board, and/or thanking the musician. Members need to value the music and musician, with listening and gratitude.
    During our 30 mile commute to services, we play sometimes CD's from the Anthology of Classic Articles, or music. We expect to be there on time. We have left late, and arrived early, or left early and arrived at the last minute.
    We have attended Wednesday church services where the small children attended the opening and closing in their jammies, then retreated to the nursery. Also where older children attended the opening or closing. It's all great.

  17. At first I was not going to comment this week since the Question did not arouse any particularly strong feelings in me one way or the other. However, having read all of the comments to date, I will say that basically I agree with most of what others have already said. Essentially, I think most contributors have seemed to agree that how one spends the time before service is an individual choice. For some, it may mean sitting quietly in peacful thought, while others may engage in quiet and unobtrusive conversation with fellow worshippers.

    With a declining number even making the effort to come out to service at all, it is counter productive for a branch church to "request" an unnatural silence before the service, even if the purpose (the preparation of thought for the service)is perhaps understandable.

  18. Hi all! Thanks so much to each and every one of you spiritual healers for weighing in with your experiences and prayerful responses. It's all about love, isn't it! Love, love, love and more love ... the Christly light kinda LOVE--embracing and respecting all. We're on the same team, God's team, Truth's team. How each branch springboards its expression of CHURCH from the Manual, will look (should look) and feel fresh and individual. There's so much more we can all be doing to live vibrant, healing CHURCH; Holy Ghost inspiration is leading us ... we just have to listen, demonstrate, and move forward in the light.

  19. Many thanks from me also for all the helpful sharing on this topic - really helpful. I think my preparatory prayers now will consist of knowing that God is governing every one of us, and is in charge of the whole service, and nothing can prevent the healings from coming forth by everyone's participation in the way that God is giving them. Everyone is in the right place at the right time and is being given right spiritual healing thoughts to bring to the services and testimony meetings. There is nothing for us to be concerned about when we just love all the truth and let God take care of it all.

  20. Wherever we are whether on the street, in our homes, or in the church at a service, our mission is always the same...love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. We offer the healing church services in the very best loving manner we know how. We leave the rest up to God and we do not judge. Each person entering the building has, at least, showed up. They are expecting something...companionship, duty, healing, something. We don't know, but God knows what they need. Our job is to offer the service, pray that it meets the needs, and expect healing. Thanking the readers, thanking the musicians, thanking the ushers is all an expression of gratitude which is helpful for all. I don't think any of these things should be dictated.

  21. Sure, I agree that members should arrive 5 or 10 minutes before the service starts to metaphysically prepare.
    I also feel that members should arrive every Wednesday ready to give a testimony. And arrive every Sunday ready to teach Sunday School if needed. And invite 10, 20, 30, maybe more, friends to every lecture. And share Science and Health with every neighbor. And subscribe to and read every issue of the Monitor, Sentinel and Journal. And serve in the Reading Room at least once a month. And help shovel the snow and chip the ice off the front walk. And always sing the hymns in the right key. And attend every business meeting. And never, never withdraw their name when an election takes place. And oh, sooooo much more. But since I'm still working on all these things, I guess I'll hold my comments about those who don't arrive 5 or 10 minutes before the service...especially those who are parents of little ones. (God bless 'em for getting everyone up, fed, dressed, and out the door at the same time!!) "We're all on the road to Damascus," as my Dad always told me. :-)

  22. Hmm. Is it true that the ONLY time we can pray for church is in the moments before the service? I like praying throughout the week, earlier in the day, and on the drive to church. Then letting the love flow when I come in the door!

    I LOVE greeting people at church and thinking of them as my family. And I LOVE being greeted and welcomed in return. And not just by the ushers, but by everyone I see. I miss this connecting when I visit other churches and no one says anything to me. Then I feel like I wasn't even there, and could maybe have stayed home and read the lesson by myself. I do that all week and it's important. But I want to SHARE when I get to church. It lifts me up to know I have friends for the journey.

    And in our community center services, where we have to set up everything fresh for every service, there is often that one more thing to do that helps out. It's also good to be ready to do it, whatever it might be.

  23. Thanks for all the great comments.

    Guess the question that I have centers around the pereceived need for "conversation" before a service.
    As it's only 60 minutes long, can't we give that time to supporting the service prayerfully?

    The old saying that, your right to swing your fist through air ends, when it connects with my nose. I think the same idea applies to the time before and after a service. Your right to friendly conversation ends when it interferes with my desire for quiet time.

    In the same sense that if you want to talk after a service, to me, its not fair to stand there and try to talk over the postlude being played, especially when often there are people sitting there trying to listen to whats being played. The musicians have been practicing hard all week, and they deserve our attention and support. Not to mention that fact the Mrs. Eddy included the postlude as part of our worship service. After the postlude is done, there's all afternoon to talk.

  24. I'm grateful to know that each church is different, that there is no prescribed procedure for behavior before church. That's where ritual and coldness thrive. It's natural to want to pray for church, and to come already prepared is the best. For me, the healing atmosphere in church is best supported when I can have a few moments to collect my thoughts after the drive, getting parked and into church, greeting those I see, entering, sitting down, getting settled. The prelude invites my thoughts into the sanctuary of Spirit and "shuts the door on sinful sense." It seems to me that whatever one is led to do to be loving and supportive of healing and each other, which is what our Pastor is preaching, is appropriate. Most recently I visited a church where a conversation before church was so loud it drowned out the organ prelude. From what I heard, the conversation could have been conducted after church. It was very distracting. If inviting the Sunday School children into the church service for the opening or closing hymn is what your church wants to do, that's wonderful. But whatever activity goes on in your church, be thoughtful of how it affects those sitting around you. If your motive is to love, to welcome, greet, forgive, assist, comfort, heal, then whatever this activity is, it will support the healing service. If it is personal, selfish, impatient or thoughtless, then it might come across as disturbing. In any family, thoughtfulness goes a long way toward creating warmth.

  25. It doesn't seem helpful to scrutinize when people arrive at church. Hey, member or non-member, they wanted to come to church! That's something to be grateful for. We can embrace them in our thoughts and focus on our own spiritual growth. There have been times in my life when I've arrived later because I haven't felt 100% and am working something out. But I still made an effort to be at church. When I showed up in jeans and late, ushers welcomed me with love. And what about people who have young kids or college students who have to catch a ride with someone? Yes, maybe sometimes they're late. But I think overall, we can do better at worrying about these things less and welcoming more. People will feel that and respond. Maybe that change of thought will lead to adjustments.

  26. It seems, from reading the above posts, that there are many different ways of looking at this situation. I tend to side with the group that thinks that there is no one "rule" which should be applied to the time before services.

    I will offer one suggestion though. Most of the "mainstream" Protestant churches have a "social hour" following the Sunday service. At this time, along with light refreshments, there is ample time for friendly conversation among the attendees. I know that a few CS churches have begun this practice (notably places like the Society in San Juan Capistrano,CA). Perhaps more branches should take a page from their book.

  27. Having read the comments, it seems as though there is as much variety as there are churches! We have a wonderful organist, and probably 50% of our members arrive early enough to listen to her. Our Sunday School comes up to sing the last hymn with us once a month. And, once a month, we do the light refreshment thing afterwards, too. Although not everyone voted for it, most do participate, (especially if the cinnamon rolls are still warm!) and if they did not, they just slip out. It would be lovely if they stayed to listen to the postlude too... but the church I attend in the summer definitely does, and applauds at the end! So there you are - I think the lesson here is - whatever works for you!

  28. Thank you Becky for your emphasis on inclusive Love. The whole question seems to be about judging others' behavior, which we would do well to get away from.

    Mary Baker Eddy says: "Organization and time have nothing to do with Life" (Science and Health, p. 249). Although it is considerate to be on time and focused before services, better late than never!

    If the prelude is part of the service then have it start at the time listed for the service! If the postlude is part of the service, then have the time listed for the postlude and announce that it is part of the service!
    When a time for a service/meeting is listed then anyone who arrives by the time listed is ON TIME! No one should be made to feel guilty for being on time for a service. If so, why bother going? No one should be made to feel guilty for arriving after the stated time. Maybe they should not come at all! (which apparently many are choosing NOT to come due to the nasty looks or percieved reproach/critcism.)
    A person chooses to be there at THEIR time and should be free to choose THEIR time, for whatever reason THEY choose. They get what they need, and it sure should not be criticism, coldness, disgust, etc.
    The fact is that THEY DID COME!
    Are you really saying that you would rather have them NOT COME! in other words, STAY AWAY! Don't bother coming if you can't be on the time stated.
    How about the following actual true situations which I have personally witnessed. Would you want them NOT to have come?
    A woman walked over ten miles just to be at church.She was "late"
    An elderly couple had to walk a long ways, take a taxi part way, take 3 other modes of transportation to get to church. they were "late"
    A women had been run over by a truck on her way to church. Yes, run over by a truck. Fire trucks and ambulances attended to her, but she chose a Christian Science facility to bandage her. She made it to church with torn pants (oooh! from some fashion police), but she was "late"
    A mechanic was working on a truck underneath when it fell on him with no one around, so he prayed and was able to lift it off him. He made it to a Wednesday meeting although covered in grease! (oooh!from the fashion police. He was late!

    One person agreed to pick up two allegedly disabled persons who wanted to go to church. They had asked others but the others 'couldn't make it'. The driver had to drive many miles and make room for walkers/wheelchairs. They arrived in the foyer 3 minutes before the service time listed, but the doors were barred because the service was 'about to start'. To them, they were on time. They had to stand, with difficulty and discomfort, for some time during the hymn to enter. One left in disgust, did not attend the service.
    Some might say that they should have prepared better. Perhaps those are the ones who refused to pick up those who wanted to attend.
    As to the ones who are habitually late, they need everyone's love. Perhaps they are actually saying, "Why bother getting here on time? Nobody can say anything. Everyone is in 'their' own world! They don't care about me. They don't even smile or say hi, or greet me or talk to me. They just seem cold, indifferent, lacking in even the slightest of friendliness. Plain Selfishness. I have questions, I want someone to share something with me, I have had a rough time and am seeking seeking something. The readings are nice and the music is, well, ahem, different, not what I am used to, but how come the people aren't talking to each other? At least before the service or after?"

    Others who come late might think it is a 'power trip' a 'hate statement' or a'fashion statement' like "I want everyone to see me in this new outfit. I will wait until everyone is seated so that I can walk in like on a runway and have everyone look at my new fashion statement." or "I really don't want to be here, so I will come late, and I have done my duty by making an appearence."
    These type of latecomers really need our love. They are all reaching out for healing. Instead of condemning or criticizing, Pray to know that their needs will be filled. Love them for coming and seeking a healing.

    And for those who have no consciousness of time and are at total peace with themselves and God's plan for them, as in other cultures, just love them and let them stay in peace and pray for that kind of peace which is assured of God's plan for them.

    Lots of love to all.

  30. I could not agree more with the last comment. "LOVE THE LATE" and don't judge! Just love!