Week 62: What can be done when it seems like one person’s (or a group of people’s) opinions are dominating a church?

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.

  1. We've noticed in many branch churches a tendency to quote the opinions of other revered members, assuming these opinions are based on the Manual, branch by-laws or another authority. They often are!

    But it doesn't hurt to go these sources oneself. In a conversation when there's no opportunity to do that, a gentle and respectfully asked question can help clarify or correct: "I'm not familiar with that rule. Please tell me where I can find it." Sometimes the "rule" turns out to be someone's mistaken concept or interpretation or a "hand me down" viewpoint. We can all learn more and require more authenticity, especially about our Manual.

  2. As a current Christian Science Journal-listed practitioner and a member of a branch church where I just finished a term as First Reader, I welcome this type of question as a reminder to be humble and endeavor to consistently express that Christly love for members individually and collectively. When individuals feel empowered by the Christ, then collectively during Wed testimony meetings, Sunday services, and church membership meetings, we can be an inspiring and powerful healing presence in our respective communities. What has helped me many times with church membership duties: " What we most need is the prayer of fervent desire for growth in grace, expressed in patience, meekness, love, and good deeds." (page 4 in Science and Health) And then let God lead your thoughts and actions.

  3. Christian Science branch churches have democratic by-laws and guidelines to properly make decisions on many issues. Unfortunately however, certain members feel they have more spiritual understanding of how things should be done. This does create an atmosphere of a person or persons, being somewhat dictatorial. This is not a loving way to run a church and these type of mortal mind set individuals must be delt with, by letting them know membership votes run the church; they do "NOT." Members must turn to God for guidance for healing of these individuals, as many branch churches face this type situation. Mortal mind does not run things, God's reflection run things and people know this as good practising Christian Scientists.So therefore in a kind way, these people must be put in their place and let them know they are loved, but don't fully run the church and must accept that position for things to also be harmonious.

  4. Thank you for these beautiful expressions of how to handle various feelings and focus on the healing, reconciliation, and harmony within ourselves, our families, our church, our communities, and the world.

  5. Being sensitive to the needs of others, and giving the support required, is living the parable of the good Smarten.
    Whereas being sensitive to self and responding to the false stimuli of other minds or personalities, makes you look to supplying your own need and self esteem.
    Christ brings to light the real man and eliminates any need for self sensitivity. God is the original and the reflection, for God is all. There is no superior or inferior position in this truth, a truth which tatters the fears of self and lifts us to the sensitivity of seeing the perfect man.

  6. Mrs. Eddy cautioned her students to find the error and pray about that, not a person. In this case I would deal with Phariseeism and superstition as qualities that are not coming from God but are destroyed when Christ comes into our hearts to heal pride and fear. A concordance study of these words helps to understand what we are really dealing with, and Christ's power over it.

  7. The fact that we are members of a branch church informs us that we must not only decide what concerns our local governance, but also raises the question, How does this decision serve the general good of the Cause of Christian Science through demonstrating genuine Christian Science. In speaking of this tree of life which we witness as fruitful and individual branches, Mrs. Eddy writes to us that her Rules and By-laws for the Manual of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, Boston, "...were not arbitrary opinions nor dictatorial demands, such as one person might impose on another." This recognition addresses the works of hierarchy. In Jesus' parable and proof of the wheat and the tares, the true-wheat bearing fruit is productive. The tares or false-wheat are non-productive. Jesus showed us the way and explained that we as God's servants in each of our local fields of labor do not need to decide for ourselves or for anyone else which is which, but rather to watch their growth. Then, to our individual lights it will become clear what are the tares,to be gathered up and deprived of any place to grow and not included in our local harvest. Our branch church affords us the opportunity that "rests upon and proceeds from divine Principle." To this, God bears witness. By recognizing and realizing that God is All-in-all we are witnesses to the genuine fruit and only then we confidently turn away from and deny space in our consciousness to the tares of personal sense or hierarchy.

  8. Thank you for all these helpful comments. Thinking about member's meetings it comes to me is that we all can contribute and never feel that our ideas / suggestions are not important. We must speak up for what we feel to be right as the outcome of our prayerful preparation for each meeting. I have often seen heads nodding and comments made afterwards which would have been supportive and helpful if one had had the courage to speak up. I remember one occasion when bringing a fairly new member home him asking "don't you mind if someone doesn't agree with you". My reply was " no, as long as they listened and understood". We must learn not to let these challenges grow upon our thought and lovingly listen then speak up.

  9. I am sometimes like the one who doesn't have the courage to speak up. But I prayed and asked God: "If I am Your i how could I speak?" And the answer was "Just be free."

    Silence is sometimes said to be golden.

    But Paul Simon wrote a song about it, "The sound of silence." In the words of that song there is a line that says "Silence, like a cancer grows."

    If silence is golden, therefore precious and loving, then it is right to have it.

    But if the silence causes hurt or even disease, it must be tyranical and has to be pushed down.

    Our job is to know when to speak and when to be lovingly still....isn't it?

  10. I just saw an error in my comment.

    Line 2 should read "If I am you idea, how could I speak?"

  11. I love the opening comments.. thank you everyone for sharing too. very helpful!
    A Church Service is the only place where people come together to acknowledge the supreme power of God. All dedicated to acknowledging/demonstrating this omnipotence we go to feel Christ's garment...... & come out living in praise. It frees us of opinions. We are the church of Christ not the Church of Christian Scientists!
    So a Church Alive Summit Meeting is celebrating the Christ being alive....... yesterday [in our church Testimony Meetings] and today preparing thought and doing well right now, and trusting ourselves to be alive in Christly thoughts! And those staying behindat home to open church doors are blessed by the omnipresence of Christ too!

  12. I applaud the deep thought, love, originality and purity of the responses by commenters #1=#10. I have learned something lovely from each of you.

    Lately I have been aware of how incredibly devoted practitioners and teachers and lecturers are to serving God and man, and I have been making a special point of including them and their effective healing work in my daily prayers for the world.

    I'm not sure, though, that I would "defer" to them in church discussions and decisions any more than I would "defer" to Readers or long-time church members. That doesn't feel like equality among brothers and sisters to me. What does feel like equality is when we all defer to God, His Christ and His Comforter. And even if that proper deference isn't visible or palpable, we each have the right to "know ... God is omnipotent, supreme." Such silent, calm, humble, active knowing IS "as in heaven, so on earth," including in church!

  13. Also comment #11, which wasn't on the screen when I was submitting my thoughts. :-) And humble thanks to the two original responders as well!

  14. I really prefer the type of Question which draws out two distinctly different responses, each in opposition to the other. With the current question, how can one take a position against the ideas expressed? In other words, all this type of question can do is to bring out comments in support of the concepts already very well expressed in the initial two "official" responses.

    Much more interesting, to me at least, were some of the Questions in the past, in which you could legitimately "argue" on both sides of the issue. The current question will probably engender some beautiful responses, but that's about it.

    Unless, of course, there really are those churches which find themsevles in a situation where one small group is dominating the rest of the membership. This, of course, is very wrong, and perhaps it might explain why so many CS branches find themselves mired in a morass of ultra conservatism.

  15. I've really enjoyed reading the answers to the question this week. I'd like to share a definition shared with me of the responsibilities of an Executive Board.

    Unlike a Board of Directors, an Executive Board is not empowered to set policy or direction. Rather, its role is to execute (carry out) the wishes of the members of the organization - hence its name. Its guidance usually comes from a combination of Bylaws and specific instructions taken by the shareholders/members at meetings held for that purpose.

    An Executivve Board is to carry out the wishes of the MEMBERS. If the Board is carrying out its own wishes, then there's obviously a problem. As a member we all have the right to be heard. If that right is being trampled, then we need to take steps to address that. It may involve writing the Board or meeting with them in person.

    If the problem is with an individual member(s), then again you need to be in contact with that person, as is found in the Matthew code. The biggest thing I think that needs to happen is communication. The Board answers to the members, not the other way around.

    Too may times when these control issues come up, members shut down, and begin to accept the situation. Thats about the worst thing that you can do. It fosters frustration and apathy (just to name a few) and if gone unchecked can lead to the demise of a branch church.

    Regardless of which situation you may find yourself. Don't give up, control is with God, no one else, and as it says in an old pamphlet, God's Law of Adjustment, (poorly paraphrased) when rightly appealed to, God's Law of Adjustment with take control and govern the entire situation.

  16. This is a topic worthy of good open dialogue for members of Christian Science branch churches. My heart is aflame with hope for Church Alive and what it can do for enlivening our church again and that includes this tough topic. I agree with much of what is said here including Brad's comments. "Timid conservatism" can take hold big time in a branch church when one group runs a church almost exclusively.

    A branch church board, it's readers, long time members, practitioners and teachers many times seem to run a church whether it is intentional or not, it seems. Members defer or remain silent around these people who hold these offices. The way I see it,while we are to uphold each other in serving church, including all of the above mentioned positions (if the branch chooses to continue a traditional board) -- no one member is more important or valuable than another member in God's eyes.

    Some branch churches are trying different forms of church government and working with the whole membership more vs. an all powerful board "running" the church allowing the members little voice which I have experienced also - that's a painful place to be in a church really. Also, some branches are rotating the readerships monthly as another example. We have to see what will work as we progress as a whole. Each branch will be different.

    Thank you to Dave for writing this: "Too may times when these control issues come up, members shut down, and begin to accept the situation. Thats about the worst thing that you can do. It fosters frustration and apathy (just to name a few) and if gone unchecked can lead to the demise of a branch church."

    That about says it all for me. Well said, Dave.

  17. I have a gem of a leaflet entitled "The Democracy of Prayer." It is a reprint from the 2-20-78 CSS. I would summarize it by saying that it encourages individual prayer w/the expectation of a collective realization when church "issues" seem to appear.

    Some years ago when pondering the meaning of the "Mathew Code," it occured to me that we are to take all issues to the Christ before we approach other human beings. I began to learn to seek a spiritual solution rather than confront personality, etc.

  18. Since identifying and destroying impositions on active church membership is the purpose of this feature, and not stirring up controversy for the sake of an interesting argument, I think this question and other recent questions are very relevant and helpful. Every branch church I've ever belonged to has grappled with this question, and its solution is not as simple as it appears. There is nothing incorrect about respectfully considering the viewpoint of an individual whose metaphysical work healed you of a longstanding difficulty, or who lovingly nursed your spouse as he/she struggled with a physical problem, or who you happen to know spends many hours per day in deep prayer and study in preparation for a church service. But it is incorrect to assume that the viewpoint of members who have not done these things (yet) aren't as valid.

    I recall as a new church member being on a committee with two Journal listed practitioners who had opposite views about what should be done in a certain situation. Even though I was clearly the junior member of the committee, the chairman specifically asked me MY view of the situation, and with a little humor but complete honesty, I validated both points of view but pointed out a solution that seemed to me to be the best for our church at that time. The other members of the committee agreed, and my position was adopted.

    It is very tempting to go along with the viewpoint of a long-time member or one who has apparently demonstrated more than you have. It can also be tempting to think, if you happen to have lots of experience in the Practice and as a church member, that "I've dealt with this before and I know what is best." But even though a problem or question seems familiar, its solution will never be identical to a solution in the past, because the membership is in a different mental place than it was in that past situation. Sometimes, oddly enough, trying a solution that seems incorrect to an experienced member may be what's needed before the membership as a whole can see why it won't work and then readily adopts a better idea -- sometimes even better than envisioned at the outset!

  19. I appreciate all the scriptural references included in the first two responses, starting with Genesis 1 - always the best place to start! And I was glad to see Dian #17 add the Matthew code which is crucial when the need arises to address people. I have a little pamphlet printed by the Quakers titled "BEYOND CONSENSUS: Salvaging Sense of the Meeting". I thought it a strange title until I learned that "Sense of the Meeting" is the Quakers term for the presence of the Holy Spirit in a business meeting. Here is a little summary of this gem (if the words seem odd, remember we have our own CS lingo :) -

    "In seeking the sense of the meeting we open ourselves to being guided to perfect resolution in the Light, to a place where we sit in unity in the collective inward Presence. Through consensus we decide it; through sense of the meeting we turn it over, allowing it to be decided. Reaching consensus is a secular process,' says a Friend.In sense of the meeting God gets a voice.'" (the Author) Morley describes three essential components in discovering sense of the meeting: release, long focus, and transition to Light, all of which are nurtured by worship."

    When I read this 24 page pamphlet, I thought - this would transform branch church democracies. That's my teaser for anyone in this conversation who's curious if there might be a better way to run business meetings. Here's the link: http://www.quakerbooks.org/beyond_consensus.php

  20. The most important thing to recognize is that no Human, no matter what his position outside of Church, be it Lawyer, Politition, or other wise has dominion over the Church Manuel as written by Mary Baker Eddy. The Church is governed Democratically, and every one is governed by "THE MATHEW CODE," as written in the Bible.