Week 76: How can my church feel more "family-like"?

RESPONSE 1: BEKKI BUHL

Reading your question I immediately thought of Jesus and his twelve disciples. What a family! Imagine sitting around with the Master-Teacher, listening, praying, and sharing deepest thoughts of Life together. It’s a rather goose-bumpy notion, isn’t it? They walked, talked, ate, and sang Church, nurturing, rebuking, gentling, and loving one another, probably unlike any other gathering of dearest friends since the beginning of time. They had their joys and insights, differences and betrayals, but through the constancy of Jesus’ love, words, and works, they were learning their unity of purpose and unity with God.

Here we stand, as present day disciples. Our church organization, not so unlike our human family, offers a laboratory for spiritual practice, and especially, for living love.

One definition of “family” includes “the collective body of persons who live in one house, and under one head or manager.” A Church Alive blog later reprinted in the Christian Science Sentinel defined Church as “the house divine Love built for God’s children to live in” (see The Christian Science Sentinel, Evan Melenbacher, April 30, 2012).

Church embodies a family of spiritual seekers, thinkers, and healers. So what qualities define this family, at its best? Probably unconditional love heads the list. And there’s spiritual sense, compassion, fidelity, forgiveness, unselfishness, purity, discipleship, edification, inspiration, harmony—to name but a few. In our dealings with one another in church, don’t we learn again and again that we can’t just talk about Christ, Truth, but that the divine must be lived? This requires a constant humble assessment of thought and actions. Never limited, the attributes of Love are forever broadening!

In my recent church experience, we break the bread of truth Sundays and Wednesdays, and we share meals within the church setting as well as outside of services and meetings. Individual needs are met prayerfully and through deeds of kindness and generosity. When an unfamiliar face walks through our door, we don’t see them as a stranger, but as a fellow sister or brother to welcome home.

There’s such a tangible sense of family-supporting-family, that recently when my husband was out-of-state on a business trip and I was involved in a serious multi-vehicle collision, one of the earliest roadside calls I made was to a member of our society. It felt natural to request supportive prayer from my church family. I trusted that these dear friends would fearlessly and understandingly turn to God in oneness of Mind. Isn’t this the highest sense of brotherhood that we yearn to experience?

RESPONSE 2: PETER JACKSON

There are indeed many things that both church and family have in common. I’ve found in my own experience that a love for church and a love for family are both essential in the healing practice. As with family, a successful church is certainly based on the loving unity of its membership, and I would say this is best maintained by members striving to demonstrate the Science of Christ in their individual lives, both within and outside of the church organization. A membership doing this can’t fail to express the unselfed love for one another, which “receives directly the divine power,” healing and transforming lives (see Science and Health p. 192). Everyone would want to be part of an organization that does this.

Some members will be content to build strong working relationships with their fellow members, without necessarily desiring to socialize much more beyond that. Other members will form deeper personal friendships and they will do many things together, both inside and outside of church activity. The two Christian Science churches nearest where I live, enjoy organizing occasional events such as music concerts or a garden party, which bring our community together. Certainly nothing can stop you, too, from taking the initiative to organize a social activity of your choice, and making an open invitation to the other members to join in. While it’s possible that not everyone will take part, I’m sure that many will enjoy the experience, and they’ll be grateful to you for your thoughtful efforts.

For me, the strongest bonds with fellow members have been formed through regular church activity, such as serving in the Sunday School, care committee visits, or organizing lectures. Any success in these activities has come through a genuine commitment to an unselfed love for others – the key ingredient for enduring relationships. And yes, it’s true, this takes persistent work, but the spiritual growth is well worth it.

So I would say, let God inspire you. The right ideas will come to bless your whole church family. As Mary Baker Eddy wrote: “We have nothing to fear when Love is at the helm of thought, but everything to enjoy on earth and in heaven” (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 113).

  1. Some CS Churches appear to not care about fellowship or socializing outside of normal church activities. Mary Baker Eddy occasionally held gatherings beyond church activities. It depends on the type membership you have. Usually families gather on holidays; but some CS churches have membership gathering in one of the membership’s home for all to attend for fairwell occasions by a member, or near certain holidays. Many bring foods of all kinds or maybe music at times being played. It appears rare that fellowship/social gatherings are at the church, except at times after a lecture, people bring food and drinks for informal talks with the lecture person along with others attending. But most all CS Churches do not have kitchens, microwaves or refrigerators.

  2. Another thought – maybe another church would be a better fit for you. I stayed with a church for many years out of a sense of obligation, and am so glad now that I left. I found one that – for the first time ever – feels loving and supportive. Skipping details to keep this short, I know others who have not fit into local branches, but found different churches, even long-distance church memberships (using skype, etc., that meet their need for a sense of fellowship & working together towards common goals.

  3. Excerpts from the Manual workshops organised by the Mother Church,and those of some local branches,reveal that any thing/activity not specifically provided against by the Manual of the Mother Church can be indulged in without jeopardising one’s spiritual growth, so long as the motive is appropriate. An occasional gate together for the sake of forging closer understanding of ourselves and reducing stereotypes, I believe, will go a long way in building better church unity. In a convivial atmosphere( where people share ideas, jokes, drinks,and so on) barriers – racial,social, psychological,religious etc, usually tend to break down, thereby fostering a better understanding of people.”Let thy motives be always be pure”,should be the guiding light.

  4. In our families we have what to the senses are people with different kinds of character and level of understanding, mistakenly we don’t expect such in our church experience, and when we see such we are disturbed. Leaving for another church is not really an option, because you may be confronted with the same situation there . It is an opportunity to love more and pray more.
    These passages were very helpful when I had issues with some members. 1.Isaiah 2:22, 2. S&H68:27(only), 3. S&H 586:23 the.

  5. Gratitude can always be expressed for Christian Science church. I been to a church that had plenty of workers and didn’t need me. But God assured me, my gratitude was needed. And I just “buzzed” along saying thank you to members in my heart with smiles.

    I been to church when the social was not extended. But God made sure I was included in a party in my heart. I was happy and knew I wasn’t missing anything as Good is never missed.

    Church is for healing. Church is for love. Human church can change, that is why the spiritual church, the only church, needs to dominate in our hearts. We affirm there is no exclusion, God is forever including his children. But that inclusion is spiritual always.

  6. I have felt this same way at times in my own experience, and decided that like any other condition that seemed a problem, the first place I had to go was my own thought. I am still working on this, but I find that when I really am interested in my fellow members – their lives and family and spiritual contribution, I feel a deeper sense of love and companionship with them. Sometimes this develops into a social event, but even when it does not, the same satisfaction of loving and sharing with someone is there. I found that I really needed to care and support my church members by not seeing negative things about them, – having that thought that supports healing. I am working on this, but it does seem effective.

  7. Thank you, Becky and Peter. And thank you to the other commenters as well. In reading We Knew Mary Baker Eddy, I was interested by the socializing Mrs. Eddy enjoyed around the dinner table at her home in Pleasant View. Not infrequently, guests were invited to spend an evening of conversation and laughter, just for the pure joy of being together and generating good will. What a lovely sense of church.

  8. Our church is very small but we still have a special morning tea every month in the Sunday School after the service, so we can all have a chat.Also on other Sundays several of us go down to the local cafe after church for morning tea and this all helps to form a bond as a church family. We are having a Christmas Party at one members house in a few weeks which will just be a barbecue and everyone brings a dessert. We all feel more together by these gatherings and loved by our church family,especially for the ones who don’t have family around them, which is very important.

  9. My C.S.teach took her primary class with Mrs. Eddy, and then was asked by Mrs. Eddy to be in the “last class” that Mrs. Eddy taught. She often told me details about the social visits that she had enjoyed with Mrs. Eddy, especially at Pleasant View. I feel that our branches could enjoy more of such events, as long as our motives remain pure and loving.

  10. Some CS Churches appear to not care about fellowship or socializing outside of normal church activities. Mary Baker Eddy occasionally held gatherings beyond church activities. It depends on the type membership you have. Usually families gather on holidays; but some CS churches have membership gathering in one of the membership’s home for all to attend for fairwell occasions by a member, or near certain holidays. Many bring foods of all kinds or maybe music at times being played. It appears rare that fellowship/social gatherings are at the church, except at times after a lecture, people bring food and drinks for informal talks with the lecture person along with others attending. But most all CS Churches do not have kitchens, microwaves or refrigerators.

  11. Another thought – maybe another church would be a better fit for you. I stayed with a church for many years out of a sense of obligation, and am so glad now that I left. I found one that – for the first time ever – feels loving and supportive. Skipping details to keep this short, I know others who have not fit into local branches, but found different churches, even long-distance church memberships (using skype, etc., that meet their need for a sense of fellowship & working together towards common goals.

  12. Excerpts from the Manual workshops organised by the Mother Church,and those of some local branches,reveal that any thing/activity not specifically provided against by the Manual of the Mother Church can be indulged in without jeopardising one’s spiritual growth, so long as the motive is appropriate. An occasional gate together for the sake of forging closer understanding of ourselves and reducing stereotypes, I believe, will go a long way in building better church unity. In a convivial atmosphere( where people share ideas, jokes, drinks,and so on) barriers – racial,social, psychological,religious etc, usually tend to break down, thereby fostering a better understanding of people.”Let thy motives be always be pure”,should be the guiding light.

  13. In our families we have what to the senses are people with different kinds of character and level of understanding, mistakenly we don’t expect such in our church experience, and when we see such we are disturbed. Leaving for another church is not really an option, because you may be confronted with the same situation there . It is an opportunity to love more and pray more.
    These passages were very helpful when I had issues with some members. 1.Isaiah 2:22, 2. S&H68:27(only), 3. S&H 586:23 the.

  14. Gratitude can always be expressed for Christian Science church. I been to a church that had plenty of workers and didn’t need me. But God assured me, my gratitude was needed. And I just “buzzed” along saying thank you to members in my heart with smiles.

    I been to church when the social was not extended. But God made sure I was included in a party in my heart. I was happy and knew I wasn’t missing anything as Good is never missed.

    Church is for healing. Church is for love. Human church can change, that is why the spiritual church, the only church, needs to dominate in our hearts. We affirm there is no exclusion, God is forever including his children. But that inclusion is spiritual always.

  15. I have felt this same way at times in my own experience, and decided that like any other condition that seemed a problem, the first place I had to go was my own thought. I am still working on this, but I find that when I really am interested in my fellow members – their lives and family and spiritual contribution, I feel a deeper sense of love and companionship with them. Sometimes this develops into a social event, but even when it does not, the same satisfaction of loving and sharing with someone is there. I found that I really needed to care and support my church members by not seeing negative things about them, – having that thought that supports healing. I am working on this, but it does seem effective.

  16. Thank you, Becky and Peter. And thank you to the other commenters as well. In reading We Knew Mary Baker Eddy, I was interested by the socializing Mrs. Eddy enjoyed around the dinner table at her home in Pleasant View. Not infrequently, guests were invited to spend an evening of conversation and laughter, just for the pure joy of being together and generating good will. What a lovely sense of church.

  17. Our church is very small but we still have a special morning tea every month in the Sunday School after the service, so we can all have a chat.Also on other Sundays several of us go down to the local cafe after church for morning tea and this all helps to form a bond as a church family. We are having a Christmas Party at one members house in a few weeks which wil just be a barbecue and everyone brings a dessert. We all feel more together by these gatherings and loved by our church family,especially for the ones who don’t have family around them, which is very important.

  18. My C.S.teach took her primary class with Mrs. Eddy, and then was asked by Mrs. Eddy to be in the “last class” that Mrs. Eddy taught. She often told me details about the social visits that she had enjoyed with Mrs. Eddy, especially at Pleasant View. I feel that our branches could enjoy more of such events, as long as our motives remain pure and loving.

  19. Our branch church feels like family. Here are some of the things going on. I am greeted by name at the door by an usher who looks me in the eye and hand me a Quarterly. On Wednesdays the organist and visitors feel welcomed in giving testimonies. Testimonies are often on the topic of the readings or inspired by a previous testimony, which shows we are listening to each other. On Sundays the first reader says in the announcement about the Bible and Science , "Friends" and looks out at the congregation, at each person present. Also the service is for the past "present and future," and one or the other word is emphasized. Right after the Sunday service and Wednesday meeting, previous and current readers came/down down from the desk to mill around and talk with people. We all greet visitors. On the first Sunday of each month, the Sunday School concludes its meeting early and comes up to sing the last hymn. A lot of good voices in that Sunday School! The board thanks the readers for their work and their attention to the requests made in the Manual; they really do think us, not a snide remark. People in a home for seniors are sometimes offered and given rides. Anyone with a vegetable garden brings in summer tomatoes to share. A business woman brought in oranges and grapefruit. We take our veggies and fruits after the service as we go out.

    When I first joined the church it was the most social church I had visited. Each year for a while there was a Halloween party with a costume competition and it got competitive! Dinner was either provided or was potluck; to non-Americans potluck means each family brought food to share. Other parties to which all members and attendees were invited include a wedding, a wedding reception, wedding shower, and baby showers. I have attended memorial services. When my Mom passed on I received a card from the church as a whole and a couple of individual cards. (I think we could do slightly better on attending memorial services.) After a sledding accident when our older daughter was in the intensive care unit for a week, a family from church took into their home our younger daughter. Church get togethers are facilitated by a phone list of all the members. To this I have added the names and phone numbers of some of the people who attend. Our church now has an e-mail (chat) thing going on. the board poses a question and we respond. When we set this e-mail thing up we agreed not to post trivia, so we keep comments necessary.

    Committee work brings small groups of people together for a purpose. It is good practice to pull together short readings before a meeting. Practicing democracy with one's fellow man wakes one up. Democracy is slow, builds character, and keeps one reading articles in Prose Works, such as "Taking Offense." (Another way it feels like family.) At a meeting after differing opinions are expressed we show too that we are of one Mind. Our God-given talents are used as people do various jobs for the church. In the end the committee may carry out a useful project that helps the church. By praying, working, partying, eating, and singing together we feel like family.