Week 71: "We have a regular attendee, who has never expressed an interest in joining church, but is always complaining about church activities (criticizing the readers, choice of solo, etc.). After devoting so much time and efforts to church, it’s so frustrating to hear the complaints--particularly from someone who hasn’t been willing to participate. How can we handle this?"

Response 1: Michelle Nanouche

There is only one way to handle this kind of situation that is effective every single time - prayer. Tucked between two important By-Laws in the chapter “Discipline” in the Church Manual (Section 4. The Daily Prayer and Section 6. Alertness to Duty) is Section 5. Prayer in Church. Mrs. Eddy instructs, “The prayers in Christian Science churches shall be offered for the congregations collectively and exclusively” (p. 42). I find it interesting that she doesn’t say that prayers are to be offered for the members, or for the community, but rather for the collective congregation of members and non-members, exclusively.

Prayer is the divine means of feeding the famished affections, of forgiving and helping others to forgive faults, so that we are all free to move forward in the work as healing Christians in the community.

Each Sunday we hear the words of Science and Health correlate the Lord’s Prayer with “And Love is reflected in love” (p. 16). But do we really pray this prayer, affirming each congregant’s capacity to hear, feel, and express Christ-love, whether they are members, regular attendees, once a year visitors, or first-timers?

Church is not a performance. It is a practice. Everyone has a role in it that counts. While an orchestra consists of many instruments, in any given piece we may hear from some more than others, and from time to time one may hit a sour note. But if we remember we come together to feel the love of Christ and to put into practice what we know of this love, we will see each one’s participation as essential and we’ll put into practice our best, while forgiving the sour notes until each one gets his part right.

One thing is sure, adding judgment to judgment – no matter how righteous one may feel - doesn’t heal. It just turns up the heat. And the frustration over someone else’s growth and practice curve will only mount until we forgive, and give up the anguishing thought that the Christ is not meeting, or cannot meet, each individual need.

I remember a man once saying to me, jokingly, “Don’t prey on me!” I was giving a lecture on prayer. We then discussed the difference between the healthy practice of prayer and the mental malpractice that has a personal agenda and tries to induce others to bend to our will. Once he was clear on the difference, he welcomed all the prayers he could get.

Don’t give up on your regular attendee. By his presence, he is accepting the full benefit of your prayers for the congregation. Pray for him, but don’t prey on him – that is, include him in the full benefits of association with your church without a hidden agenda of expectation that he do more than accept God’s love for him. God is caring for every member of your congregation. And your prayer will help you see the fruits of His care.

Response 2: Michael Fish

I can relate to this question. In fact, I have lived this question. When I joined church at the age of 12, I loved doing church work. When I was first reader for the first time, I had a non-member come up and explain each week the words I was mispronouncing. I will not tell you my first thoughts, but I will tell you the thoughts that healed it. I felt such frustration for the hours I was putting in just to hear complaints, and then I realized that taking this personally was not helping me or my view of the individual who was complaining.

I began to remind myself that we are all dedicated servants of Christ. As servants we submit to the Master’s view, the view of Christ, not personal sense. Personal sense, our own sense of things, creates a heavy burden for us. We might wonder if church work is worth the effort, especially when you hear criticisms of what you love. But all personal sense results from the human consciousness’ ignorance of the Truth about man. We are not here to please ourselves or others. We are here to please God, glorify God and then we find only good exists. To replace personal sense or condemnation, whether self inflicted or by others, is to be aware of man’s spiritual being, and Christ Jesus showed us how to see that image here and now.

Mrs. Eddy presented to us an allegory illustrative of the supposed laws of matter and personal sense in the chapter on Christian Science Practice to help us understand personal sense is always the belief of life in matter (Science and Health, p. 430-442). Personal sense is the plaintiff and false belief is the attorney for personal sense. Whenever we start with personal sense, then false belief is our attorney, our mouthpiece. Our whole case is based on lies.

I realized I was actually taking this so personally that I was making myself a god of what was correct or not. Once I recognized that I was the plaintiff and rehearsing false beliefs, I began to reverse this lie about the individual and myself. I started to know what was true about my identity and the individual's identity. I would identify each of us as God made us. My frustration stopped and so did the criticism. We were both in church to learn more about God. Mrs. Eddy says, "Silencing self, alias rising above corporeal personality, is what reforms the sinner and destroys sin. In the ratio that the testimony of material personal sense ceases, sin diminishes, until the false claim called sin is finally lost for lack of witness" (Retrospection and Introspection, p. 67).

Once we stop being a plaintiff for personal sense and bearing false witness, then nothing can affect us because we are not listening or being a false witness to a lie about others or ourselves.

Personal sense tries to hide our true identity and bear false witness of our neighbor. It tempts us to see a critical person instead of seeing a brother or sister honestly seeking God through church attendance. Personal sense would have us spend time ruminating, or rehearsing a lie (false beliefs) about ourselves or others, and that keeps us from focusing on the truth about God and man, about harmony and good.

As students of Christian Science we can rebuke personal sense testimony because it attempts to credit either good or evil to person. We remind ourselves we are the sons and daughters of God and our church is here to lift all who attend out of a dormant understanding into the spiritual understanding seeing only what is true for ourselves and others.

Church is encompassing Truth and Love. Christ Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34-35). The answer has been given to us all. We eliminate the personal sense that tries to say we have been harmed and burdened, and we continue in the Christ love. This impersonal sense of the allness of God’s love dissolves critcism. To heal instantaneously Mrs. Eddy said, “It is to love! Just live love- be it-love, love, love. Do not know anything but Love. Be all love. There is nothing else. That will do the work. It will heal everything; it will raise the dead. Be nothing but love” (We Knew Mary Baker Eddy: Expanded Edition, Volume 1, p. 49). You are loved as a church member and as an honest seeker.

  1. Have a number of your congregation asked them to join?

  2. Thanks for these helpful responses, Michael and Michelle. I think Heather has a good point-- sometimes offering an individual an avenue to share their thoughts in a constructive manner can make a big difference. If we're willing, as the responses suggest, to set aside our sense of "that crumudgeonly person who always complains" and see a fellow brother/sister in Christ, it opens all kinds of doors for more productive church relationships.

    That said, the individual joining church isn't necessarily the solution. I think it's important to pray that the criticism can no more harm church members than the individual who seems to be criticizing. No one can be kept from hearing that healing message of Christ!

  3. A wonderful question Heather. The incident I was referring to happened many years ago in a different church and I did ask if they wanted to join, but they were not ready. However two years ago there was a visitor who had been coming for quite some time to church. One Sunday after church I just felt impelled by God's love to walk up and ask him if he ever thought about taking out an application for our church. He said I was just waiting to be asked. He did join and has been a wonderful support to our church. That does not mean we send all our members to every visitor to ask if they want to join church, but it does mean as we grow in our understanding of God's love and go to church as this week's lesson says, with Spiritual living and blessedness from an all-absorbing spiritual love, then we will come out with peace knowing God is guiding us all. My duty is to ensure I am continuing to work on this each day.

  4. It is not uncommon to face situations like the one described here. I once confroted the thought of people coming to Christian Science meetings to disrupt rather than contribute by reversing the claim that were there to spoil our activities with the truth that we were there to heal them. So, rather than they harming us we would turn around and heal the whole situation.
    Any group of Christian Scientists committed to work together for Truth and Love can make such demonstration.
    As Mrs. Eddy says, Jesus always faced any human situation with his healing power.
    Difficult people should be handled as a.m. which means error in disguise. In fact, a.m. is not a person, place or thing; does not belong to any one and doesn't have any identity to act independently or to manipulate others. It is only a suggeestion; a mirage of error.

  5. If we feel that it might not be appropriate for some regular attendee to join a branch church, then maybe we can pray to see how to approach our own thought and/or that individual with a solution to the problem.
    If we approach a regular attendee with the suggestion that they apply for membership and they decline, maybe we can pray to see a solution to the situation which led to that decline.
    As a regular attendee when I was a university student, I was eventually approached by a member who said, "I have just been appointed Chair of the membership committee and I would like your application for membership." I joined the church!

  6. I, too had a similar experience that taught me to pray to see others as God sees them. Church members might use this difficulty as an opportunity to grow spiritually. As Mrs. Eddy writes "Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man where sinning mortal man appears to mortals. In this likeness the Savior saw Gods own likeness and this correct view of man healed the sick."

    This reminds me of a healing in my own experience that happened as a result of studying deeply the definition of man in Science and Health p. 475. And attempting to really see man as Christ Jesus would do. One morning I drove to the stable to ride my horse. It was early, the stalls we're positioned around an inner courtyard of the barn. As I got out of my car I could not see in and I heard a lot of shouting. There was a man in there berating the stable girl, and it sounded like water buckets were being thrown around. I turned my back thinking I'd better not go in right then! At almost the same time the protest thought came, "But that's not God's man!"! All of the study I had been doing learning of God's man who was spiritual, - perfect and good as God was, kicked in -it became clear in that instant that what I was hearing was the counterfeit - not the real. This took no more than a few seconds and as I listened I could hear no more loud voices. It was safe to go in - and when I did all was calm - there was no aftermath - the atmosphere was perfectly peaceful. I thought wow! That was the effect of really knowing the truth, accepting it and applying it. It changes everything!

  7. Thank you all. This was a great question. It was also a great answer/lesson for me, to remember "Personal Sense" as "error in disguise" and I also really related to the "prey/pray" anecdote. I have experienced zealously "praying for someone" only to find out later (years later) how offended they were at my "preying on them". It was a great humbling lesson to be sure and one that I don't mind being reminded of. Thank Heavens for Forgiveness.

  8. Lovely replies, Michelle and Michael -- and lovely comments, all!

    What came to me when I read Michael's response was a statement written by Mary Baker Eddy, found on p. 267 of her compilation of articles titled Miscellaneous Writings, 1883-1896: "Our worst enemies are the best friends to our growth." She goes on to explain: "Charity students, for whom I have sacrificed the most time, -- those whose chief aim is to injure me, -- have caused me to exercise most patience." Her loving sentiment could just as easily be applied to "complaining church congregants."

    Deanna, I'm grateful your prayers brought peace to that barn; the dear horses deserve to be surrounded by calm, gentle love.

  9. I think we have all experienced this in one form or another. It was suggested to me early on as a young reader to listen carefully to what the criticism was, and if it had merit to correct the mistake. If it did not have merit I was to smile, thank them, and ignore the whole thing. I remember once we had a small child that was very disruptive in sunday school and we needed to handle the problem quickly so as not to have our sunday school upset every sunday. We had a short meeting in which the child's grandmother said, "there is always the suggestion to misbehave, floating out there in the general thought. This child is too young and inexperienced to recognize that she is being used by error. Now, the suggestions come to all of us to run around during the hymns, but the rest of us have learned to recognize that suggestion as error and not respond to it. Our little one will learn that too, and then she will be a good sunday schooler." So we all prayed to know that the child could not be tempted by error, and as a practical matter quietly corrected the bad behavior with a word to help her know what is the right behavior during hymns. she responded within a couple of weeks, and all was harmony again. I have used the same ideas again and again when faced with criticism and it always corrects the situation. No wonder Mrs. Eddy said that reason is the most active human faculty.

  10. Good question, good responses and very useful instruction. I would like to add this very helpful thought from the Martha Wilcox reminicence in We Knew MBE: "sometimes a sense of personality arises before your thought and leads you to believe that a sense of personality is something outside and separate from your thought, that can harm you. She showed me that the real danger was never this threatened attack outside my thought, where the personality seemed to be, but that the real danger was always within my thought. She made it clear that my sense of personality was mental, a mental image formed in my so called mortal mind and was never external or separate from my mind".

  11. I love the many lovely ways to help heal the situation. One more that comes to me is that this person is attempting to nurse the congregation -- so thank them and suggest they might find the "aids in sickness" qualities for an effective nurse (page 395 of S&H) helpful to better nurturing of the church. I recall growing up with a mother who always complained about everything. When I took a college boyfriend home to meet her, I warned him that it was her nature to complain. After supper, I asked him, "What did I tell you?" He looked puzzled and said, "I don't know what you are talking about - you are just like her." Ouch! All those years I was offering constructive criticism to friends to be helpful, I didn't realize that it could come across as complaining. Or that my mother was simply trying to be helpful too. I've always been grateful for that gift of insight my boyfriend gave me - it changed me and how I share well-intentioned suggestions. Perhaps you can do the same for this dear friend.

  12. PS - The nurse qualities on S&H 395 include
    "An ill-tempered, complaining, or deceitful person should not be a nurse. The nurse should be cheerful, orderly, punctual, patient, full of faith, — receptive to Truth and Love."

    Happy nursing, everyone!

  13. Thank you Michelle and Michael! These answers are timely for me tonight. I was so disturbed this evening and then came home to read these wonderful, relevant healing comments.

  14. Thank you, God, for daily bread. The question and answers met my need perfectly, roused me to understanding more of the reality of church. I can't wait to go read more of the passage from Retrospection p. 67 that Michael cited about silencing self. I am learning that any sense of frustration about church relationships is just an aggressive mental suggestion presenting an inverted view of the spiritual, blessed, complete, harmonious, useful idea that is God's church. What appears to be a difficult individual or problem in church is just the carnal mind's attempt to separate us from Love's healing presence, to douse our spiritual fire and to tempt us from serving with joy and meekness together. This resistance to the Christ's government cannot fool us into believing in individual mortal minds. It also cannot impress us, surprise us, nor distress us because divine Mind does not know it, so it is unreal, powerless. Mrs. Eddy so clearly and wisely prepared us to separate sinful sense from ourselves and others through prayer. Every time I pick up a biography of our Leader, I see that she tirelessly faced and vanquished many dragons of personal sense (that seemed to come in the guise of devoted Christian Scientists) which tried to destroy our church.

  15. I think all of our churches have the same problems.But the only way we can use to handel this bel,ief is : we have to pray. Prayer is the fuel for all our problems we seem be handle. We know that as we see in our book of inheritance the Bible II Chroniques 20:17 Ye shall not need to fight in thhis battle( case or problems) :set yourselves , stand ye still, and see the salvation of the Lord .
    The salvation or healing for each case comes to him God.
    in our book S.H. p 332:9-15 we have a good inspiration how the Christ does His work for his church. Church of Christ.
    we habe difficulties in our own families and the only way we use to resolve all those problems we use our fuel prayer.
    When we put fuel in our car our car walk. prayer rsolve all problems . as Jesus did in his time and he et us his laws we use and all of christians must use to resolve their problems.

  16. I'm putting into my "budding practitioner" notebook the above comments about personal sense--so helpful. And as one responder hinted, sometimes "silent" prayer leads one to make a "spoken" response to a criticizer, hopefully one offered "in a Christian manner"!

  17. MANY years ago as I was walking out of Church with a Chrisian Science Teacher, I started to complain about the ushers. She responded very lovingly and quickly with, "My dear, I don't know what Church you go to but I go to the Church described in the Glossary of the Science and Health - the structure of Truth and Love". As I indicated, this was many, many years ago and I have never forgotten this lesson. I would use that same phrase on those who do criticize but have never had the opportunity - maybe because my consciousness is so cemented on the thought of Love and Truth of Church that nothing invades that space - you think???

  18. The question and the answers given, along with all the comments, were wonderfully helpful and exactly what I need at this time in church work. Personal sense being nothing but error in disguise is so apt - it's my personal sense, not someone out there- at least something that is claiming to be me. There seem to be so many difficult persons to deal with that we had better see it for what it is. My Christian Science teacher used to say that we think: "if only that person would move away." And sure enought, mortal mind surfaces in someone else. Another very useful thought was of the noisy child in Sunday School who didn't know that he was being used by error which was floating around. This makes me think of our need to handle the atrocities in the news about perversions. Isn't it the same kind of thing,where world thought is very centered on sensuality and the people who are caught doing these awful acts are being hypnotized by this floating error. I even saw this in a branch church. Thanks again for this great church alive segment.

  19. It has been my experience in reading that if I am able to feel that it is divine Mind that is being heard and not MY VOICE there is never any criticism, only loving appreciation for the Lesson-Sermon being read. Also, instead of speaking about becoming members to regular attendees, I always tell them how grateful I am that they are coming to our church services and how much I appreciate their being there. Sometimes this leads to them joining and sometimes it does not, but they continue to come and support our services, which is what each us must be doing -- not just looking for the service to benefit us, but that it will benefit all mankind because that is what our Pastor (The Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy) is doing whenever it is read at a service.

  20. I like the solution of asking them to join the church and become a part of the decision-making process. The other answers, handling personal sense are very important as well. One might share with a critical individual what my Christian Science techer once said when she heard a mis-pronunciation, "I prayed to let the Christ in me see the Christ in her (the Reader). The next time the reader pronounced the word, she got it right!"

  21. It seems that the subject has been covered really well and that there's little to add. However, it does bring to mind an incident in my experience. My husband and I were traveling. Before our trip I began to experience pain in my legs. There was a Reading Room nearby and it seemed like a good idea to stop hobbling around and spend some time in prayer. Once in, my critical eye (I was trained in art) say what I considered pretty shabby surroundings, and I spent some time mentally "redecorating" the study room. This was a huge distraction, but I finally settled in to some serious study. In a short while I walked away healed. This proved to me that the Christ is operating despite all appearances and complaints.

  22. Sunday School children have learned to avoid anyone who criticizes too much. (Joke.)

    If someone who criticizes as a way of talking makes a good point I acknowledge the point. I am not so hung up on personality that I cannot see a good point that needs to be made. A good idea is a good idea.

    However, a friend who was reading in her church has helped with the incoming criticism. If the point being made is not in the Manual by Mary Baker Eddy, she responds, "I am sorry you feel that way." Because, it is a feeling not a bylaw. A board member says, "I do not believe we have discussed that yet [as a board and have not yet made a bylaw about that]."

    In a school setting, when a principal was bombarded with suggestions, she would say, "Send me an e-mail on that." If the complainer does not really care to follow through in writing then the topic was not important. If the criticizer does write an e-mail he can put together his reasons for his suggestion. These might be worth considering at a board or committee meeting.

    In grad school I learned about the blue ribbon committee. If there were a problem, a committee of those who cared was formed. In our church context, we have committees already. Can the problem be handled by the appropriate committee? Could the complainer be put on that committee since he cares about that topic? Then a suggestion could be carrie out by the committee or a suggestion made by it to the board. The work could be done by the complainer. If he wants the doors painted, then paint the doors.

    If it distracts from the reading I get rid of the distraction. It was suggested that I wear jewelry while reading. Since I saw no spiritual inspiration behind that suggestion I chose not to wear jewelry. I was told the light on the desk was shining the wrong way so I took the light off the desk. I check the church answering machine before the meeting so that we do not hear those old messages beeping while in church. Focus.

    On Sundays and Wednesdays silent prayers are made for the congregation. Members pray daily for themselves and are protected from "the arrow that doth wound the dove". Published in Prose Works are articles on "Love Your Enemies" and "Taking Offense." These can be read more than once. :)

  23. It does not pay to argue, it does pay to listen to the critic for he/she might have something which could benefit. One will never know except upon listening. Never doubt, God gives each of us discerning ability to see if criticizism has merit.

  24. Does anyone know the rest of this chidrens,' prayer ''Father Mother God, loving me, sent my little feet up to thee- - - - - -I forget the rest, but I am over 80, which might excuse me.

  25. Hi Rosamond,

    There are two children's prayers that you might be thinking of-- both originally published in the January 1896 issue of the Christian Science Journal, and later re-published in Misc. Writings, p. 400: 12-25.
    They are:

    Mother’s New Year Gift to the Little Children

    Father-Mother God,
    Loving me, — 
    Guard me when I sleep;
    Guide my little feet
    Up to Thee.

    To the Big Children

    Father-Mother good, lovingly
    Thee I seek, — 
    Patient, meek,
    In the way Thou hast, — 
    Be it slow or fast,
    Up to Thee.

    Hope that helps!
    Inge, Church Alive Team