Week 65: "How can we encourage more members to actively serve in church?"

Response 1: Rebecca Odegaard

Christ Jesus declared that “The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few” (Luke 10:2) and then instructed that we pray to God for more laborers, — not because the labor is great, but because the harvest is!

The harvest, or yield, from working in church must be the innumerable blessings that come to us by way of selflessness, increased patience, forgiving love, and the pure joy of serving God.

Praying together, the essential work of church, tends to file away our rough edges, exposes human will as useless, and polishes up and reveals the true image and likeness we are as God’s children. Serving church brings this out, because it is our love for God that impels such giving, and its profit is transformation.This is the real result of church work; it provides an opportunity to prove the Truth we love by practicing it. “ churches are laboratories of Truth, spreading the good news of divine, scientific achievement” (Christian Science Sentinel, “Christian Science Healing and the Individual,” July 22, 1950).

What is the achievement of Church? The “Glossary” describes that it proves its utility by “elevating the race, rousing the dormant understanding from material beliefs to the apprehension of spiritual ideas, and the demonstration of divine Science, thereby casting out devils or error, and healing the sick” (see Science and Health, p. 583).

Participation in this magnificent good isn’t something that we need to necessarily encourage in others, but something we embrace so deeply as we are serving that others observe it through the love apparent in our approach and in our actions. It’s irresistible.

Our real church work is to see and know that each and everyone is completely secure in God’s kingdom. Everyone is placed by God in this harvest field, so we needn’t track what others are doing, but rather, support the fact that each is being shown what to do. “They also serve who only stand and wait,” Mary Baker Eddy quoted and recommended her students to adopt (The First Church of Christ Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 224). This is the generous love that stirs every heart to action as God directs. It is the same love that enabled Jesus to proclaim, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). Serving God and loving one another within the context of church work is a privilege and a joy. Not one is forever denied the benefit of this great harvest.

Response 2: Mark Swinney

“Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits,” says the Bible (Ps. 68:19). Through quiet prayer, we allow God to show us that His immeasurable goodness is already with us. Because God’s allness permeates everything we are and do in our church work, we can wait patiently on Him and trust Him completely with every aspect of our well being while working actively as members.

When Jesus calmly fed a multitude with a few loaves and fishes, he organized his twelve disciples to help pass out the food. Twelve doesn’t seem like very many people, yet they got the job done. When everyone was filled, Jesus asked that the uneaten food would be collected in baskets. There were twelve baskets in total. So, while everyone in the multitude got a piece of bread and a piece of fish, it was the disciples—the ones doing the serving—who got the biggest helpings! They each got a whole basket of food.

When you serve in church, be sure to bring a big basket each time. Be prepared to have it filled by the Christ, Truth—and, therefore, filled to overflowing with inspiration. Nothing can interfere with your commitment to serving God and His children, and nothing can interfere with God’s care in meeting every need for you and your fellow church members. It is well to know that the power of God’s presence, the spirit of the Christ within, lovingly and abundantly brings out in you divine purpose, activity, and achievement.

  1. The problem of having the same people making a branch go (so to speak), has been plaguing churches and really any organization for years and years.

    There are many reasons that it happens, but some of the ideas on how we might correct it include something as simple as asking someone to help. Too many times we take someone's reluctance as not being interested, and that's not always true. Many people don't want to take the lead on a task, but are willing to be involved as long as someone else heads it.

    There are also times times where people don't feel qualified,and are afraid to participat. But if we have patience, and help them learn, they will ultimately see that they do have something to bring to the table.

    To be sure this is not an easy quick thing to turn around. We do need to be patient with people, and at the same time provide them with a safe environment for them to grow. Will we get everybody on board...no, but we can make progress over time, and help lift any sense of burden from those, MBE refers to as the settled and systematic workers in our movement.

  2. I have read the "Question" and the two very good "metaphysical" responses by Rebecca Odegaard and Mark Swinney.

    I certainly cannot add anything in the "metaphysical" department to what they have already very eloquently said.
    However, from a purely human, down-to-earth point of view, I have to say that I don't think this "problem" of a small group in church doing everything is a situation unique to the Christian Science churches.

    For a number of years, I have attended a small Episcopal church in Palmyra, New Jersey. On an average Sunday, there may be 25 people. It is not surprising that a small group does most of the real church business. Even if there were more people, I really don't think that it would make much of a difference. I will say though, that most members seem to have some job (be it large or small) to do in this very small church. There is a real sense of family. For example, after church last Sunday, there was a Mother's Day breakfast cooked and served by the men of the congregation. On Father's Day, it will be the reverse, the woman cook and serve. As I said, there is a great sense of family.

    I do agree that for such church work done by either the members or even an attendant, there is much blessing and great benefits. In the past few years, I have heard about a number of CS branches which have closed, not for lack of funds, but for lack of workers (and, of course, needless to say, lack of attendants).

    From what I have heard, one of the great exceptions to this argument of lack and decline is the San Juan Capistrano,CA Society. They seem to have been able to involve practically everyone in the work, whether they are a member or only an attendant. Perhaps a page or two could be taken from their book. For example, they have a great sense of community. Each Sunday, there is a social hour (with refreshments) after the service. Last week, according to their website, they had a pot luck dinner on Saturday, and then on Sunday, after church, there was a picnic.

    If more CS churches had these kinds of "human" activities, instead of concentrating only on the "metaphysical", I feel that there might be more of a sense of involvment in the church.

  3. Aging population + the younger ones working full-time=fewer people available. It's as simple as that. Add a sense that, perhaps, attending committee meetings, plus the 2 weekly services, plus general assemblies plus plus...is just too time consuming. In my branch church several have resigned because of the work load. Which of course puts more on the dwindling members left to do it.
    I feel that when things get to that point there should be a serious reassessment of real necessities. A church with 20 members and 22 committees needs to downscale.
    Branch churches could examine the possibility for non-members--maybe--to occupy "lighter" functions, like flowers, or ushering, that would release members for "heavier" duties like the building committee, or treasury, or reading room....

  4. Not everybody wants to be a preacher or practitioner. Once you've tried it, did the study and preparation, you realize it's not for you. Not everybody's meant to do child care, nor wants to. It sounds like SJC has constant rotation of offices, so every Sunday you get to do something different and the roles don't involve much responsibility; you just show up and do it. This is typical of food prep and food serving for social hours. So, it seems if anyone can do ushering, let them do it, even visitors and newcomers. Just waive the qualifications and you might get more people to participate!

  5. We all know people make time to do what they want to do. The wonderful comments by Rebecca and Mark give multiple reasons why it is a gift to serve church. With an impelling desire to serve God, God's powerful love propelling us forward, and a realization that this is the single most important thing one can do to bless oneself and the world, an unresistant flow of serving God should be natural.

    I vote for less committees and more time for prayer and healing. Simplify! Get one's priorities straight! Without the healings there obviously is no church. No more members passing on!!! With an ultra-consecrated focus on healing, the rest will follow. Be brave enough to staunchly stand and not let unimportant stuff occupy time and thought. What is the point of having a business meeting on Monday if none of the members then come to the healing church service on Wednesday? Which is more important??? Church is not a business. Just say NO to trivia. Stay focused and keep church at a high level. Flow with joy and spiritual progress and others will join in.

    I've often thought if there were one thing church members should watch for, it is the subtle need to control. And I'm sure I've been guilty of that. It may come in the unspoken feeling that one person knows more about doing something than another, or that certain people have to be 'helicopter members' involved in absolutely everything. When Sunday school students join, young adults, actually any member, they are there as extremely capable, intelligent contributors with unique spiritual visions. It is unfair when church members try to wield their "expertise" and, in effect, put others down. This hurts feelings and people leave. We are all equal to God, equally important and wonderful to God. No one deserves to be micro-managed. We have our blessed Manual to keep us on track. Divine Principle is the One in control. Church should not be the place where individuality is snuffed out but the exact place where it is loved, supported and magnified. And this goes for The CSOs, Christian Science Organizations on campus, too. More than once I've said to my husband throughout many years of loving church activity: 'I wonder when the church members will ever take me seriously or treat me like an adult?' (and his responding tease would be 'when you start acting like one:)' HAH!

    My branch church has had some major struggles, possibly resulting from the mortal dream world's fierce resistance to Truth and/or our own church inner turmoils. But, we have all pitched in metaphysically and prayed like crazy. The result is, we are having more frequent sunbursts of outstanding church services, a modestly growing Sunday school, an active Reading Room, successful lectures, a few new members and several new attendees. There is a more open, accepting and loving thought. The music is generally upbeat and vibrant. Our Readers are so dearly inspiring with wonderful spiritual individuality. We love each other and are trying very hard to respect each another. This last Sunday we knocked it out of the park!

  6. I have read the above comments and enjoyed them all. Some very good ideas!

    Les (#4), you are correct about the San Juan Capistrano Society. They make it very clear that everyone is invited to participate, even if they are not a member. Readers, as you said, do rotate. From what I have read on their website, everyone takes part. It would seem logical that in order to be a reader, one would have to be a member, but I may be wrong about this. The important thing is that everyone participates in some way.

    And then, there is the social aspect. One should not minimize the power of social activities to give a church a sense of family. If you are going to stand in the front lobby after church and converse for half an hour, why not do it over a plate of doughnuts, bagels, a cup of fruit juice (I would say coffee, but I don't want to get carried away!).

    I know that some CS branches are beginning to have more social activities and it is about time! Where did CS churches get the odd notion that there was something wrong in connecting social activities with church anyway? You get my point.

  7. Seems like just remembering "The Pearl of Great Price" would help on all fronts...

  8. Certainly praying for church is the first thing. One practical step might be to introduce the subject in a membership meeting. . . in a soft way --- might it not be a good idea to have some rotation of the members of our committees? Or, one person could decide that they will serve on a committee no more than 1 year, and then ask to be assigned to a different committee, then others might get the idea of changing from one committee to another. . . If someone is chairing a committee they might ask even one member sho is not serving on a committee to join. . . and that might lead to others do so as well. It doesn't take an "act of congress" to expand the pool, or mix up the workers. . .some of the benefits are having new ideas surface, new inspiration, getting to know different members better. . . and just sharing the joy of all the different and lovely ways there are to serve in a branch church. Talk it up! Enjoy it!

  9. I too, love the thoughtful responses to the question by Rebecca and Mark and also all of you. I would like to add that false responsibility can also keep a person in a position too long. It's something I continue to work on. When others seem reluctant, the same few step up, when in reality, we should be seeing reluctance as something that would try to keep people from growing spiritually, which is a sure effect of church work.

  10. Our church in the last couple of years consolidated our several committees into four "teams" (and we actually talked about the acronym for "TEAM" being "together everyone acoomplishes more"). These four teams are: Building and Grounds (self explanatory and we even discussed the fact that building is a noun and a verb!); Hospitality and Membership (covers checking in on members who are absent or may need assistance, child care at the services, annual picnic, ushering, etc); Community (lectures, literature distribution, media relations, participation in community events); and Music (for our services or other events and focusing on healing). This is working well and of course there is always room for growth. I know that I try to approach my responsibilities as a team member with the focus on how each activity relates to the definition of church... does it rouse the dormant understanding? Is it elevating the race? etc. Now our members don't feel that they are serving on 10 committees... in many cases a member serves on one ... maybe two teams and they are encouraged to meet at least quarterly. These teams are in addition to the Sunday School and Reading Room.

  11. I appreciate all of your comments, you've given me much to think about. Having been an active church member since my teens, I've been greatly blessed by church membership and found it to be such a valuable "anchor" when moving to a new location. However, lately I'm feeling put off by an insistence on rigidity in holding to the rules associated with the activities of church membership - even when the number of members is very small. Just too much emphasis on the form, and too little on the spirit. More and more I'm finding I really need a spirit-filled church atmosphere. It's possible to have both welcoming love and healing - the San Juan Capistrano Society does it beautifully. I recommend a visit there...they really know how to do church!

  12. Nancy has a good point. If you look at most volunteer activities, you'll see gray hair and teenagers. The middle age group is working so much, they have little time for volunteering and they need time just to sit, relax, play, pray, and be with family. There seems little emphasis on quiet stillness in the demands of the day. Even though I'm active in church, I understand the demands placed on people today. It's important that our churches be a peaceful, loving and inviting atmosphere. There have been times I've thought that church controversies were stressful and who needs to volunteer for more stress than they already have?

  13. What are the requirements to form a Society? San Juan is frequently used as an example. Check their bylaws and rules online. One will find they too need some guidelines for everyone to pitch in.

    It seems to me that the requirements for a society are more relaxed than for a Church.

    When I visit a CS Church, I know what to expect and that it will be consistent. Is the Sunday School conducted in the same manner in a Society as a Church?

    I know it takes "sixteen loyal Christian Scientists, four of whom are members of the Mother Church" and then the "membership shall include at least one active practitioner" to form a Church.

    If churches are started with sixteen members, it seems to me that a church should be viable with sixteen members. Rotation in office, duties, responsibilities or committee work seems a given. Smaller churches should require less work, not more.

    As with these posts, one individual should not dominate the scene. Taking turns seems somewhat simple and no one should want to do it all. Yield and see what blessing could come from letting someone else be the Librarian or Treasurer or Clerk or Reader. These seem to be the major posts.

    I believe the sixteen are merely a starting point and not a definition. If all the people have time to cook, serve, setup and clean and put away, surely they have time to work, work, work, watch and pray.

    While Christian Scientists love to socialize, they also love to share the Truth. They love to set free individuals from whatever it is that binds them to the mortal. They love to do God's work. They have a higher vision, a deeper understanding, a longing for the "growth in grace, expressed in patience, meekness, love, and good deeds".

    If someone is not feeling genuine love, warmth, caring-are they being genuine, loving, warm and caring?
    My son marched back into a church he was visiting many years ago. He decided to express what he thought was missing and found himself being warmly welcomed.

    If we don't feel close to God? Who moved?

  14. In response to the question about serving as a Reader in our CS Society in San Juan Capistrano, the only requirement is that one be a member of The Mother Church, but need not be a member of our Society. Our Readers are elected on a quarterly basis and length of terms vary depending upon individual volunteer desires and schedules. We have a dedicated volunteer coordinator that handles this and another to serve as a mentor to any Reader wishing assistance. Because our services are also available via conference call as well as Skype, we often have a Reader present Wednesday evening readings from a remote location (wherever they live) with a host in our building conducting the meeting. This is all a result of one of our goals: to be a church without walls in every sense of the word in fulfilling our mission as Church. It is not uncommon to be inspired by readings from a member in Arizona followed by testimonies given by folks in Hawaii, Colorado, and as far away as Kuwait and Burma where some of our members are currently residing,as well as by those attending in person. But like others churches, we too must devote attention (aka prayer) to seeing all of our volunteer service positions filled on an ongoing basis. (P.S. The potluck and picnic referred to was our annual Recommitment Weekend where we dedicate an entire day to taking a fresh look at our expression of church, examining our individual commitments and how we can collectively better serve one another, our community and humankind through our practice of Christian Science.)

  15. As one of the original members of the San Juan Society I'd like to offer a different perspective on the tendency to differentiate social actives from metaphysical work. Like many, I grew up in the traditional church mode of thinking that social activities had no place in the church environment--especially in conjunction with the services. There was an assumption that anything which drew attention away from the lesson sermon was mortal mind's attempt to distract thought from the pure metaphysics which distinguish our services from others.

    The real distraction here is the years of traditional thinking which hinders our ability to consider new views. As one who once agreed with the traditional view of minimizing any sort of social activities, I later came to realize that the social interaction following the service is in fact an important part the the primitive Christianity which we are striving to reinstate. One particular Sunday following the service I gazed out over the crowd of church members and visitors mingling around the bountiful buffet. Sunday school kids were laughing as they darted in and out of the crowd, visitors were fully engaged in friendly discussions with regular attendees, new friendships were being formed and old friends were embracing each other. In that moment I thought who am I to judge that this warm and joyous event is any less sacred than the metaphysical truths being pronounced during the service?

    So many visitors of our visitors who would become regular attendees and/or members would tell us that it was totality of the church experience and especially the palpable sense of family that attracted to the church. I came to realize that this is what church looks like when it's "aflame with divine Love".

  16. As a member of different CS congregations over many years, I've learned the importance of viewing our fellow members and visitors as dear family.
    I enjoy inspired community social events with and without church members.
    Per CS church services: I love witnessing and feeling the touch of the precious Comforter on those attending the services. To me, healing is the unifying influence and bonds its members together to serve the dearest Cause on earth. Each church family must work together to do just that.

  17. I am really enjoying this very lively discussion. Everyone seems to have some new perspective to share. I don't think that anyone can fully measure the great good these discussions accomplish in reaching the branch churches throughout the CS movement.

    I particularly enjoyed hearing from Bonnie and Todd about the activities at San Juan Capistrano. I have followed the activities of this Society for the past several years via their website. Even though I have never visited in person, it was not difficult to pick up on the stimulating activity of this group. I immediately was attracted by their informality and inclusiveness.

    A bonus (for me) was the social aspect of the San Juan society. For years, I had been bothered by the fact that so few CS branches had any kind of church-sponsored social activities. I could not see why the metaphysical and the social could not be combined. At the branches I had attended, I was told (basically) that that is "just how it is" (and always had been, period!!)

    What a welcome surprise to find that at San Juan there is a social hour out on the patio every Sunday after the service.

    Years ago, back in the 1980's, I was a member of 12th Church in the Uptown area of Chicago. (It closed in the mid 1990's.) One summer, we decided to have a church picnic in the backyard of the church. We had a good turnout of the small and mostly elderly membership and it was a great success. The only sour note was from one of our very rigid (By-law driven) members, who refused to attend. When asked why, he replied that he did not want to combine church with any kind of social activity. It was pointed out to him that the picnic was in the backyard, not in the church. He in turn replied that because we were using the restroom, it was, in that sense, involving the church building. Can you believe it?

    Fortunately, more and more CS branches are really loosening up in recent years. As Todd pointed out, if we are reinstating primative Christianity in the CS church, we should not forget that social activity (e.g. shared meals, etc.) was an important part of the early church.
    Good point Todd!


  18. Thanks for the responses and comments this week. They were given in a loving manner demonstrating the oneness of Mind. Appreciated Todd Herzer's comments about "the totality" of the church experience. I feel this is a very important concept.

  19. The early church of St Paul's experience in Corinth included a love feast after the service. This did not work out, because it was a bawdy port city, and the attendants were new Christians, and it turned into something not so holy. Presumably, we have arrived at a point of spirituality where we can dine together chastely, with family and friends.

  20. My experience as a member of a very democratic church in a university town was very pleasing. Each committee was democratic, not dominated by the chairperson, who facilitated, and reported the committee's wishes. The musicians salaries were discussed and voted on by the membership. The music committee gathered and reported the going rates in the area, and such information, and presented it to the membership, which discussed amicably the details of the pay and contracts, and then voted.
    When time to build a new Sunday School came, the Board interviewed 3 architects until they found one willing to include ideas from the members, form a plan, submit it at a meeting, accept new ideas and changes, incorporate member suggestions into a final plan and membership meeting. One in the community said he loved to work with the people.The members could drop off ideas and suggestions in a box in the foyer, draw their own plan, attend a series of meetings, with breakout small groups where each could express ideas, and all were sifted, and some incorporated into the final design.It was definitely our church. It was satisfying to contribute two ideas to the architect that were built in, that met the particular needs of our type service.
    At each stage of development, adjustments need to be made.

  21. I love the article, "True Pioneers", by Ariana Herlinger in the Jan. 2009 Journal on church in Africa and getting ready for the Summit in Africa. It is a "must" read. Love that they were expecting 450 for the Summit but more like 600 came. There was another article a few years back, also, describing a typical Sunday for Christian Scientists in Africa. It told of people coming from miles all dressed up in their Sunday best and continuing the joy at someone's home long after the morning service was over. So perfect. I want to visit that church!

    The closer we feel our oneness with spiritual divine Love, the more beautifully the human expression of human love flows forth. So enjoyed everyone's comments.

  22. So right, Susan, yes me too, I hope Africa awakes to its richness and starts to share with us, they are often so rich in heart, and I'm deeply grateful to hear now more of their wonderful experiences! Yes, Church means home and wherever it is manifested, people love to be, love to be part of. It is interesting, the more I allowed this sense of home to be manifested in me, the more I became very sensitive to cold, unkind, apathetic atmosheres and it made me suffer and struggle with thoughts of wanting to leave. I prayed, yes somehow it made me go on my knees and deeply yearn for comfort and answers, that I felt I can obey. The struggle went on for months and even became more intense, when step by step, like the first morning beams, it dawned on me, that what appears to be my experience, is up to 80% an awful deception, a betrayal. I started to see that very clear and started to see the need of handling this within me. The problems are not out there primarely, but within my thinking and here I can open up to Christ in order that he casts out devils, as he did in Jesus time. Somehow this must be, what MB Eddy means in her poem, " love more for every hate" (207) and perhaps the whole is about the higher mission, Eddy referes to in SH p 150, meaning the overcoming of sin. Perhaps it is just that we have some difficulties with this higher lesson we are in and in which we need to support us more by looking through our sometimes cold behaviour one to another, because of our feeling so little in the great tasks, that we haven't discovered as Love's caring lessons to us yet. Perhaps it is alot about discovering our David qualities and finding the courage to let them become alive in us and thereby become receptive to that Love that really makes a house a home, where one did not want to leave at all ... a home for all.

  23. There is an axiom in business and management theory that says 20% of the people do 80% of the work. If this is regressive, so that 20% of the 20% dp 80% of the 80%, and so on down the line, it is not hard to see how things will devolve into autocracy. But a spiritually aware group will not let this happen. It will be sure that the work is spread around evenly all the time.

    This "20-80 Rule" is, I think, one aspect of what MBE calls the "mechanism of mortal mind." But Mind is not mechanical; it expresses order but not routine. It is spontaneous, flexible, resilient -- and graciously shares both the work and the reward.

    And did you ever notice that if you make a transposition error when typing, "mortal mind" comes out "mortal mink"?

  24. In the C.S. Church I attend in Palos Verdes, CA the comment I hear so much when we try to encourage a small change, even is: "well, it is not in the Manual." I often think to myself "well, in the Manual it doesn't say we "can't." I agree, that expressing the idea of a Church Family in a social way would make people more warm and welcomed. But all in all - the bottom line - with all this as C. Scientist work and pray to healers, just like in Mrs. Eddy's time and with Jesus - people will flock to C.S. to be helped. It takes loving God with all our hearts and minds and to do the strong work it takes to express healing. That is why we are C. Scientists.

  25. I just remembered something I read a long time ago. One church member always had a chicken dinner ready at her home on Sunday so she could invite visitors to dinner! I always loved that. I've thought at times even if I didn't have a chicken ready, "Is my welcoming spirit alive and warm as that yummy chicken dinner". If not, I know what to do. Put those truths on the burner!!