Question: "We are seeing so much positive activity and engagement through online resources such as Christianscience.com, time4thinkers.com, online chats, and conference calls, but it seems that local churches do not experience much, if any, of this. Are local church activities becoming less relevant? How can online church activities support in person, local church activities?"
Response 1: Sandy Sandberg
The Master Christian, Christ Jesus, once said, "where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20). It is as true today, as it was then. When people come together in local churches to worship God, the spirit of the Christ, the divine nature of Jesus, is always present to uplift and inspire their thoughts and prayers.
As helpful as the above listed online resources are to those who are availing themselves of them, there is simply no substitute for what happens when we gather in Christ’s name. We need to keep in mind the distinction between what is simply a communications tool, or resource, on the one hand, and what church members are actually doing to fulfill the mission of church on the other.
The “positive activity” reported by people who have utilized the church’s online resources is just that, reports coming from individuals who have found the resources helpful. The mission of church, however, is fulfilled by groups of individuals who have united for the purpose of sharing Christian Science with their community, “elevating the race, rousing the dormant understanding from material beliefs to the apprehension of spiritual ideas and the demonstration of divine Science, thereby casting out devils, or error, and healing the sick” (see Science and Health, p. 583).
There is no doubt, for instance, that the live online services, both Sundays and Wednesdays, are proving extremely helpful to individuals who are unable to attend local services, either because there is no local branch church nearby, or because they’re simply unable to attend the ones that are available.
But what this loving provision cannot do is substitute for the effective demonstration of those members united together in branch churches who are embracing their local communities, sharing Christian Science through the Manual-provided activities of Sunday services, Sunday School, Wednesday testimony meetings, reading rooms, and lectures. These activities, all supported by the collective prayers of a local membership, fulfill the mission of church quoted above. There is never going to be a substitute for an active group of Christian Scientists loving their community enough to demonstrate the healing power of Truth, specifically meeting whatever needs the community might have, whether it be dealing for instance, with a natural catastrophe, an epidemic of disease, or corruption in city government.
We haven’t yet outgrown the need to be involved face-to-face with our fellow members in our local churches and the need for the growth in Christian character this entails. There is a right place and use for the wonderful online resources provided by The Mother Church, which support individual spiritual growth and development. But they will never be a substitute for the Christian demand to come together regularly in Christ’s name.
Response 1: Susan Jostyn
I think it’s important to understand that at the heart of both online and in-person church is a single idea: Church itself. Church will never become irrelevant, since Jesus promised that even the gates of hell couldn’t prevail against it.
I’d venture to add that wherever people are gathering, church is needed. People are gathering both online and in person, so church is definitely relevant in both places. And, any prayer about church, offered in any place, has to bless all communities. In this way, online and in person church activities are already unified.
My sense is that Church is all about praying to love and serve God and our community. Recently, while helping to initiate a new outdoor Sunday School class dedicated entirely to newcomers, I’ve been freshly challenged to affirm that our community is receptive. I’ve had to trust that the Word of God is already written in every person’s heart, that God is speaking directly to each person, that they naturally respond to Him and yearn to hear and understand more, that they will be healed and reformed, and that they will want to love, connect, and share with their neighbors, all in obedience to God. I’m so grateful for how Church encourages, empowers, and defends this prayer.
As a result, while I’ve had good exchanges with people in person, I’ve also met people who were passing through from out of town and were grateful to hear about online Sunday School. In other words, both options for Sunday School originated in a desire to serve God and youth in the community, and they both have found their place and role.
For The Mother Church, with members in 130 countries plus branch churches and societies in only around 70 countries, it’s natural to reach out to the members in 60 countries that don’t have something near them, as well as to the additional 63 countries where there are no members or branches. One way—but not the only way—to do this is online. This doesn’t mean that the in-person church services in Boston have become less relevant. They are still the core and backbone to everything that happens online.
This also doesn’t mean that those members who are living in remote places can’t form a Society or branch church of their own. They can, and I believe they will, as they pray to embrace their own communities in the ways God directs. I can’t say how that will become manifest, but I do know that every sincere prayer that yearns to serve God, will be answered, will glorify God, and will bless our neighbors.
Our Father-Mother, the creator of all things, is infinite and all harmonious. That means there isn’t a single element of creation, including church, which can be in conflict or competition with another. Therefore, we can expect that within the infinite variety of ways which church finds expression, whether in one country or in another, whether online or in person, all of them can be—and in reality are—perfectly, harmoniously, seamlessly unified with each other and are timelessly relevant.
I’m so grateful to be working together with everyone who is praying to see this.