Response 1: Evan Mehlenbacher
When a branch church is faced with a declining membership and dwindling resources some deep soul-searching about what priorities are important to pursue, what unproductive activities should be stopped, and where attention should be focused to demonstrate growth can be very healthy. But above it all, it’s useful to remember that God provides freely and abundantly every resource needed for that branch to prosper. Beliefs of decline and lack can be overcome. The primary activity of a branch church is to heal neighbors. And what better place for a band of Christian Scientists, even a small band, to apply the healing truths of Christian Science and demonstrate abundance for the collective good than in the activity of their church home!
Jesus had Peter pull a coin from the fish's mouth to pay their tax bill. Manna fell from the sky for the homeless Israelites. Loaves and fishes were multiplied for the hungry masses in the desert. These Bible stories, and more, illustrate that in the face of lack there is supply to be seen and received. There is a supply of wisdom, insight, and intelligence coming from God that is ready to bless your branch and help members see how to successfully carry out their healing mission in your community.
The supply God provides is spiritual and typically doesn’t first appear in dollars, extended Reading Room hours, or numbers of members. It’s a state of divine Mind expressed where consciousness overflows with gratitude, love, goodwill, generosity, unselfishness, care for one’s neighbor, and other qualities that demonstrate the presence and power of Truth and Love. These qualities heal beliefs of deprivation, poverty, fear, discouragement, and hopelessness. They cause supply to appear where there appeared to be no supply.
Sometimes it’s tempting to blame other members for lack in church. But this should never happen in church work. Church activity is about blessing others unselfishly. It’s about seeing what God created in the first place. And we all have ready access to that vision,—including you!
So, from what you wrote, I’d encourage you to reject any argument of lack and focus on demonstrating ever-present supply. See the abundance God has already put in place, actively share your inspired vision with fellow members, and expect progress.
Response 2: Stephanie Johnson
In the Church Manual, Mrs. Eddy establishes that each branch church is “distinctly democratic in its government” (Manual, p. 74). This provides a system of governance that clearly outlines her intent to have a membership of thinkers. A keynote of Science and Health resounds in every Christian Science church, “The time for thinkers has come” (p. vii). Following the provisions in the Manual is not about passive obedience to these rules, but rather thoughtfully leaning into what Mrs. Eddy discerned to be the basis for spiritual progress both for a branch church and the individual church members themselves.
Clearly great good comes forward when we explore and consider fresh ideas. This dialogue opens thought to new ways of doing things that are infused with inspiration, freshness, flexibility and practicality. As the Bible says, “Come, now and let us reason together” (Isa. 1:18). This reasoning is only enhanced when we turn to the Church Manual. She writes this counsel, “Of this I am sure, that each Rule and By-Law in this Manual will increase the spirituality of him who obeys it, invigorate his capacity to heal the sick, to comfort such as mourn, and to awaken the sinner” (The First Church of Christ Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 230). Isn’t this healing impulse at the very heart of the purpose of a branch church?
The Church Manual was not intended to be used as a checklist to simply follow like a dull and repetitive drumbeat, but rather as guidance for thinkers advancing together toward a common goal of progress and healing. In reading the Manual, I find it eye-opening to notice what she outlines as being essential, as well as what she never mentions. For example, I find it thought provoking that not once does she mention the ownership and maintenance of a branch church edifice.
Over many years I have found it helpful to work out from the basic reasoning that if something is a right idea then there is a way to do it. Heeding Mrs. Eddy’s counsel is always an intelligent course of action. So with an eye toward spiritual growth the “do we have to?” question is replaced by the inspired inquiry, “How do we go about doing this?” This line of thinking brings forth creative solutions that are appropriate to our day and to each unique community. Interestingly, I have found that truly inspired ideas also bring with them all of the resources necessary to fulfill the idea.