Week 92: "It has come to many of our church members that changing from a church to a society would be an honest step. Others, however, feel that this is a step backwards. Any thoughts?"

Question: "It has come to many of our church members, through consecrated prayer over the past several years, that a shift from being a church to a society would be the more honest step to take right now, -- a step that could actually result, counter-intuitive as it may seem, in much-needed spiritual growth and renewal, better enabling our small but dedicated group to devote our prayer to better healing work for and within our community.  Others feel this is a step backward, a giving up, or admission of decline from the church we once were.  Any thoughts?" 

RESPONSE 1: FENELLA BENNETTS 

I know these issues can really tug at the heart-strings of members who feel that a church they’ve loved for a long time is declining.  But there are one or two keys in what you’ve said here.  The first is your consecrated prayer.  This never leaves us where it finds us, and we can expect it to change the way we see things - as well as bringing us answers, sometimes in surprising ways!  And the second is honesty, which is defined in Science and Health as “spiritual power” (p. 453) . These are such good starting points.

I’ve often thought that the outward form of a church is something like a coat. If the coat is either too tight or too loose it’s not the right fit, and it makes it difficult for you to move freely.  

The actual “body” of Church is the body of thought.  I love Paul’s description of “the body of Christ” when he said to the early Christians, “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular” (I Cor. 12:27).  In this sense, the real substance of your branch church is the embodiment of Christly thought being expressed by the members.  It sounds as though this body is in good shape, dedicated to healing and well nourished by prayer!  What you’re considering now is whether your “coat” is helping or hindering your most important mission of Christ healing.  

Not long ago I was in touch with a friend whose church membership had dwindled to three people.  After several years of prayer they decided to close the church and sell the building, which raised far more money than they expected. With the funds they helped two other branch churches, which were re-developing their Reading Rooms, and also gave much needed funds toward an event for young Christian Scientists in their country. But they knew Church was a spiritual idea, not a building, and therefore couldn’t be closed down. A hall became available in the immediate community of two of the members, many miles from the original church.  For a small payment each week they rented it, and started a new group, which immediately started to grow. They were free from long journeys and heavy expenses, and their new church group was an expression of joy from the start, touching members of the community who were new to Christian Science. For them it was definitely a forward step.

I know the answer to your prayer will be equally clear to you.  And it will be good to hear from others who have had to face the same questions.  

RESPONSE 2: ELISE MOORE

Isn’t it interesting that consecrated prayer can lead dedicated and spiritually-minded church members to consider both sides of a human question as the answer to their prayer? Whether called a group, church, or Society, I’m wondering what the underlying issues are. Has the number of active members dropped below 16 or is there no Journal-listed practitioner? Are there not enough members to maintain the Reading Room or no children in the Sunday School? We can all think of branch churches and Societies which have addressed these issues through prayer and been transformed into vibrant congregations regardless of whether designated as a Society or church. . .and others where the answer has been to close and start afresh.  Perhaps the answer is not in the designation.  How are we thinking of our congregation-- as the Titanic, a butterfly, or a lion?  

If we think about our congregation as the Titanic, icebergs of criticism need to be melted with divine Love. It’s never too late to repent of ego and restore humility. Humility will keep the individual and the congregation afloat. Even if a congregation is sinking, Christ comes with life boats of spiritual truths to save and protect each member and attendee. Your congregation was ordained by God and is reinforced with the armor of divine Truth and Love.

If you’re thinking of your congregation as a butterfly, the transition from buggy to beautiful might seem slow and mostly unseen, but trust that the transformation is taking place.  By nurturing affirmative thought and cherishing Christ healing in ourselves, others will be blessed. The individual transformation of thought expands into a butterfly experience for everyone your thought touches. You can trust the eternal and gently wrap each one in a cocoon of love. Even the most tattered bug will blossom in an atmosphere of persistent, unrelenting Love reflected in love.

Or perhaps the congregation seems like a lion, roaring at adversity. There’s something to be said for moral courage, undisturbed by human appearance, fearless in the face of challenges, resting in God’s fertile field. Where one person sees problems, another sees God’s goodness in action. It’s simply a different perspective. The lion is the “king of the mental realm” (Science and Health, p. 514). Perhaps moral courage is the king of church or Society progress. 

Should your congregation be a church or Society according to The Manual of The Mother Church?  I can’t answer that question for you.  But I would encourage your members to repair Titanic thinking, patiently nurture and protect butterfly activity, and deeply value and respect lion qualities of thought. Your congregation is a healing community, which God will guide all the way. 

RESPONSE 3: LORENZO RODRIGUEZ

The designation of Society or Church is purely organizational. Whether you are one or the other is immaterial! What is important is how you are fulfilling the requirements in the definition of “Church” in Science and Health (p. 583). Are you striving to afford proof of your utility and “rousing the dormant understanding”? And how do you do this? It is not merely by holding services, sponsoring lectures, or having committee meetings. These things are important, but the most important thing is to go out into your community (literally!) and spread the message of Christian Science. It is to go boldly, knowing that Christian Science is a solution to the world’s challenges. That it is practical; that can be used by anyone, regardless of their religious affiliation. This work begins inside--in the consciousness of your members.  It is a solid conviction that the Christ is leading each and every one of you to give your community, and the world “a cup of cold water” (Science and Health, p. 436).

In the parable of the leaven, Jesus talked about that a small measure leavens the whole thing (Luke 13: 20-21).  Well, there is your answer.  Regardless of the number of members you have, you can leaven the world to the understanding of Christ!

The other thing that I would recommend to your group is to never yield to discouragement.  Actually discouragement is part of the lie that the world wants to impose on God’s children.  God’s activity does not include discouragement or disappointment; it is always progressive.  And everything is His activity.  Keep going; the victory is Christ’s!

  1. None of the responses deals with the issue of whether the group meets the Manual requirement to have a Journal-listed practitioner. That may be in the back of the minds of those who want to revert to the status of "society"; this could be a practical move, or it could be a stimulus for some to move toward the public practice.

    Another solution might be to work toward the consolidation of several smaller groups.

  2. Personally I have absolutely no experience in the formation of a group, call it Church, Society, or Organization. It's what it does for the Community is what counts, so therefore I agree with Lorenzo's response.

  3. I like all of these answers and I am sure churches could find something in them that helps them pray about what steps to take.

  4. thank you for all three of these responses. It shows the joy you have in church, and church should always be a joy, never a burden. We should remember that it all started with one, one dedicated committed Christian, Mary Baker Eddy, who couldn't contain her joy either. with such wonderful examples we can take heart and proceed according to God's direction. He knows the way.

  5. I certainly agree with Lorenzo Rodriguez that the Christian Science (CS) Movement is the solution to the world's challenges. We however need to understand what has happened since lets say, the 1950's on CS Churches. We should never look back, but only on progress the best we can.. But the Christian Science Journal has the facts on how many church/societies and CS practitioners were listed in the 1950's, as compared to what is listed today. This decline has nothing to do with the CS Movement practice, as CS will always be here forever. What has shifted is family values for children growing up, to take the place of those who have passed on in the movement. There is only two reasons why decline has happened. The lack of CS members to support the churches and funding loss to carry on. What can be done? Well, the so-called advance technology available has the internet for those interested in the CS Movement. But the question is, how many young people pull up CS web sites, as compared to other web sites or video discs they use for video games etc. The church has nothing on TV. Only radio programs once a week and mainly on AM radio that most people do not listen to. We have the CS publications and Reading Rooms for churches who can support them. Reaching out is the only answer, but you must have one thing; "public sincere desire/interest which is mainly lacking," not just for CS, but other denomination as well. Known divine "Healing" from CS is limited, as usually it is in CS publications, or is known by family members or a friend and not on local or national news.. So what do we do? Yes, we hold the right thought and do a lot of praying to realize God is in control of the situation, when we humbly ask for guidance on how to overcome what must change for the better, in this so-called human society we live in today.

  6. Very insightful replies! Thank you.

  7. Christ Jesus our beloved examplar said for us to go into all the world and preach the gospel, and heal the sick. If every Christian Scientist said I am going to heal at least one person today, we'd help change our world. I think if we did this the demand would grow for more churches or societies, as in the "old days." I know there are times when I have not offered the cup of cold water in Christ's name, later to castigate myself for this reticence, and for allowing fear of being thought ridiculous for advocating spiritual healing to govern loving action. I'm getting better in this department. A Christian Science practitioner's neighbor's child was ill. The practitioner thought the mother wouldn't be interested in Christian Science so she said nothing. The child died, the mother said, " I know you are a Christian Scientist, I thought you might have said something." My friend said that was the last time she failed to share.
    The only consequence to Love is healing.

  8. According to the bible, the battle is not theirs but God's. They should continue to do their metaphysical work, and leave the outcome to God.

  9. FENELLA BENNETTS hit the nail on the head of my present situation and the one I just left. My Christian Science Society was down to three members - all women - with a building owned free of debt but needing maintenance and repairs. We dissolved and part of the profit went to the church I belong to now, as well as another branch church and The Mother Church. All donations were gratefully received. My present church has less than 16 members. no Journal listed practitioner, and no children enrolled in our Sunday School, just an occasional visitor. All three responses have given me much food for thought and prayerful consideration - thanks so much!

  10. Wonderful comments and ideas to work with. thank you to everyone.

  11. We need more healings like Mary Baker Eddy has done,or our churchs will fade away,that means more time directed to studying her great lessons,of Spiritual understanding,with this the churchs will be taken care of! Stephen L. Foss

  12. I would love to chime in here with some practical considerations. There are times when changing from a church to a society gives a smaller membership the flexibility to prioritize their activity. The only activity a society is required to provide is a Sunday service each week -- in a public location and in compliance with the Manual. Every other activity of Church mentioned in the Manual can be added and advertised as the members are able to provide them without feeling burdened or taking away from giving ample time to their healing practice of Christian Science.

    I love the comments here that remind us that Christian Science healing should be our primary consideration. At the top of page 136 in Science and Health, Mrs. Eddy tells us that, "Jesus established his church and maintained his mission on a spiritual foundation of Christ-healing." I love that word "maintained!" Doesn't this remind us what Church is all about and what the foundation of Church must be? Isn't this why the Manual includes a requirement that a church "shall include at least one active practitioner?" And isn't this requirement the demonstration of all the members -- that their commitment to healing is primary?

    Changing from church to society can be a progressive step. As others have mentioned, it's all in how the members approach it. If they look at it as an opportunity to re-dedicate to their healing ministry and to let their advertisement in the Journal be an honest representation of their activity, they are moving forward from a position of strength.

    I love the responses to this question, and it's clear from each one that whether we advertise as a society or church is of less importance than our individual and collective commitment to healing the sick and sinning through the promised Comforter.

    Valerie Unger, Manager
    Branch and Reading Room Activities

  13. At one point we were down to four members and it never occurred to us to close down or become a society - we were the 'immortal army' that closed ranks and carried on. We were the Board, Readers and every committee and neighboring churches helped at times. We had realized a that building does not make a church, but the building should serve the needs of church. Eventually we were joined by a church that did close down, and the church grew steadily focusing on the need to reach the community with the message of Christian Science. We never missed a lecture opportunity or a Wednesday evening meeting, so I agree with Lorenzo. There's an old anecdote 'When you are young you want to work for God, a bit wiser work with God, but when you are very wise you watch God work. We are still watching, and the building is being used by two community groups not connected with Christian Science. We are still working hard to make the church part of its community.

  14. One must agree with Lorenzo Rodriguez that the Christian Science Movement is the solution to the world's challenges.

    In the Manual of The Mother Church there are three additional features of a church compared with a society: 1 Maintaining a RR. 2. Giving one or more lectures annually 3. Requirement for teaching children.
    (A church does not need a Journal listed practitioner to remain a church.)

    Taking these in reverse order, a society would normally be willing to accept the requirements for teaching children. Giving a lecture is a vital method of spreading the Word and would feature in the group conscience of a society. Maintaining a public RR can be met in quite modest ways, subject to feasible real estate aspects being in place.

    Therefore the decision on whether to revert to a society is presumably influenced chiefly by a membership’s heartfelt answer to Lorenzo Rodriguez’ question: “Are you striving to afford proof of your utility and “rousing the dormant understanding”?”

  15. Semantics only -- I have learned that the public in general might not understand the term "Society" as church-related. All do understand the title "Church."

  16. Paul Marshall - Bath UK
    I'm struck by Comment Five, by Walter J. Owen.
    Walter comments: "What has shifted is family values for children growing up, to take the place of those who have passed on in the movement."
    Ever since I entered CS Sunday School as a tot I've retained in my mind's eye turning around in assembly and seeing what may have been upward of a hundred children. Yes Walter, you put your finger on a prime reason for the decline in our church memberships. Which makes one ask: "Had this trend not happened would our planet now be any closer to the spiritual millennium?" Sure, presumably numbers should have helped. However maintaining - indeed increasing - the numbers of CS adherents on this planet may (of itself) be too human a basis on which to establish God's kingdom on earth.. The spiritual millennium is (are we not taught?) already intact.
    One recalls reading in a reminiscence of MBE that our Leader valued one good healing of greater value than most all else. Is then the moral to be drawn that the CS movement is being obliged to turn from reliance on traditional strategies? Instead to catch the divine idea which brought about the growth of the early Christian church?

  17. We too seemed to have a declining membership for awhile, and no Journal-listed practitioner for about 10 years, although we still kept the designation of a "church." We began valuing and loving more what we had "in the house," welcoming members, attendees, visitors and anyone interested to our monthly spiritual goals meetings, as well as hymn-sings and lecture preparatory meetings. This effort to express more love is what I believe brought several new members, three of whom had never joined a church before. Then after attending a Church Alive Summit, we took on a goal to pray specifically for a practitioner in our church, striving to each increase our own practicing of Christian Science healing in the process. After a few months of dedicated and joyful prayer, a newly-Journal-listed practitioner moved to our area and joined our church. We were and are so grateful, and the blessings continue.

  18. Regarding especially comments 5 and 16 referring to decline: Remember that Mrs Eddy and her early students spread Christian Science by healing others. Healing ('proof of its utility') is what makes Christian Science spread more than anything. If we are relying on our children to replace the congregations are we assuming that we cannot attract more people who are new to Christian Science? That is not a right place to be in our thought. Remember that Mrs Eddy closed her church organization and her college when they were very prosperous-- the quality, or healing we do for our communities, is more important than numbers of congregants. And now we have churches and societies throughout the world.
    And it is worth remembering that for a few decades starting around the 50s, organized religion was declining all throughout this country, not just in CS churches, and only in recent decades have the numbers of the faithful really surged back. Are we taking sufficient advantage of this trend to reach out to people yearning for healing and/or the Truth? Jesus said, "Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest." (John 4:35) Plus, the recent spotlight on medical excess and the studies showing that thought and prayer are related to healing help prepare thought to be receptive of the groundbreaking ideas Christian Science offers.

  19. I like all of the answers. They are spiritually insightful (though they may appear to some as materially obtuse--a phenomenon most Christian Scientists are used to), and each church body considering these issues will find their own answers within the prayerful contemplation of what the writers have shared. So, thank you , Lorenzo, Elise and Finella for your clear thought and the beautiful solutions embedded in each response.

    I like to think of "Church" as the product and "Sunday School" as the process. A focus on the process is also a solution in itself and will enable the church membership to find joyous and unlimited answers to their human needs and to reap great blessings in their search for "the correct way" to understand their individual solutions and to see them demonstrated.

    A church without a Sunday school isn't "Church." Sunday school doesn't have to be a location with little human beings running around inside, but the dedication to this essential process and a clearer understanding of it will reap great and often unexpected benefits collectively and individually for each student of Christian Science--whether the "congregation" is large or small.

  20. The next generation may pick up their "devices" and go to the poor and needy where they are. The receptive are not necessarily in the place of your past. My granddaughter has been to Africa- twice. She intends to be there again. My grandson has gone with an NGO to Cambodia to teach, and to India where the Dali Lama gave a talk, and moved through the crowd of listeners. He taught there awhile, and he is still at University. The needy are the receptive. Some Americans need to move in other cultures and develop brotherliness and humility more universally.The leaven is at work everywhere, and must spread.

  21. Thank you for all of these great thoughts. I am sure every reader can act out on at least one of them. . I will surely do so.

  22. I love the thought of the church's acting as the lion of moral courage. I feel that that is what our church has had to be. About ten years ago some of our members were eager to either move the church or dissolve it because of challenges facing a small membership. We didn't do either of those things, but there was a vote to change to a society--considered a more honest statement of what we could do. As the new clerk(among many jobs) at that time, I can tell you that if working as a church seems daunting, changing to a society brings work, too. We had to do the clerical work of legally changing our name, had to change our listing in the Christian Science Journal, had to remove our name from the front of the building and repaint the sign, and had to notify the businesses we worked with of our name change. And people do wonder what we are when there is Society rather than Church in the name. We've kept up with all the required activities of a church to some degree, except for sponsoring lectures (and I know that we could do that, too, especially with the support The Mother Church provides). Perhaps some members felt relief in the change, which enabled them to keep working, but I don't feel that the change was significant, except as a statement of the membership's view of itself. I think that it IS significant that there is no procedure in the Manual for reverting to a society or dissolving. There is no "reason" for a church to decline. I have heard so many excuses (I don't ask for them; they are offered freely) for people not to serve church that I know absolutely that they are all lies. I think that what is really honest is identifying oneself as a constantly growing expression of God's being. It has been amazing to discover what a few people can do and how activity can be reduced to essential elements. More renovation has been done on the property than had been done in quite awhile. Two flood "emergencies" have proven great blessings. We have continued to serve the community for another ten years. We are even smaller in membership, but I think that the manner in which we deal with each other is improved, and we have some very enthusiastic visitors. It isn't possible that we are not of good use.

  23. The comments above are very helpful -- "church" versus "society" as a Manual-definition is really an internal organization tool. Either way, Christian Science is applicable and demonstrable NOW and into the future to help and heal all mankind. We don't have to wear Mrs. Eddy's clothing styles or drive the horse and buggy in order for Science to be an effective life practice. Just so, we must stop our "historical preservation" of outmoded buildings and move on, with gratitude for their past usefulness and without mourning or decrying that we're failing as a church organization. MacDonalds and Taco Bell shops don't look the same as they did 30 years ago--but they continue to be successful businesses.
    If we practice Christian Science as our foremost and primary occupation applied to every aspect of our lives-- not just as a health care system-- then the right buildings and finances needed will become apparent and it will be harmonious for all concerned. For many years I've lived with churches looking outside for the "millions of unprejudiced minds, simple seekers for Truth..." to come to church services and lectures. Let's make sure the members inside the churches live according to that statement: be unprejudiced and seek Truth. The world has need of the clarity of thought provided by the study of Christian Science to solve problems. Shooting verbal arrows at one another, worrying about quorums, and finding money to keep old buildings open are sometimes "convenient excuses" for not digging deeper into living the Scientific Statement of Being. Let's be more Christ-like every minute of every day. Considering his new Commandments to love God and love one another, I think Jesus' answer to Cain's question "Am I my brother's keeper?" would be a resounding Yes.

  24. Never be discouraged by the number of attendees at a service; instead, be "exceeding glad" for every dear person who has taken the time to come and support the service - even if it is only one! Also, know that they are present in Love and will be blessed. (Prayer in church) Never let discouragement replace your sense of joy in your idea of church! God is Love, and Love is All.

  25. Emboud 23 above said it all to empty church nesters: '...be unprejudiced and seek Truth.' Instead of looking for members, allow God and His idea to pour in thought.

  26. "A branch church of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, Boston, Mass., shall not be organized with less than sixteen loyal Christian Scientists, four of whom are members of The Mother Church. This membership shall include at least one active practitioner whose card is published in the list of practitioners in The Christian Science Journal." --MBE (N.B.--"Shall not be organized" signifies what is NOT to be, in the present.)

    Also According to The Manual of TMC, it effectively falls to the CSPS to enforce these requirements, since they determine who may advertise in the CS Journal.

  27. We need to be 'out' there. One heard the CS bible lesson TV (can't beat that - everyone looks at TV). How are we spreading the gospel of CS to the hungry world is a question i think we can each invidually ask ourselves and pray sincerely about....

  28. How about reading the Lesson on YouTube? Why is The Mother Church so concerned about copyright? That is a sincere, not snarky, question. Are any of Mary Baker Eddy's works still under copyright? Bible study groups are a great way to energize Christian Scientists, as we all realize how little we yet know of the Bible's treasures. I hope you all are drinking up the wonderful Bible videos now being published by the youth section of The Mother Church. Remember in our prayers that the Christian Science publications -- from the Monitor and periodicals (etc.) to our own contributions, such as blogs -- are to the Internet what the same publications were to the yellow journalism of Mrs. Eddy's day. Even the smallest group (even one!) can have a huge impact as we keep abreast of our own opportunities. How many of us subscribe for the Monitor and periodicals, in whatever format? Really? And read them? And share them?

  29. @28 re copyright: Seems to me, it's a duty to Mrs. Eddy; it's following in her wise footsteps. She was diligent/forceful about protecting the copyright of her publications. Also, protecting copyrights, doesn't guarantee, but helps protect the integrity/accuracy of the revelation/teaching. And finally, "The laborer is worthy of her hire."

  30. It only seems like progress has turned what we always loved about Christian Science and Church into nothing more than a joke or elite club. And 'the closer a lie simulates truth,' the riper it is for healing. Is Christian Science the Revelation of Truth or is it only psychology. If it's psychology, then church is already a society. Is 'one with God a majority' or is 'safety in numbers' the mantra. If safety in numbers is the battle cry, then pitch your tent, form a circle around the campfire and sing Kum Bie A (sp), your church is a society already. Is Church the worship of one Mind or a forum for hypnotism's group think, mass consciousness material mindedness; if it's the latter it's time for high tea, get out the tea bags, you have a fine orthodox society.

    The sincerity of the Christ is the omnipotence of the Church. Anything else is already a club, not even a civilized society.

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