Week 59: "How important do you consider the question of rotation in office to be in branch churches?"

Response 1: Patricia Tupper Hyatt

Rotation in office is vital to the growth of a branch church. Each time a member assumes a new responsibility, he or she is forced to grow—and, as each member grows, the church grows.

The responsibility for moving members from one position to another belongs more to the church than to the individual member. It’s been my observation that if members are “holding on for dear life” to certain offices, they have already been left in those offices far too long! They may even have fallen for the temptation to “identify” with their positions, and this could lead to fear of losing one’s very worth if taken out of them! Through enforcing timely rotation in office, we protect one another from such needless concerns and prevent hurt feelings from the get go. We encourage spiritual progress all around.

Sometimes the problem is that no one else will accept a given position. It may seem daunting, especially if the one who has held it has done an exceptional job. In such a case, it’s comforting to consider that it’s something like moving into a new office in the workplace. You have demonstrated your readiness to work in that office, as evidenced by your being asked to do so. Yet, you don’t need to go to the time and effort to furnish it. It already has a desk, a computer, a printer and all that is needed to carry on the work. Isn’t it the same with taking on a new position at church? The “office” is already provided and set up. The talents and qualities required come intact with the office. All you have to do is simply move in and begin expressing these individual qualities and talents God has given you.

Rotation in office also prevents church stagnation. When a corporation needs a particular department to move in a new direction, change is likely to take years if the same staff is left in place. Yet, the company can effect immediate change simply by putting in new personnel—people who hold no preconceptions as to procedure. Hence, a church that repeats the same Readers, the same Clerk, the same Treasurer, etc., isn’t likely to express the degree of freshness and new expectation as will a church that is obedient to Mrs. Eddy’s vision in this regard. She wrote in The First Church of Christ Scientist, and Miscellany, “Rotation in office promotes wisdom, quiets mad ambition, satisfies justice, and crowns honest endeavors” (p. 250).

Response 2: Don Adams

Rotation in office is about more than just “taking turns.” It’s really about spiritual growth and progress.

Mary Baker Eddy constantly challenged the status quo and brought change. She wasn’t trying to impose her own personal opinions, but praying to honor this verse from the Lord’s Prayer, including its spiritual sense: “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Enable us to know, —as in heaven, so on earth, --God is omnipotent, supreme” (Science and Health, p.17). Shaking things up just to replace another person’s way of doing things with our own way doesn’t necessarily guarantee real freshness or progress. Striving to listen for God’s angels, to be receptive to His direction, to see God’s nature more clearly—these motives, Mrs. Eddy assured us, “give pinions to thought” (Science and Health, p. 454). And thought pinioned with love sparkles.

Progress is human evidence of our individual spiritual growth. Rising higher, we change. We progress. The world progresses, including our churches. If we’re not changing and progressing in our daily lives, we’re probably not growing much. Change, freshness, new inspired views, better ways of doing things—these are organic fruits of spiritual development and maturity. These harvests—these fruits of our growth—come with us wherever we go. We call this growth healing, and other people can’t possibly stop our spiritual growing and healing.

Science and Health states, “All the varied expressions of God reflect health, holiness, immortality—infinite Life, Truth, and Love” (p. 518). Note Eddy’s use of the term, varied, here. The perfection of being is expressed in variety—infinite variety. Spiritual growth, then, shows up in less sameness and more variety.

Commenting about the new Manual By-Law providing three-year terms for Readers in The Mother Church (p. 26), Eddy wrote, “The effect of this By-law has been earnestly and conscientiously considered. Its intent is to enlarge the capacity and increase the interest in this large Church—by conferring its duties and honors on a large proportion of its members” (Christian Science Sentinel, May 29, 1902, p. 624).

Rotation in office provides wider opportunity to share responsibilities, promoting greater spiritual learning while allowing more variety. In these ways, it nudges us nearer spiritual reality. This is fundamentally why, to answer your question, rotation in office is important. However, the only real driver of inspired freshness, variety, and change is the spiritual progress we each make, and which rotation in office supports. Rotation without spiritual growth is often just repetition. But where there is real spiritual growth taking place, we see enlightened ideas, vitality, and healing.

  1. So true. Thank you.

    My favorite idea from Patricia: The “office” is already provided and set up. The talents and qualities required come intact with the office. All you have to do is simply move in and begin expressing these individual qualities and talents God has given you.

    My favorite idea from Don: Change, freshness, new inspired views, better ways of doing things—these are organic fruits of spiritual development and maturity. These harvests—these fruits of our growth—come with us wherever we go. We call this growth healing, and other people can’t possibly stop our spiritual growing and healing.

  2. I agree with Patricia Hyatt's and Don Adams' very intelligent and well expressed responses to "This Week's Question". It would be difficult to find anything to disagree with in what each of them has written.

    Rotation in office would be hard to argue against. A new person in any position would certainly bring with them fresh ideas. However, that being said, I do have one other point to make. With declining memberships in so many branch churches today, it is often difficult to find enough members willing to take on "high level" offices, such as First or Second Reader, Clerk, Treasurer, Board of Trustees positions, etc.

    Frequently, there is no choice other than to ask those who have served already to continue to serve again, if they are willing. I think that this is more often than not the case, except for perhaps those branches fortunate enough to still have a large membership.

    As most of you are already aware, some churches are finding it increasingly a problem to find members who are willing to serve a full three year term as First or Second Reader. Instead, they ask members to serve for a shorter period of time, on a kind of rotational basis. Personally, I do not see anything wrong with this, and many people seem to like the change in Readers, from time to time. Also, in many smaller branches, it is not at all uncommon for some people to serve in several capacities at the same time.

  3. The emphasis on individual spiritual growth and progress, that Don Adams brought out is significant to me. It gets us out of our comfort zone to consider doing something new--where we have to rely on God's grace to do it. Rotation in office encourages sharing. We need others to provide expertise and support but not do the same job for years. It encourages teamwork and humility--lots of good spiritual qualities.

  4. Don and Patricia have given us some excellent ideas to ponder--the whole idea of freshness and spiritual progress in church work. Love Don's "organic fruits of spiritual development and maturity". Brad's always thoughtful comments bring the error to be addressed to the surface. I'm grateful for that. I refuse to accept "declining membership" as fact. I challenge the whole premise. Yesterday I attended a church in AZ brimming with vitality, energy, and yes, people! We're in the healing business. It just takes one right thinker to do that. There IS healing going on in this church! Yes, we have some things to address...no doubt...but the fact remains that all of us who are in branch churches (and I mean really IN branch churches) are on the front line of healing. And we will bring more and more of those "organic fruits" to the whole world scene. SO thankful for this blog and for the contributors with their heartfelt comments.

  5. Absolutely great ideas from both writers and those who made comments. Rotation in office is vital to spiritual growth.

  6. An interesting article I read about strong corporations and precision military squads was that they "cross train." They make sure that more than one person knows how to do each job, so that no positions are dependent on a single person. That way, when needed, someone else can step right in to a position if a vacancy appears. This makes sense in any organization, it seems to me. In CS, we strive not to depend on person, but on Principle, so in principle, each one should already include the right ideas and willingness to do each job in church.

  7. Sometimes the size of the membership is a factor in rotation. As members find themselves wearing more hats, it is difficult to let go of one who does an outstanding job in their position (clerk, rr librarian). But I do think that this is vital to progress to allow others to take up the "mantle", whether it be after 1 year or three years, depending upon how it is structured in the branch by-laws.

  8. Wow, what wonderful responses. This most certainly needs to be address prayerfully. I love how our Leader, Mary Baker Eddy shares with us her demonstration of church and what she experienced. She shares those views in most loving ways. The quote give by Patricia Hyatt of Mrs. Eddy's statement about rotation in office from a short article in My page 250 is so appropriately titled "Words for the Wise."

    I especially like the part where Mrs. Eddy tells us rotation "quiets mad ambition." Animal magnetism would love to pull the power play on us and even suggest that no one can do a job as well as we can, or to the assigning Board the suggestion they can't find anyone who will accept. But have they asked every single member if they would be willing to try this or that job? I have seen in most cases that the Board is mesmerized into believing only certain people will accept or are capable of doing a particular job. Too many churches send out what the call preference sheets and ask members what they are willing to serve on, instead of praying about who they feel God is directing them to appoint.

    When I first became a member of a branch church (many years ago)I was only asked if I would be willing to serve wherever needed. Then the Board prayed about where I might serve effectively. I found I was asked to do jobs I had never considered before, but grew spiritually by accepting them. We don't need to fear accepting something we have never done before. As God's expression we are all capable of more than we think we can do. So next time you are asked to try something new...just say yes.

  9. I just came from a work meeting where our group was presented with the sudden news of personnel changes in oour office, job shifts and job rotations due to budgetary constraints. People are scared with the perspective of doing more for the same pay, and doing something differnt that is not so appealing. Change is not always welcome specially when the new is not better than the old. ALthough everyone is relieved to have job security ant the time, the picture of austerity is felt in our office for the first time, and it is far from cheerful.
    Then, I came back from the meeting and read this article.
    It has to do with renewal and growth.
    Right in the middle of "bad times," it is important to know that good is constantly going on and governing our lifes. What seems to be bad can turn around and become a new opportunity for something better. Things that are wrong can be corrected and improved. We should all keep a sense of expectation for good no matter what challenges we face, because our lives, including all our activities, are governed by good (God) and nothiing else.
    Thanks for the article; its spiritual ideas are applicable to our jobs as well.
    Clara Fuentes

  10. I find that when i have done a job or held an office and then go on to another, I have a better understanding of what the next person is dealing with in that office. That in itself is a worthy reason for rotation in office.

  11. It serves both the appointee and potential replacement that there be rotation in office. It also serves the church to bring in new people with new thinking. This should be part of church by-laws, thus making it part of the governing system, so individuals don't need to struggle with it. No one then has to wish someone would leave a position. It should be a win-win-win - benefitting outgoing and incoming appointments and the church as a whole.

  12. It would be a good idea for church bylaws to state that rotation in office is a goal, and probably quote the bit from MY 250 that Patricia shared.

    In some churches, a rotation bylaw rule would be hard to follow, and I have been a member of a church where it was impossible to follow, though, from years past, there was such a rule in the bylaws. It had to be removed.

    Bylaws applicable to a meeting are sometimes read in churches at the beginning of the meeting. At meetings where officers are to be voted on or appointed, the rotation goal (not rule)could be read up front as a thought springboard.

  13. I seem to remember a comment Mary Baker Eddy made that rotation in office should apply to elected officers - people good at doing the essential work should be allowed to continue in those jobs. That said finding members willing to be readers can be difficult so for a time our church group maintained team reading, which we still do for Wednesday even though we have a member who is willing to be First Reader. Small groups seem to have to be very vigorous if church is to work - the one essential ingredient is being ready to be willing.

  14. Sometimes the language of a question catches my thought. In this case, it was the statment that persons can try to hold on to a position for "dear life." It did not sound respectful of those who have served with sincerity & devotion. But it also reminded me that we cannot hang on to "positions outgrown." I realized that were I clinging to a position or seeing another as doing so, I would need to correct my own thought. In fact, I did so after reading the question. But given that individual prayer does lead to collective realization, what one may have outgrown will offer another spiritual growth & each who serves in any particular position will contribute to the spiritual growth of a church.... Indeed, the individual growth of each church becomes part of the collective growth of church as defined in S&H.

  15. A lot of wisdom here, but it only applies where there are sufficient members to enable differeent choices to be made in Branches or Socities. Many dwindling meberships are fighting for survival where this desirable action may be out of reach.

  16. Change for change sake is to me desperation, a lack of confidence that God is All. As Brad says, it is often hard with dwindling congregations to get people to serve, but beyond that it is the change in attitude, and constant prayer for inspiration that keeps the movement fresh. There is a church in our area that has had the same reader for years, and you have never attended a more vibrant service in your life. The desire, and reaching out for divine inspiration from the 'office' is what determines the freshness, not person in the office.

  17. In two branch churches I've belonged to, we've found it helpful to ask people where they would like be active. That seems so logical to me. Then the board can see what slots might need filling and handle that in various ways. I think that asking people what they want to do brings great freedom. I understand that perhaps not everyone who wants to do something is capable of doing that job, for one reason or another; but experience has shown me that these things can be worked out step by step. Rotation in office is a very good thing, though sometimes it is hard to accomplish.

  18. Thanks, Kenneth, for "seconding" my remarks (see #2). Basically, I agree with almost everything that has been said to this point, but I strongly feel that many branches are really in a kind of "survival" mode and are struggling just to hang on. Over many years, I have been connected in some way with 6 branches which have closed because of declining membership.

    The two (formerly) largest branches in New Jersey (where I live) have recently downsized into much smaller spaces (Montclair and Ridgewood). Monclair sold its large 1926 edifice for development into business offices (they will retain a small area seating about a hundred in the redeveloped space) and Ridgewood sold its large edifice built back in the late 1950's and has bought and moved into a small bank building. These two developments are not necessarily to be viewed in a negative way, but I think that it does show what is happening these days in the CS field. Several times a month it seems that I read about a branch church selling its too large building and moving into either its Reading Room or a storefront.

    One, after all, does have to be realistic about the current situation.

  19. I deeply agree on rotation. It greatly enhances "division of labour' and we all feel bressed as we are aiming the same goal of spiritualization. We are all one in the "larger thought of God". No comparison but in all the same glory of serving our God.

  20. In a new era of growth and unfoldment there will be positions and needs that we haven't even imagined. We must be receptive to them. Doing our best in a present assignment prepares us for them. When a sailor unhappy with an assignment came to talk, I always told him to perform the duties the very best he could and he wouldn't be doing them long.

  21. Holding on for dear life to a position seems to be the crux of the matter in cases of which I am aware. Movement of thought to allow someone else the possibility to do a task is something to be achieved. In business, I found that anyone could do my job even though I did it well. Hanging on is sometimes tied to the remuneration that one is receiving. So perhaps the ones being paid could rotate in a way to allow growth for all. This should not be the reason for staying in a position funded by a non profit organization. Keeping the rotation impersonal by abiding by the bylaws of the organization eliminates the "mere personal attachment" to a position. I do not say it is easy, but I believe it is a wholesome necessity.

  22. I wonder how all this fits with the broadening church activity we experience through the presence of the internet?

  23. Different times and circumstances, we all agree, call for different solutions. One of the happier instances was when no one in an ample congregation would sign on to the nursery, which had a good number of small children. The Board finally assigned every member to that committee. As they were scheduled, some men who would never have volunteered found out that was the most fun place at church, and volunteered often, and signed up the next year, too.
    When there was not much interest in the Reading Room, except for the same few, the Board assigned 50 members to the RRm, and I had to schedule them. It woke up a lot of bench warmers to appreciate the purpose of RRm. It settled in to about 30, and made the church more distinctly democratic. There was huge progress in visitors and sales.
    In the current situation, I joined a very small Society. You couldn't break in to the ruling clique with an axe. They stay in the same position forever. I prayed for new members, and for God's law of adjustment. Two new people came. Two moved away. One centenarian passed. Some movement and fresh assessment is taking place.

  24. Rotation!Rotation! It seems if one is in office or a position too long they get so conservative that any inspiration gets bogged down with fear of change. Although, I feel like a good idea should not be tossed out by a new person ego,instead of improving upon the good idea.

  25. I have been retired from my position of Accountant since 1993. My supervisor made it a point that every employee knew one another's job. This way there was no excuse as I have found, now that I'm retired, when I call a Bank or some other kind of business, that the person taking care of such and such is on vacation. All of us could help our customers. I am in full agreement with the Principle of rotation, even in conducting Church work.