BOSTON — MEMBERS of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston gathered at the church's annual meeting here June 8 heard a call for unity.
The meeting, open to the general press, took place against a background of controversy over the church's discontinued cable television venture, the Monitor Channel, and publication of an unorthodox book about church founder Mary Baker Eddy.
"Yes, there are troubling questions," said Nathan Talbot, president of The Mother Church for the current year, in opening remarks. "There are issues that would try to divide us. But let's think first for a moment about those things that unite us. Let's keep some perspective."
"The practice of spiritual healing binds us together," Mr. Talbot said. "Rarely has the spiritual healing we all cherish as a way of life been under such scrutiny by society. We refused to let criticism from the outside divide us. We will refuse to let criticism from within divide us."
Church treasurer John Selover, a member of The Christian Science Board of Directors, reported that expenditures for the past year were $215.5 million, and that the church has no indebtedness other than a $4.7 million capital lease for television equipment. Mr. Selover also said church funds on hand are $104 million in restricted funds and a negative $115 million in unrestricted funds, although "cash is available to meet all our obligations." The church's net worth at the end of fiscal 1991-92 was $138 mi llion.
Al Carnesciali, a director and manager of the Christian Science Publishing Society, said the new budget preserves current staffing levels for The Christian Science Monitor, both in Boston and in its bureaus, and provides for the purchase of additional equipment that will allow the electronic transmission of pages to a remote printing plant. This would improve the paper's deadlines by 30 to 45 minutes and reduce costs.
The budget provides increased funding for Monitor Radio domestic and shortwave programming, Mr. Carnesciali said. World Monitor magazine will undergo a planned drop in circulation, and a core television-production capability will be maintained to produce the Daily Bible Lesson program and projects for the Christian Science Board of Lectureship.
Regarding the controversial book on Mrs. Eddy, "Destiny of The Mother Church," by Bliss Knapp, Carnesciali said that "the only correct statement of Christian Science theology is found solely in the writings of our Leader, Mary Baker Eddy." He drew a distinction between "authorized literature" - "a term not found in the Manual of The Mother Church" - and "Christian Science literature" - "a term which is found in the Manual."
"As has always been the case, much of what is published or sold by the Publishing Society as `authorized literature' does not come under the heading `Christian Science literature,' " Carnesciali said. "Therefore, `Destiny,' historical works, or reminiscences, are not `Christian Science literature.' They cannot carry the burden or responsibility of being correct or incorrect Christian Science literature, any more than externally published Bible commentaries, reprints of Monitor series, or collections of M onitor articles sold by the church's Publishing Society. Were it otherwise, much of the literature now available in reading rooms would disappear."
Carnesciali's comments were interrupted by several shouts from the audience protesting publication of the book, followed by concurring applause. When Talbot offered to adjourn the meeting to allow opponents to speak, however, a larger number of members urged that the meeting continue and Talbot's decision not to adjourn was followed by the longest applause of the day.
Looking to the future, "we have witnessed a radical change in communications modes," Carnesciali said. "All these developments indicate not only how rapidly the field of communications is changing, but how rapidly and wisely we must act if we are to fulfill our Leader's vision for the periodicals and the Monitor."
M. Victor Westberg, manager of Committees on Publication, the church's media and legislative-affairs office, said of recent press coverage of the church: "Discomfort is becoming the norm - but it's an exhilarating discomfort, which leads to healing."
"We're going to correct the lie that Christian Science does not heal effectively - or anything `important through prayer. We're going to continue to press for legislation which will honor the choice of spiritual healing for both adults and children, and oppose laws that would restrict our religious freedom," Westberg said.
Olga Chaffee, a director and clerk of The Mother Church, said that although overall church membership has declined in past years, "the number of applications for new members continues to increase." (The denomination does not publish membership statistics.) Mrs. Chaffee said that in addition to 2,600 congregations around the world, there are 270 groups holding services. New churches include those in the east German cities of Chemnitz, Rostock, Leipzig, Berlin, and Magdeburg.
During the past year, the number of individuals accepted to advertise in the Christian Science Journal as Christian Science practitioners rose 67 percent, Chaffee reported. A Christian Science practitioner is a church member who devotes his or her full time to the practice of spiritual healing through prayer.
During a report from Christian Science churches and groups around the world, outgoing Second Reader Marion Pierpont noted that the first advertised Christian Science services since the communist era were held in Moscow May 24.
Richard Bergenheim, a director and editor in chief of the Christian Science Publishing Society, called for members to participate more fully in writing for, subscribing to, and sharing the church's religious magazines. "We have learned over and over again that the only effective circulation work is that which we do ourselves by sharing the periodicals one-on-one," he said.
"Without your participation, both as contributor and subscriber, the periodicals cannot be strong," Mr. Bergenheim said. "Circulation [of] our periodicals is currently declining by around 7 percent, and the trend is far from new. Today only 1 out of 3 members subscribes to the Journal; 1 out of 3 subscribes to the [Christian Science] Sentinel. And only 1 out of 5 subscribes to the [Christian Science] Monitor." Bergenheim also announced that the directors will appoint contributing editors for the German, French, Spanish, and Portuguese editions of the monthly Herald of Christian Science, who will work from their home countries. The quarterly Heralds, in several other languages, will be redesigned and issued once or twice yearly in a thicker version.
Turning to the Monitor and its magazine and broadcasting activities, Bergenheim said: "The exposure of error is not a secular activity, it is a necessary step in the healing of sin. The confronting of disease or the exposing of social or environmental problems associated with it, in order to rouse mankind as opposed to terrifying or tempting someone into sickness, can have a healing role.... The noting of human achievement is not an element of worldliness but serves to expand thought and to encourage fre edom from limitation."
"The newspaper has had 85 years to learn what it means to be The Christian Science Monitor - and it is still learning," Bergenheim said. "Our radio and television activities have had far less time. They have the benefit of the paper's experience, but new lessons need to be learned.... We need to master these tools of the 20th century if we are to be ready for the work that lies ahead in the 21st; otherwise we are in danger of becoming an artifact of the 19th century."
Virginia Harris, board chairman and publisher of the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, reviewed steps The Mother Church is taking to distribute Mrs. Eddy's book, Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures, more widely. Mrs. Harris noted that 8,850,000 copies of the Christian Science textbook have been sold since 1875, and that annual sales have exceeded 50,000 each year since 1905. Last year saw a "substantial increase" in sales to 82,351 copies.
"Few books have a publication history comparable to that of Science and Health," Mrs. Harris said. "Seldom has any book been so actively used: studied regularly as a textbook, read publicly with the Bible as the pastor, and consulted as a resource for those seeking insight and inspiration into the Bible."
In closing the meeting, the directors noted that 1992 marks the 100th anniversary of Mrs. Eddy's reorganization of the church. "Reinstating Christ's Christianity and its original power to heal is worth everything we give to our Church's mission and to mankind," Harris said.
Howard Johnson of San Diego, Calif., was named first reader, and Margaret Rogers of Larkspur, Calif., was appointed second reader; both for three-year terms. The readers are lay people who conduct the services in Christian Science churches, which have no clergy.
An unedited audio tape of the four-hour meeting is being made available to branch churches, the directors said.