Response 1: John Q. Adams
For a branch church to be healthy, it must be a collective demonstration where all views are heard, and all are given access to filling the different positions, offices, and activities. Our Leader set this tone of equality and fairness by emphasizing rotation in office.
When we begin with the spiritual premise, "And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good," we have set a standard of spiritual perfection for ourselves and others (Gen. 1:31). All serious students of Christian Science endeavor to live by this declaration. It can be challenging when attending a Business Meeting at our branch church where many are inclined to air their personal views, sometimes with force. However, this is okay when we remember that we are part of a church family where members are endeavoring to practice Christly love.
I have found the following words by Mrs. Eddy to be a good guide when emotion begins to surge: " It is our pride that makes another's criticism rankle, our self-will that makes another's deed offensive, our egotism that feels hurt by another's self-assertion. Well may we feel wounded by our own faults; but we can hardly afford to be miserable for the faults of others" (Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896, p. 224).
Jesus leaves a perfect example of how to address human will and personal sense. In the Bible we read, "Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girdeth himself. After that he poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded" (John 13:3-5).
After he finished, he said, "Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you" (John 13: 13-15).
We have the ability to lay aside our own garments of human personality for our Christly identity. When we do this, we can easily follow our Master's example of wise counsel and un-selfed love. This will add the leaven of Truth to the thought atmosphere of our church, harmonizing it and blessing all of the members. What a privilege it is to be a healer in our own church.
Response 2: Mary Alice Rose
Our church By-Laws state that branch churches are "distinctly democratic" (Church Manual, p. 74), which, by definition, includes no hierarchy. Each member has an equal vote and is eligible for any organizational office, providing the member meets the requirements for the office according to the Church Manual and the branch church's By-Laws.
One of the great privileges — and great challenges — of church membership is working together for the Cause of Christian Science. This is accomplished most effectively as each member leans on God — divine Principle, Love, Mind — to interact with one another and carry out church business.
Most members would probably agree that attainment of selfless, consistent, and effective practice of Christian Science does deserve a level of respect, which is why deference is often given to those who are in the full-time practice of Christian Science healing. These individuals have generally demonstrated their commitment to leaning on God for wisdom and guidance in their daily practice. Readers also must demonstrate reliance on God for their work, and the Church Manual expressly gives a Reader the responsibility "to enforce the discipline and By-Laws of the church in which he is Reader" (p. 32). However, the Manual further states: "The Church Reader shall not be a Leader, but he shall maintain the Tenets, Rules, and discipline of the Church” (p. 32).
Respect for an individual's demonstration of Christian Science in no way means that the title of practitioner, teacher, or Reader elevates that individual to a position of controlling a branch church. Even Mrs. Eddy, the forever Leader of the Christian Science movement, admonished her students to "follow your Leader only so far as she follows Christ." ( Message ’01, p. 34; Message ’02, p. 4)
If one or more individuals seem to be exerting undue control or influence over a branch church, the best and first course of action should always be individual and collective prayer. This is what our Leader and the Master Christian, Christ Jesus, taught us. This is what they practiced. Acknowledging God as the only Mind and His Christ as the only active agent in human consciousness lifts us above personality, enabling all of us to see each other as equals in God's eyes and to recognize ideas that are truly divinely inspired no matter who originated them.
Perhaps prayer will lead to further steps: heartfelt conversations among individual members; a membership project of studying the Church Manual; the branch's Board acting to correct the situation. Or perhaps nothing will need to be said at all in order to effect healing and harmony within the church body. The Bible chapters I Corinthians 12-13 are very helpful in praying for church. We can let our collective love for Christian Science be the basis of our prayers for church and for one another.