Church Annual Meeting Hears Progress Reports

Christian Science directors hail `turnaround,' regret `mistakes'

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

FROM the opening hymn - "Come, Thou all-transforming Spirit" - to a concluding video on the publication history of the Christian Science textbook, the 1993 Annual Meeting of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, June 7 focused on the power of Christian Science to transform people's lives.

The theme was anchored in discussions of "Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures," by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science Church. Of her seminal work - which, together with the Bible, serves as the "pastor" of the denomination - Mrs. Eddy wrote: "... the textbook of Christian Science is transforming the universe."

More than 4,000 church members filled the Mother Church Extension in Boston to hear reports from officers and from a representative of the worldwide community of Christian Science branch churches.

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After several years during which controversy has swirled around Christian Science healing treatment for children and around certain church policies, church leaders at the meeting attempted to convey a sense of business-as-usual. The tone of the reports was set by church treasurer John Selover, who said: "Today we report on the completion of a turnaround year."

With a notable exception, the reports contained few allusions to the continuing criticisms by some members of the church's costly television enterprise, which was discontinued last year, and of the church's publication in 1991 of a book that opponents assert violates the Manual of The Mother Church, the church's bylaws.

The exception came in a report of the Board of Directors, the church's five-member governing authority, presented by director Richard Bergenheim. Referring specifically to the church's move "into the far-reaching medium of televised journalism," Mr. Bergenheim said, "We could never claim that no mistakes have been made.... And like anyone else, we regret them, we regret them deeply. We seek to learn from them...."

Referring more generally to documents circulated by some members criticizing recent church policies and leadership, however, Bergenheim said, "In most cases these reports are composed of half-truths and personal interpretations of events. Unfortunately these are misleading and often unjust."

Nonetheless, he said, "The Clerk of The Mother Church has taken the complaints seriously and investigated them. The board likewise has taken them seriously. We are convinced that proper oversight and supervision of church business are in place." Bergenheim also stated that the members of the board "have not ignored our duty" under the bylaws "to notify officers to perform their work faithfully."

As to the handling of the church's finances in connection with the media initiatives, he said, "There is absolutely no evidence of malfeasance, of fraud, or embezzlement. No one has been driven by motives of greed, selfish ambition, or secularism." Differences of opinion "on how to fulfill the church's functions and how to utilize its resources ... are not evidence of disloyalty and neither are they evidence of deceit by decisionmakers."

None of the speakers at the meeting addressed the subject of "The Destiny of the Mother Church," by Bliss Knapp, the controversial biography of Mrs. Eddy published by the church two years ago, despite a couple of shouts from the audience about the volume. In a meeting with reporters after the meeting, a church official said that the church's position on the book is well known and that he had nothing to add.

Mr. Selover, church treasurer and a director, stated that in the last fiscal year the church "met and even bettered" its goal to balance income and expense at $70 million. "Income was $76 million and operating expenses were $70 million," he said.

Al Carnesciali, a director and manager of the Christian Science Publishing Society, reported that "eight pages are soon to be added to the [Christian Science] Journal [the church's monthly religious publication] to accommodate the increased contribution of articles by our members." Mr. Carnesciali announced the appointment of Michael Seek as associate editor for the German edition of The Herald of Christian Science, a monthly magazine.

Carnesciali also issued "a call to action" - "That every student of Christian Science invite at least one individual to newly subscribe to each of our periodicals."

The meeting also heard reports from the church clerk, the manager of Committees on Publication, and the publisher of Mrs. Eddy's writings, who announced a new Spanish concordance to "Science and Health."

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