Extending The Mother Church's love worldwide
The following article was published originally in the January 2012 Herald of Christian Science (French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish editions).
To keep abreast of the international Field, The Mother Church relies on its Communication Coordinators. Prior to Annual Meeting 2011, fourteen of these international workers came to Boston for an introduction to the Christian Science headquarters and a week of training on the Church Manual. They participated in a Church Alive Summit and Annual Meeting, as well. Before returning to their respective fields, they sat down for an interview with Leide Lessa, former editor of The Herald of Christian Science, to explain their role in the Christian Science movement. Although some of the people mentioned in the article are no longer serving in these roles, their insights about this work remain relevant.
Left to right; Front row: Mayal Tshiabuila — Democratic Republic of Congo; Trixi Burgermeister — Argentina; Magda Volker — Brazil, Portugal, Angola. Second row: Tony Ekwe — Nigeria; Neera Kapur — Asian Field; Joe Alomatsi — Ghana; Adela Vickers-Hughes — Australia and New Zealand; Angélique Bongolo — Republic of Congo/Gabon; Lyudmila Sokolova — Russian-Speaking Field. Third row: John Kinguru — Kenya; Antero Villalpando — Mexico and Central America; Doris Ulich — German-Speaking Field; Alicia Cardoso — Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia; David Barker — UK and Ireland. Not pictured: Landry Atangana — Cameroon.
Leide Lessa: Why is it important for your country or area to have a Mother Church Communications Coordinator?
Magda Volker: It is important to have a Mother Church Communications Coordinator in our countries because we can serve as a link between churches, societies, groups, and members that sometimes do not know how to get in touch with The Mother Church for questions they may have. In many cases, we can help direct the inquirers to the correct department in Boston. We might have the answer, or we can direct them to the Manual, which provides most of the answers or will inspire them to find the proper answer. Our new title reflects more properly our role, which is to diminish the apparent distance between The Mother Church and the Field.
Angélique Bongolo: I think it's important to have a coordinator for communication between The Mother Church and the branches because members have questions and they don’t know who to talk to. They can talk to me and I communicate with The Mother Church to find answers. Sometimes the problems are small issues such as a change of address or the fact that we don't receive the Per Capita Tax form. The members don't know what to do. And then there are questions about membership, Sunday School, and TMCYouth—communications that go from the Field to The Mother Church and vice versa.
Alicia Cardoso: I want to add only one thing to what my colleagues said. I think it is important that we keep The Mother Church informed, not only about what is happening in the Field itself, in the Christian Science movement, but also about what is happening in our corresponding countries, so that they can pray and help if the case requires it. It’s not easy for them to call or send emails because they have so many things to keep up with, but the important thing is to tell them about the difficulties, natural or otherwise, that we might be facing in our countries.
Neera Kapur: I think the main purpose of our role is described in the first sentence of Hymn 174, which says: “Like as a mother, God comforteth His children” (Christian Science Hymnal). It really closes the gap of geographical distances between The Mother Church and its branches and individuals who are in remote areas by themselves. Also, while serving as a Communications Coordinator, I have witnessed very clearly the power of collective prayer. Not only have I seen healings take place, but impending calamities have stopped before becoming destructive.
Joe Alomatsi: We also, at times, engage in special projects, such as coordinating the activities of various representatives from the departments of The Mother Church when they travel to our countries. We are sometimes called upon to address specific issues of branch churches.
David Barker: I have found that Mother Church members who live far from any church are greatly encouraged by a phone call from the Communications Coordinator for they recognize that it represents The Mother Church reaching out to them when they feel so isolated. The Coordinator can hear their concerns and also encourage them to recognize that Church is a living power within each heart—that we are all members of one universal embodiment of good, God's loving care for each one of His children. It’s also helpful for churches that are diminishing in number to be encouraged to think of Church in a more spiritual way, to think of the eternal nature of Church.
Leide: Why is the Manual important? Does the Manual support your activity as Communications Coordinator?
Doris Ulich: The Manual is the only basis for our work. It’s prayer, of course, as well, but the Manual is our tool for finding answers to the questions that members, branch churches, or groups may ask. It’s not that we personally have the answers, but it’s that we go together to the Manual and find there these wise answers provided by Mary Baker Eddy for eternity.
Tony Ekwe: Sometimes some branches have challenges facing them. They may have misunderstandings among them, and The Mother Church’s Communications Coordinator refers such branches to the Manual for them to find ways of resolving these problems. They’re often reminded that it is their business, and not The Mother Church’s business, or the business of the Communications Coordinator. So they have to find the solutions to their own problems by themselves.
Neera Kapur: We Communications Coordinators have recently attended some very, very inspiring workshops on the Manual. One thing that stood out to me is that there is not a single question to which the Manual does not provide an answer, and we hope that we’ll be able to share these ideas in workshops with the Field in our areas.
Antero Villalpando: The workshops will help us get closer to the branch churches, and will help them go deeper into the Manual so that they will know exactly how to handle different situations within their group. The churches can call us or they can do it by themselves. It depends on the branch church. We are the contact for them.
Mayal Tshiabuila: We know that Mary Baker Eddy says Church is “The structure of Truth and Love” (Science and Health, p. 583), but she also says it is an institution, so when we think of the Church as an institution, we think of government. And the Manual is the tool which tells us how our Church as an institution is governed. Most people don’t value the Manual as a real tool for the proper functioning of their government. So we, as Communications Coordinators, can help the members in the field to understand the uniqueness of the government of our churches. The difference between the government of The Mother Church and of the branch churches must be very clear, and the workshops we can provide in the fields will help a lot with that.
Trixie Burgermeister: Many times we tend to look for answers among ourselves, without looking into the Manual. All of us as members need to understand that the answers are in the Manual.
Leide: As Communications Coordinator do you represent The Mother Church and are you a special member?
John Kinguru: I’m not an official representative of The Mother Church in the East African region. First it’s really important to understand that The First Church of Christ, Scientist is not hierarchical. Each one of us is as important as the other. Our role as Mother Church Communications Coordinators is to facilitate better communications from the Church headquarters to the Field, and vice versa. This does not make us special in any way. I do go to great lengths to really reassure the Field that it is not so. If one is not alert, the Field will tend to look up to you for answers that really are in the Manual and our other books.
Leide: Can you tell us something you’ve done that has touched your heart, or brought healing to a person or a situation?
Magda Volker: I would like to illustrate this with a heart-warming situation that happened during an informal conversation with somebody about church activity. The person is a member of a small group in Brazil, and they were having some difficulties and disharmony among themselves. We exchanged some inspired thoughts about the importance of the work that each one does for church, and how important it is that we participate in church activity with a healing thought. I recommended that she study and pray with the definition of Church. Some months later she sent me a beautiful e-mail saying that our conversation had been so helpful, and that she was now much more active in church. She had entirely changed her thought about church. She was happy to inform me that the group now has more people attending, the testimony meetings are much better, and the Sunday services are full.
Doris Ulich: I had a similar case, but it was a member of The Mother Church who once called, and was so angry about something The Mother Church had or hadn’t done—I can’t remember what it was about. But he just had to tell someone, so he got my telephone number and called me. I just listened to him, felt and expressed the love of The Mother Church to its members around the world, and at the end of the phone call he said, “Thank you so much for listening. I now feel so much better. After what you have explained to me, it’s now clearer what The Mother Church wants for the Field, and that’s totally all right.”
Tony Ekwe: Two or three years ago, two members from The Mother Church from Boston visited Nigeria. Their flight from Lagos was diverted to Port Harcourt. They were supposed to land in Owerri, where I live. So I had to drive about 80 kilometers from Owerri to Port Harcourt to pick them up. It was around 7 p.m. We had to drive from Port Harcourt back to Owerri in the dark all through the night. At that time, kidnappings were frequent in that part of Nigeria. Some of the police and military men at the roadblocks, when they saw me driving with the two whites from Boston, asked me, “My friend, are you not afraid that they will kidnap your friends?” I said, “No, there will be nothing like that. God is guiding this journey.” And we had a very smooth ride from Port Harcourt to Owerri. It took us about three hours because it was dark. And when we got to Owerri, my visitors were happy, they had a nice time, and they were able to carry out the assignments that had brought them to Nigeria.
Trixie Burgermeister: There was one Mother Church member who lived alone on an island. He was very upset because he had lost communication with The Mother Church. The periodicals were not getting to him. Somehow I reached him. I listened to what he said, and I was praying. I tried to impart all the love of The Mother Church—that we belong to the same family. And, as a Communications Coordinator, I looked for people close to where he was, so he could get in touch with them. He was so grateful because he started to receive the periodicals through these people. He was relieved that he could speak on the phone with other Christian Scientists. It seemed over the years he had lost touch with the Church, and he wanted to reestablish contact. I was very thankful that I could help him.
Angélique Bongolo: When I first became a Clerk's Representative (now we are called Communication Coordinators), I visited all the churches in my country. I went to a village where a member used to go to church, but because of a dispute with another member, he along with several other members left the church. When I arrived, we worked with the Manual to see that the church doesn't belong to one person but is a church for all. We read some articles of the Manual and they felt the closeness of The Mother Church. The healing finally took place, and the members returned to the church and testimony meetings.
Adela Vickers-Hughes: We called this past season our summer of natural disasters. We had the floods in Queensland, and then of course, Christchurch in New Zealand had the earthquake. Both of those times I immediately e-mailed the clerk of the branch church in Toowoomba, Queensland, that was very heavily hit with the floods. And what struck me the most was what a member e-mailed back with a wonderful sense of calm: “For storm or shine, pure peace is thine, / Whate’er betide” (Christian Science Hymnal, No. 160). He had this lovely sense of calm right in the middle of that flood. And with the Christchurch situation, I was immediately in contact with members of the local branch church there, and of course, in both these cases, with The Mother Church, as well. Then I’ve heard about the beautiful community spirit that members in Christchurch are enjoying now. They all have a sense of love among them, and the church and its members had wonderful protection.
Leide: What are you taking home with you from your time in Boston? What inspired you the most?
Lyudmila Sokolova: This was a very productive week for me, and I learned a lot about turning to the Manual and how to show societies and groups that they can turn to the Manual to get the answers to their questions. I really like the TMC Youth movement, and I would like to see the youth in Russia get involved in it. I will tell them about it. In Russia, we’ve changed the thought of those working in Reading Rooms to encourage them to sell Science and Health, to talk to people about it, and to distribute the publications in general. My time in Boston has been very inspiring, and I gained lots of understanding and lots of very helpful ideas.
Joe Alomatsi: We had a thorough training on the Manual. So we are now more prepared, and have the same ideas and the same goals to present to different Fields. We can better support branches, groups, and societies to grow in Christian Science and have their own demonstrations. I really am very glad I was here. It is very important to be in tune with The Mother Church. In the different countries, we are not separate from each other or from The Mother Church. We are all on the same path. I now feel more empowered to support the churches and the country that I represent.