Church outlines new initiatives

Christian Scientists gathered in Boston on June 6 for their annual meeting, with a focus on rededicating themselves to spiritual healing and to strengthening unity among church members, who reside on six continents.

Heloísa Rivas, a teacher of Christian Science healing who speaks six languages, is the new president of the church (which publishes this newspaper).

"I'll be devoting myself to the international field, and particularly the Spanish-speaking world," she said in an interview. Yet she'll continue to give talks and workshops in the US, where she says demand has been high among Spanish speakers. "The Spanish population of 40 million here is second largest in the world," she points out.

The retiring president, Cynthia Neely of Chicago, has emphasized community outreach and interfaith activity.

The board of directors of The First Church of Christ, Scientist accepted new members from more than 36 countries, including Indonesia, India, Armenia, Greece, South Africa, Uganda, Peru, Haiti, and Cuba.

In four sessions Monday, members heard reports from church officials but engaged primarily in "community conversations" on challenges facing the church and its newspaper, The Christian Science Monitor.

Reducing church expenses, including the amount of subsidy to the Christian Science Publishing Society, remains a priority. Mary Trammell, board chairman, reported that the church currently has $281 million total funds on hand, $58 million in unrestricted funds, and current indebtedness of $157,000. Net expenses for the past year amounted to $69 million. [Editor's note: The original version omitted the word "net."]

To boost the Monitor's circulation, advertising, and new-product development, a portion of the editorial budget is being reallocated to fund new programs. There will be some layoffs and a redesign of the paper.

Board member Vic Westberg reassured members that "this board is not going to close [the paper] down." The church expressed a strong commitment to the paper's future.

Responding to concerned questions, Richard Bergenheim, editor of the Monitor, encouraged all members to subscribe and to help promote subscriptions, which currently total about 59,000.

The paper's visibility continues to increase. Jonathan Wells, managing publisher, told the gathering, "Monitor reporters made more than 900 broadcast appearances last year, some overseas as well as domestic." Syndication has grown to include 180 newspapers, and some 1.8 million different people visit the paper's website each month.

The Monitor has also been dubbed the nation's "bloggiest newspaper" by one study. By this is meant that the Monitor attracts more online links by web logs, in proportion to its print circulation, than any other paper.

Two new initiatives were announced at the meeting. A training program for US military chaplains will soon be reinstated. The church provided such training for decades, beginning in the 1920s, but has not done so for about 15 years. Still, five Christian Science chaplains are now on active duty.

Second, to be more responsive to young people, the church will enlist them in shaping TMC Youth, a vehicle for listening to their needs and ideas and encouraging them as healers.

"People say youth are the future, but they are also the present," says Chet Manchester, who is heading the initiative. "Children and young people have a natural desire to be a part of healing, not just for themselves, but [for] the environment, and issues in their communities. TMC Youth will tap into that through spirituality, prayer, and being engaged."

One possibility, he suggested, might be a revival in Web format of the Christian Science Monitor Youth Forums. "This is a recognition that youth have an inherent voice and contribution to make within this global movement," he adds. "The first address Mary Baker Eddy gave in the new church in 1895 ended with the stirring words, 'Beloved children, the world has need of you....' That's what TMC Youth will be saying."

The meeting's emphasis was on Mrs. Eddy's original purpose for the church: "to commemorate the word and works of our Master, which should reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing."

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