BOSTON — At the Annual Meeting of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, church officials discussed the relevance of Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan, detailed the church's financial status, and announced plans to cut costs at The Christian Science Monitor, which could include reducing the number of pages in the paper and the size of the staff.
"The example of the Good Samaritan impels each of us to look first at our own hearts and lives and then ponder the actions of our branch churches ... and even The Mother Church; to ponder and pray about how we are loving and responding to those along the way," said Virginia Harris, Chairman of The Christian Science Board of Directors.
This report is based on transcripts of videotaped presentations that were scheduled to be shown to church members gathered Monday afternoon in the auditorium of the Extension of The Mother Church here. Members outside Boston could watch the meeting over the Internet from locations around the world.
Mrs. Harris opened the Directors' message by calling members' attention to "the challenges and victories of stopping our own routine and responding to the needs of humanity."
Church Treasurer Walter D. Jones called for increased giving to respond to those needs. He revealed that the most frequent donation to the church is $50. "It will take much more from all of us - substantial donations, commitment, and love - in order to keep pace with the demand for spirituality today."
Mr. Jones reported that after accounting for revenue from the sale of products, net church spending was $113.2 million in the fiscal year ending April 30. Spending outpaced the $83 million the church received last year from member contributions and legacies. To cover the $30 million shortfall, the church drew down its financial reserves. Unrestricted reserves, the main source for funding daily needs, were $46 million at the end of the fiscal year, down from $67 million a year ago and $95 million two years ago.
Expense reduction remains a priority for the church. The organization will "continue to streamline activities, reduce costs for infrastructure, and gain efficiencies in overall spending so that more of the resources can support broader availability of Science and Health and deeper engagement with its healing message," Jones said. A restructuring program, begun six months ago, has reduced total employment at the church and Christian Science Publishing Society (CSPS) in Boston by 150 from 760.
The Treasurer then turned his attention to the Monitor. "One of the biggest challenges and opportunities facing us," Jones said, is developing a new business model for the paper. He noted the Monitor's "vital mission in the world today" but added "it has required the largest subsidy from the church over many years in order to sustain its operations."
Over the past 10 years, payments to the Publishing Society from various church sources, including the Monitor Endowment Fund, have totaled $172 million. In that decade total church spending amounted to $1.37 billion.
In her report, Margaret Campbell, chairman of the Society's Board of Trustees, noted that subscriptions to the Christian Science Sentinel, Christian Science Journal, Christian Science Quarterly, and the Monitor all fell slightly last year. She attributed part of the decline to reduced spending on promotion and marketing. The Monitor's print circulation now stands at 69,000. But 1.7 million different people log onto csmonitor.com each month.
Largely as a result of Monitor shortfalls, the CSPS has been subsidized by the church for the past 44 years. Campbell said that governing documents written by the church's Founder, Mary Baker Eddy, showed she "expected and required" the Society to be profitable. "This 44-year practice of the Society requiring subsidy from the church must now change. Not only have losses grown too large to sustain, but budgeting for a deficit is not in accord with either Mrs. Eddy's vision for the Publishing Society or her specific instructions in the Deed of Trust," Campbell said.
The Trustees said they have committed to eliminating the need for a CSPS subsidy from the church's general fund by 2009. Last year's subsidy was "about $8 million," Campbell said. That subsidy was in addition to funds the Monitor received from the Monitor Endowment Fund. "We have begun plans for adjustments to the Monitor," Mrs. Campbell said. The goal is to support "the vital role of the Monitor in bringing the highest quality journalism to humanity, while bringing expenses in line with revenue."
Monitor staff members will shortly be asked to "help us formulate the next steps," Campbell said. "This could result in a paper with fewer pages and feature sections, as well as a leaner staff."
The Trustees also said they plan to name a blue ribbon panel of experts from pertinent fields to submit ideas and recommendations aimed at moving the Monitor to profitability. The Trustees also invited comments from Monitor readers, which can be sent to email@example.com.
In other reports, Nathan Talbot, the Clerk of the church and a member of the Board of Directors, discussed membership in what he called the church family.
"So what does this family look like? Is it growing? Yes, in some areas. But not overall. And we're going to continue praying about that," Talbot said. The church admitted new members from 53 countries last year. Ten percent had downloaded their applications from the Internet.
The meeting included reports on member activities in Germany, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Brazil.
Gary Jones, manager of the church's public affairs arm, addressed discord within The First Church of Christ, Scientist. He asked, "What happens when we're not working together?" Jones continued. "That deserves all of our prayers, and it is my focus today."
Referring to the reformative influence of Mrs. Eddy's book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," Jones said, "How unfortunate it is that when public thought is especially receptive to this reformation, some members and branches are distracted by a variety of arguments and misconceptions." Jones, manager of the Committee on Publication, continued, "we can trust Mary Baker Eddy's ongoing leadership of our Church ... by supporting the governances and offices she established and the present officers filling these posts."
Those officers presented an unusually detailed look at church spending over the past 10 years. The Treasurer's report included updated figures for spending on The Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity. The Mother Church has contributed $44 million to the Library for construction and operating costs over the past four years. The Library raised another $11 million to fund additional activities for a $55 million total.
The Treasurer said that at the end of the fiscal year ending next April 30, direct Mother Church contributions to the Library are expected not to exceed the five year, $50 million cost estimate announced in June 2000.
Three new officers took part in the meeting. Cynthia Neely, a Christian Science teacher from Chicago and a member of the church's Board of Lectureship, chaired the meeting as the new president of The Mother Church.
Readings from the Holy Bible and from the writings of Mrs. Eddy were given by newly elected First Reader Lyle Young of Ottawa, Ontario, and Second Reader Suzanne Cowin of Boca Raton, Fla. Mr. Young and Ms. Cowin both teach courses on Christian Science. The readers will conduct Sunday and Wednesday church services in both English and Spanish. This is the first time First and Second Readers of The Mother Church have conducted services in Spanish.