Response 1: Melanie Wahlberg
Boy, that question prompts soul-searching, doesn’t it? Anyone that is helping hold together a church or society that is small in members is obviously committed to the cause of Christian Science. And there are certainly options for keeping the doors open – people can double up on the jobs they perform (I’ve seen the First Reader be the pianist, for example), or use pre-recorded music for preludes and hymns, etc. But there’s a deeper issue.
I’d encourage you to search your consciousness and discover more specifically what it is that makes you feel sad. Maybe you feel that if your church closes (or merges with another branch in a nearby town) that Christian Science will be less available to those in your community. Well, it’s true that there probably won’t be a building with the words Christian Science on it.
But one of the characterizations Mary Baker Eddy gives for church is that it “affords proof of its utility” (see Science and Health, p. 583). We often know in our hearts that there is no better place to be on Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights. But if the number of members has dwindled and visitors aren’t appearing, it may be time for the membership to take stock and see if there aren’t additional or new ways to bless their community. This doesn’t mean that the members of the society have to give up on their community or “just go away.” Thinking along these lines often requires each individual Christian Scientist to do the hard thing – to ponder a bit more deeply what his or her contribution to the cause is.
I once served as First Reader at a society with few members and perhaps similar challenges as yours. Eventually the society closed, but I know of several individual members who have continued strengthening their practices. These Christian Scientists have joined other branches, contributed to the periodicals, and some have become Christian Science practitioners and teachers. I would guess that the closing of this society has not impeded either their own spiritual growth or their opportunities to bless and heal others.
We certainly don’t want a trend of closing Christian Science branch churches, and the decision to keep a society going or to close or consolidate efforts with another is not trivial. But the bigger questions we can each ask are: “How can I love better? How can I learn to heal more quickly, more thoroughly, more consistently?” These are the questions that help us mature, as individuals and as a field. They may be the very underpinnings to reversing any trend of closing churches.
Response 2: Phil Davis
Maybe the question is not how to save a particular church from closing, but to ask “should it be saved?” That may seem shocking to some. In most cases we would naturally pray for our church to succeed—for it to fulfill its definition of “elevating the race,” “rousing the dormant understanding,” and “healing.” (see Science and Health, p. 583). But when you have just a few members trying to keep a branch church or society afloat, they can end up spending all their time trying to keep the organizational mechanism going and have no time left to actually fulfill that definition.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen this happen many times. Rather than the church building becoming a place from which to minister to the public through healing, it becomes burdensome for these remaining members to maintain. Rather than the organization of church serving the mission of public healing, it devolves to mere committee activities, virtually void of healing.
All of this tends to push out the spirit and joy of true church work—loving God and loving our neighbor. When you think about it, the early Christians of 2000 years ago didn’t care about a church building (some met in caves!) and they certainly didn’t have a lot of By-Laws and committees. It’s safe to say that they cared less about what was happening inside their walls and were far more focused on healing outside their walls.
And this was the beginning of our own Christian Science churches, too. In most cases, branch churches and societies emerged because one or more people in that community were healing. In some cases, like the United States’ Midwest region, Christian Science practitioners were modern-day Pauls—spending time in a community lecturing, discussing and healing—then moving on to another community. Those who heard the message embraced it, were healed by it, got together with others and established a church.
Think about it. Wouldn’t the very activity that established our churches, also restart them today? The question is: Are those members ready to really love others by healing? If so, the closing of a very small church could be exactly what’s needed to bring more of Christian Science healing to a community. Without the traditions and burdens of an existing church structure, the remaining members could reignite their own vision for church as individual healers.
Church was never meant to be a clubhouse for members nor a safe haven for our own traditions and culture. It is not a place to quietly wait until people come in through the door. It is designed to be a collective expression of our proactive love for the community around us. We can only do this by individually and collectively healing others. It’s how Christian Science began. It is the only way it will continue.