This year's annual meeting of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, focused on the church's response to today's increased demand for spirituality, thus fulfilling the mission and purpose of the denomination founded by Mary Baker Eddy.
About 3,000 people from around the world gathered at the church's headquarters in Boston to hear reports from the Christian Science Board of Directors, the church's five-member governing board, as well as panel discussions from managers of church-sponsored activities.
"Mrs. Eddy invites each of us to accept her life purpose as our own," said Virginia S. Harris, chairman of the board, " '...to impress humanity with the genuine recognition of practical, operative Christian Science' [Miscellaneous Writings, 207:4]."
At the annual meeting, the 101st since the church's establishment late last century, Juan Carlos Lavigne, a Christian Science teacher and lecturer from Buenos Aires, was appointed the new president of the church.
"To the degree that God's love becomes closer and more real to us," Mr. Lavigne said in his address to members, "our capacity to love expands. It overflows the limits of individual affection, and we embrace our community and the world."
David L. Degler of Nashville and Mary Weldon Ridgway of Richardson, Texas, continue in the second year of their three-year terms as first and second readers, respectively. Members of the board of directors are John Lewis Selover, Olga M. Chaffee, Mrs. Harris, William H. Hill, and J. Anthony Periton. Mrs. Chaffee will continue to serve as clerk, Mr. Selover as treasurer, and Mrs. Harris as chairman.
The church, which also publishes this newspaper, reported that its finances have improved. Using new accounting requirements for nonprofit organizations, church officials reported $228 million in funds on hand. Of that total, $139 million is restricted funds, and $89 million is unrestricted.
Of that unrestricted $89 million, $26 million is committed for subscription fulfillment obligations and current operating bills. Under the previous accounting standards, the church would have reported $140 million on hand, up $72 million from last year, Selover said.
"The $72 million improvement reflects the continuing generosity of members and friends, conscientious management of expenses, and the termination and receipt of a particularly large trust," Selover said.
Two of three new accounting-industry standards affect the church's accounting of its unrestricted funds. The church is now required to report gifts that it expects to receive in future years as part of its net assets.
The church must also now report the book value of its fixed assets, such as buildings and equipment. Both were previously reported, but the first as a footnote and the second in a separate fund.
A third requirement calls for securities investments to be reported at market value. The church previously reported the value at cost or market, whichever was lower. Church expenditures for the fiscal year ending April 30, 1996, were $64 million, the same as for 1995.
The remaining $4 million that the church borrowed from the Trustees Under the Will of Mary Baker Eddy has been repaid, Selover reported. In addition, the church paid $1.2 million to the pension reserve, reducing its internal debt to that account to $40.3 million.
He said he was pleased to report that the pension reserve fund grew by more than $11 million last year, making it possible to provide cost-of-living increases for church retirees.
Selover reported that the $10 million restoration project for the Original Mother Church and Extension has reached the halfway mark, with contributions for that project also reaching the halfway point.
A full report from the treasurer that includes figures the church releases will appear in the July edition of The Christian Science Journal.
Chaffee, who also serves as clerk of The Mother Church, reported "encouraging signs of our membership renewing their healing careers." Some members who left the healing practice are returning, Chaffee reported. Young people from all over the world are "lighting up" branch churches with their participation in Sunday School and Wednesday evening services, she said.
"New members for the May 1996 admission have come from Argentina, Australia, Cameroon, Canada, the Czech Republic, England, Germany, Greece, Latvia, Nigeria, Portugal, Russia, Scotland, South Africa, USA, Uruguay, Wales, and Zaire," Chaffee said.
Senior managers of church activities discussed the current church objectives that carry forward the mission and purpose of this church, set out by Mary Baker Eddy and discussed by the board in the March issue of The Christian Science Journal.
The publisher of the writings of Mary Baker Eddy reported that sales of "Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures," Mrs. Eddy's principal work, reached record levels this year.
David T. Cook, editor of this newspaper, reported on the Monitor's having received its sixth Pulitzer Prize, along with several other prizes, for reporter David Rohde's "courageous" reports from Bosnia.
M. Victor Westberg, manager of Committees on Publication, reported on the continuing positive effect from congressional passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.