Week 68: "How do you tactfully ask someone to curtail a long testimony when you are conducting a Wednesday evening meeting as First Reader? Should you? If so, how do you know when?"

Response 1: Jill Aaron

This is a good question and sooner or later every First Reader confronts it. But, as each situation is unique, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

First and foremost, I would pray, both before the meeting and during the testimonies. I might affirm that divine Love is governing the meeting and, therefore, only good can be communicated. I might also work with Mrs. Eddy’s statement: “Mind measures time according to the good that is unfolded” (Science and Health, p. 584).

Many Readers proactively introduce the testimony period by including a request to keep remarks to a few minutes and focus on healing. However, when a testimony seems to be going too long or getting off track, I would prayerfully consider a few things.

I’d begin by asking myself if the remarks have strayed significantly from the healing purpose of the meeting. I love Hermann Herring's insights and Mrs. Eddy’s guidance on the Wednesday meetings in the new edition of We knew Mary Baker Eddy (see pp. 442 - 446). Herring was the second First Reader of The Mother Church. He tells of having to ask testifiers to stay on topic which, to him, meant "legitimate cases of healing and helpful remarks."

Then I’d consider other factors besides length such as: Is the testimony overall helpful and inspiring; are many others waiting to testify; does the individual usually give long testimonies; and is he or she new to Christian Science?

It can take considerable courage to stand up in church and give gratitude to God by sharing a healing. So, I'd be inclined to be patient and let the individual continue unless the remarks are clearly imposing on the congregation, inordinately long, or extend more than a few minutes beyond the ending time for the meeting.

In three years of serving as a First Reader, I almost never had to ask someone to curtail a testimony, even some pretty long ones. But when I did, the right words came and they were received with grace. Also, sometimes the most loving and effective approach is to have a private conversation later instead of interrupting the testimony.

Remember the old adage: "It’s not so much what you say as how you say it." I love Mrs. Eddy's letter "To a First Reader" which ends with this statement: "The little that I have accomplished has all been done through love, - self-forgetful, patient, unfaltering tenderness" (The First Church of Christ Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 247).

I will always remember how a First Reader of The Mother Church handled a difficult situation many years ago. The meeting opened for testimonies, and a man stood up and began to rant about something inappropriate. The First Reader, in the most loving yet firm tone, said to the man, "Sir, are you glorifying God?" The man continued to rant. But the Reader persisted: "Sir, are you glorifying God? Maybe you should sit down and think about what you are saying." The man quickly yielded up the microphone and sat down. The meeting continued as though nothing had happened. I am certain the Reader was praying for the right words. But what has stayed with me to this day is the power of Love, which he expressed, and its immediate effect.

Whatever you feel led to say or do, if it is done without any sense of impatience, rebuke, self-righteousness, or condemnation, but rather with genuine patience, tenderness and love, it will accomplish its purpose and bless the testifier and the meeting.

Response 2: Curt Wahlberg

In considering these questions, I think it’s helpful to have in mind the purpose of testimony meetings. For me, the purpose of testimony meetings is that those in attendance gain inspiration that enables spiritual growth and healing for everyone in the world.

I think the issue we face is that congregations can fail in the focus to support one another spiritually during testimony time. We really need to feel people’s “hunger and thirst after righteousness” (holiness) (see Matt. 5:6) and then hear how that brings healing results. Often, people will settle for merely sharing gratitude for how their daily adventures can wind up pleasantly. There is something to be grateful for in that, but such an emphasis tends to draw out the mundane and falls short of transforming each other’s lives.

As a Reader, I first wanted focused readings, with a strong thought behind them of a spiritual sense of life. I looked for hymns that clearly backed up those readings. I also felt it was important to introduce testimony time with notices that were especially thought through for each meeting, to indicate the importance of giving deep thought to every moment we shared.

I then liked to at least remind people to “keep their remarks to a few minutes and to keep the focus on the healing.” I also did things such as read this from the Church Manual: “Testimony in regard to healing of the sick is highly important. More than a mere rehearsal of blessings, it scales the pinnacle of praise and illustrates the demonstration of Christ, ‘who healeth all thy diseases’ (Psalm. 103:3)” (p. 47).

The emphasis for me was on “illustrating the demonstration of Christ.” If a testimony would have a long rehearsal of events, or a focus on suggesting to others how to live and think, I would ask if “a healing was coming.” Sometimes, I would ask if “there was a healing point or a demonstration to wrap up with.”

The whole goal I figure is for us to feel how God is moving His children. Having this feeling within me was the most important thing I felt I could do to encourage good meetings and testimonies, and it was the key to knowing in the moment the right thing to do and maybe say. It’s hard to force good testimonies, but the peace, love, and thoughtfulness we feel surely helps move things in a good direction.

  1. If that has ever occurred while I was First Reader at various times over many years, it did not stay with me, but it is something one might think about. In both responses to this very helpful question I noticed that each mentioned asking a question of the testifier. What a good approach that is; don't think I've ever thought of that. Thank you--a very good starting point.

  2. Very inspiring thoughts from both writers. As a member, I too can pray along these lines as well during the service.

  3. This happened many years ago and I was a witness to the incident. A family member was giving a testimony, part of which involved relaying a route she had driven to get to a destination. For some reason, the First Reader interrupted her to ask her to get to the point of her testimony. The testifier was caught off guard and so embarrassed by the incident that she immediately left the testimony meeting and has never been inside a CS church since that day. She told me later that the route she had driven was integral to the point of the testimony. Why the First Reader felt impelled to interrupt her is a mystery to this day. I think a situation like this needs to be handled with great care.

  4. Back in the '60s, Gordon Campbell was First Reader of TMC. When a testifier rambled on, he'd interrupt to ask, "are you coming to the healing part soon?"

  5. In a lighter vein -- my Mom once told me that a woman in her branch church stood up and described AT LENGTH a healing she experienced during pregnancy and childbirth. After 15 minutes -- with the congregation fidgeting uncomfortably -- she was still recounting the details of her labor. Finally the First Reader said in a kindly but firm way, "Madam, would you PLEEEEEEZE deliver that child!"

    The hint was taken.

  6. Perhaps it's appropriate, after the First Reader asked the woman to "PLEEEEEZE deliver that child!" to have LittleChild comment next!

    Gently, tenderly asking a simple question of the testifier sounds like such a HEALING approach. I'm going to remember that!

    Here's an inverse question: What if the Wednesday readings go on and on and on and on ... well past the half-hour mark, allowing precious little time for hymns and announcements and prayer and testimonies? Has any one here ever had to privately ask a Reader to consider timing his/her readings in a practice session? Or privately suggested a time limit for the readings -- say 20 minutes? (I prefer 10 to 12 minutes--maximum 15.) Thanks in advance for answers. :-)

  7. I would also prefer 10-15 minute readings on Wednesday evenings. I feel the topic would be more coherent, and the First Reader could give more time to the relevance of the subject and the congregation's receptivity to it. I've seen, the few times that brief readings have been given, that there are more testimonies, no matter how many or few people are in attendance. I've felt valued for my expected contribution and not pressured to beat the clock!

  8. I give up trying to read this tiny print. The Daily Lift has a choice of font size and is very convenient to adjust - as do many columns on the web. How about it?

  9. Marilyn,


  10. Marilyn don't give up on the tiny print. Please look up and find the "view" tab click on it and "zoom" in or out till you find a font size you like.

  11. Marilyn, no need to struggle with type size on any website no matter what their font size. You can change the size of the displayed text directly from your browser. I believe all the major ones have a zoom feature. I'm a Mac user and in both the Safari and Firefox browsers you will find Zoom under the View menu. Both also offer a Zoom Text Only option. Happy Reading!

  12. I have noticed that individuals tend to place too much emphasis on the description of the problem and the proportion of the testimony is tilted towards the problem with a short, even shy comment about the truth known and expression of gratitude. I believe many folks are inexperienced and shy about public speaking and instead of putting some thought into what they would like to share ahead of time they decide spontaneously to speak professing their “lead to contribute something” sometimes inspired by Spirit but sometimes inspired by uncomfortable silence if quiet lingers too long.

    I’ve had an idea on this and here’s a crude sketch -- branches could put a slip of paper in the pews entitled “suggested format for testimonies”. Then provide an outline with room to write thoughts -- #1 statement of Truth you worked with for your testimony, #2 brief description of problem or brief description of the temptation, #3 Describe the moment this Truth came to you, #4 describe your results of applying this Truth, #5 Expression of gratitude. Perhaps this would gently send a message that prior thought on testimonies would be appreciated without singling out any one individually and since there is no “rule” spontaneous individuals are still free to share.

    I believe this is an important issue because the last thing testimony meetings are meant to do is send new attendees and loyal members away feeling tempted by disappointment or discouragement. All Christian churches have “testimonies of faith” and they are usually beautiful emotional descriptions of how the Lord has worked in their life with heartfelt expressions of gratitude. Christian Science stands apart from ordinary testimonies because this Truth heals now and our testimonies should confidently reflect that distinction.

  13. As a First Reader, I believe that the purpose of the readings selected is to illustrate a healing, metaphysical point, not to create a "Lesson." Once I feel the inspiration for a topic, I take whatever time is necessary to bring out that topic and hone it to be as succinct and clear as possible. Most of my readings come in at 8-9 minutes. This leaves more time for testimonies and less need to worry about longer ones. That said, there still may be a need to cut down on rambling and the "question" approach seems most thoughtful to me.

  14. Good topic. I have never interrupted anyone. Sometimes, the congregation needs to patiently support someone who timidly, slowly in a tiny voice needs to finish their important idea. Love guides in each custom tailored way.

  15. I loved this! every occasion is so different! Also testimony meetings differ greatly in size and formality. If each member attends prepared with a testimony it can help to avoid the practices of over lengthy readings and rambling testimonys. I don't recall interrupting - except to allow the congregation to attend thir Thanksgiving dinners. But I probably remember about every time Ive heard it done. Example: An inebriated visitor stood and addressed the Reader "Your Honor," and rambled on for several minutes before the Reader, in a friendly manner asked if he would "allow others to speak." The silence seemed an eternity (especially to the Reader) before I struggled to my feet having no idea what I was to say! The Reader was my husband,so on the way home you may be sure I heard a few words about preparedness to support the service!
    When Reading at less formal meetings it is easy to end in a conversational way - a phrase I've used is "What a lovely note to end on," and yes, I have had a signal or word from a fellow member that it's time to close - or at least to share further experiences on the way out!

  16. I remember a few Wednesday meetings when a testafier was new to Christian Science and the testamony was off is some way. I was not Reader at these times. I am sure the Reader and congregation were praying, as I was, supporting the testifier, and several people came up to them afterwards to express gratitude to them for being brave enough to speak and gentle, loving correction where needed. I am also happy that in my several terms as Reader, I don't recall a situation like this. As far as the length of the readings goes, some congregations wanted a reading of approximately 10 minutes, and others have felt cheated if I read for less than 15 or 20 minutes. Either way, as Reader, I am blessed.

  17. A timely subject, as I'm just now reading the memoirs of Herman Hering who served as 1st Reader at the Concord NH church in the late 1890s and then as 1st Reader at The Mother Church in Boston in the early 1900s. He consulted frequently with Mrs. Eddy about various issues, including those mentioned above.

    Hering's memoirs are both priceless and informative due to his frequent contact with Mrs. Eddy about how to handle overlong or rambling testimonies and other problems. (The document of 135 pp. can be purchased from The Mary Baker Eddy Library in Boston, for study purposes only). The part about Herring's work as reader comprises 18 pages.)

    Hering began the meetings promptly at 7:30, allowing a mere 15 minutes for the hymns, readings, prayer and announcements so the testimony period could begin at 7:45. He allowed only enough time at the end for singing the last hymn, then closed the meeting promptly at 8:30 p.m. He even includes several week's worth of his selected readings which always focused on healing.

    It was a great challenge to ensure that the testimony period served its purpose of reporting healings. Some people were tempted to give "sermonettes" (i.e. teaching instead of healing). One woman always ended her testimony by telling how she cooked cabbage. Another regularly reeled off a number of scriptural quotations which she had memorized. She was popularly known as the "Scripture Lady." Herring handled this by visiting the woman at her home and politely asking her to desist.

    If you haven't checked out TMC's online Wednesday meetings, consider doing so. To me, they are the best meetings EVER! Typically the opening exercises, including readings, comprise about 18 minutes. This allows 35-40 minutes for a dozen or so testimonies. Since space for composing testimonies allows for only about 3 minutes worth of dialogue, all the testimonies are compact and meaningful -- without unnecessary detail, and definitely without "preaching".

    Besides the 1st Reader, there are two others in the studio who take turns, first reviewing, and then reading the testimonies that come in from around the globe. And after the meeting, the "lobby" is open for 15 minutes so we can chat with each other. What fun!

    We need to be far more alert to animal magnetism's attempts to subvert the vitality of these meetings by causing would-be testifiers to meander off-focus.

  18. Hi Friends,

    Thanks for the feedback about font size, as well as for the loving suggestions about how to adjust things in the meantime. We'll be happy to look into this feedback further, and see whether there's anything we can do to help.

    Many thanks again,
    Church Alive Team

  19. Only once during my term as First Reader did I have to stop someone. A fellow came for the first and only time, and he began to rant about something. After about five minutes the audience was becoming antsy, and I tapped my wrist watch. He didn't get it. After another minute, I broke in and said "Sir, while we appreciate your willingness to share, we don't allow anyone to filibuster. Please conclude your remarks so that others may speak." He shut up, but with a gesture of impatience and exasperation.

    I have sometimes contended that every testimony in a CS church is a fiction! "What do you mean? What I just said is perfectly true. I wouldn't lie. That would be perjury, since 'testimony' means I'm sworn to tell the truth. How dare you?"

    "I didn't mean that every testimony is untrue or made up out of the whole cloth. I mean by 'fiction' what the word means: something that is made. You have the facts of the story: how you put them together in a narration is in the broadest sense, fiction. Is that so outrageous?"

    "You just begin at the beginning, go on to the end, and then stop."

    "Remember E.M. Forster's remarks on narrative? Simple narrative: the king died and then the queen died. But suppose you introduce a motivation, a complication, a cause: the king died and then the queen died of grief. Now we are beginning to have some story. Take in a step further: the queen died, but the reason was not known until evidence surfaced that she died of grief over the death of the king.

    "Translated into CS terms: 'I was sick but I got well'. Simple, unconnected facts. 'I was sick but got well when I knew the truth as taught in CS.' That's an improvement, no? 'I had never understood just what MBE meant when she says Spirit is all and matter is nothing until I had acute pneumonia. I held to this basic truth as taught in the Bible and S&H. The healing came when I saw that this is the truth about man.'"

    I fear I may be filibustering here, but thank you for the opportunity to write this.

  20. Another little comment: At first I tried to keep the readings about 12 minutes, but the congregation was so small that there was too long a silence. I finally settled on a range of 18 to 22 minutes. I also worked to establish a better sense of silence, so that if it occurred it was productive rather than uncomfortable. Several times I had series of readings, such as the Tenets over the six weeks of Lent, the Liver Trial in its entirety over 2 weeks and again over 3 weeks, followed by a community "performance" and discussion.

  21. Once when my teacher was 1st reader at The Mother Church, a testifier was rambling on and on about an incident involving an airplane. He was not coming to a conclusion so my teacher interrupted him and said it was time to bring the plane in for a landing. I think if you can use humor, the testifier would not be offended.

  22. Christian Science is a study of God's all encompassing Love. Jesus said: "Love is patient and Love is kind..." Without judgement then, and listening for the still small voice in the brave testimonies of some who have really gotten courage up to actually give that testmony, and following God's plan for it and not man's plan, let us rejoice in each and every word that comes out for the glory of God.

  23. I have enjoyed reading all of the comments this week. A number of them actually made me chuckle when I read about some of the "creative" ways various First Readers have handled what could have been rather awkward situations.

    I cannot say that I remember any specific Wednesday meetings when there were such situations, but I do recall many years ago (1959 - 1960's) when I would occasionally attend Wednesday noon meetings at Fifth Church NYC, in the heart of the midtown area (43rd and Fifth Avenue). Fifth Church has a very large sanctuary, seating about 1800, and during that period, on a typical Wednesday, there would be over a thousand in attendance. With such a large crowd, one could never be certain that there might not be some rather "odd" testimonies. There would be some uncomfortable moments, but I cannot remember anything too "far out".

    I will make one more comment. Given how "controlled" the CS service format is (especially the Sunday service), the degree of "freedom" in the Wednesday testimony period is all the more remarkable. It provides a time when the attendees can speak "from the heart" and say what they really feel.

  24. I appreciate the thought that has gone into this question.Prior to beginning a term as 1st Reader, I received training from a professional orator. One of the things that was shared is that every testimony is sacred. Because of that, a simple "Thank You" is all that should be said by the reader in response to the testimony. I become very uneasy when readers think they need to embellish the testimony with personal comments.

    Recently, when I was reading, a testimony was given that was technically correct. However, its presentation was was not graceful, making congregants very uncomfortable. Following that testimony, other individuals felt it was important to "correct" the statements in the original. The responses were not all accurate, loving, or kind. I was praying to see that no one could be used by mortal mind to judge, attack, or diminish one another. Finally, a testimony was given that changed the subject. It was followed by other wonderful testimonies. Individuals who responded to the original testimony were addressed privately in the days following the meeting.

    It was difficult to deal with, and involved a lot of prayer to handle the situation. However there was growth evidenced as a result of it.

  25. I once did the over-long Wednesday readings early in my branch-church reading experience - I recall there only being five minutes meeting-time left! No-one complained at the time, or later, but it was a lesson to me! Ever since, I have aimed to get to the start of testimonies no later than 25 minutes from the opening of the meeting,
    and usually find that this works well.

  26. After being faced with long, detailed testimonies, I added this after the call for testimonies, "Please consider balancing brevity with clarity so that all can participate tonight."

  27. Many odd challenges for a Reader. We had an elderly member who tended to drop off and snore a little when things got quiet. During silent prayer in a Sunday service she stood up and gave us a testimony which fortunately didn't last too long. The First Reader thanked her politely then resumed the service. What're you gonna do?