The Church As a Community

THE Christian Science Church community is spread around the globe - spread thinly, as human organizations go, given its modest membership. But it has been well known for a century - because of its reliance on prayer for healing; because of its founding by an extraordinary New England woman, Mary Baker Eddy; because of her revelationary book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," which with the Bible forms the basis of members' prayer and study; and because of its publications, including this ne wspaper.

More recently the church has been in the news uncomfortably.

Two years ago it was because of the trial of the parents of a Boston boy, Robyn Twitchell, who died under Christian Science treatment.

And for four years, this church has struggled over the course, cost, and content of its media activities - most notably the meteoric rise of its television enterprise, but also the expansion of its radio broadcasting, the launch of a monthly news magazine, and the redesign of this newspaper.

The church community has differed over these activities.

It is in the nature of a community that differing points of view should emerge. It has nonetheless not been easy to watch departures of colleagues, openly or silently dissenting.

The First Church of Christ Scientist, Boston, is uniquely governed. A five-member board of directors sets overall policy. A board of trustees and a manager of its publishing arm, the Christian Science Publishing Society, have developed most publishing programs. Last month the directors reverted to an earlier, cabinet form of governance, involving them in operations.

Some members of The Mother Church think their objections to the publishing programs have not been heard. Some have shared documents with the press; others have kept their communications private. Earlier this month, three church members began an internal form of appeal to the directors.

So here we are, this week, with some explaining to do.

Yesterday, two weeks shy of its first anniversary, the Monitor Channel began its shutdown. Colleagues there will be missed. What went wrong? For many reasons, its financial plan was not met.

Why did the church leaders let the cable venture run a year? This is not long by entrepreneurial standards.

Some think television was not given enough of a chance. Monitor journalism is essential today. Because its purpose is utterly to bless, to expose ignorance, to overcome self-interest, it has work to do both as a newspaper and through other media.

The origins of Monitor broadcasting predate the current dispute. In the 1950s Erwin D. Canham, this newspaper's most famous editor, moderated a TV news roundtable here in Boston. In 1971 a manager told church members they might one day get their Monitors by television. By then some members were urging church leaders to start a TV news operation but were told the membership was not ready for it. Are members still not ready? Plans to find television's place in Monitor journalism continue.

Was the existence of this newspaper, The Christian Science Monitor, threatened at an August 1987 meeting? Management officials contend they were only presenting a range of options. This is a tough one for us editors here. Monitor lore records that closedowns had been proposed previously by certain editors and management officials frustrated by this newspaper's red ink.

As editors we find it inconceivable that the closing of an intrinsic church activity like the Monitor could be seriously considered.

In any event, here we are, publishing this tough little newspaper every weekday, with two dozen bureaus around the world and a staff writing its heart out on behalf of mankind.

And we have every assurance from the directors that we will continue.

Could the church have listened and spoken more effectively? The board, under its new form of governance, is able to reach out more directly to members, experts, and other parties. Events will show how convincingly they set forth the facts needed for discussion.

Yesterday, too late for our editions, the board made an interim financial report to employees. For the June 8 annual meeting of members, held in Boston, a fuller financial outlook has been promised.

The board is committed to a balanced operating budget for the next fiscal year, which begins May 1.

For now, members ask: What is the rock on which this church is built? Their answers will tend to converge: Service to mankind. Prayer and healing. Unity of spirit. Regeneration.

Those who have watched us appear to divide may be surprised at how we can come together.

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