Citing a growing interest in prayer and spiritual healing, The Christian Science Board of Directors announced a number of organizational changes it said were impelled by a desire to respond to today's spiritual seekers.
"There is a gentle urgency to the coming years," said Virginia S. Harris, chairman of the church's five-member Board. The urgency "is not driven by any millennial measurement but by the increasing demand for spiritual answers."
The church's upcoming Annual Meeting, to be held June 8, will focus on the contribution church Founder Mary Baker Eddy's bestselling book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, is making to theological explorations today. "Science and Health has had and continues to have a profound impact on today's understanding of the Bible," Mrs. Harris said.
Harvard and Boston University Divinity School graduate Jon Harder of Bristol, R.I., will be named the new president of the Mother Church. A president is named each year and chairs the church's Annual Meeting. "His skill in languages, his background in theological study, and his service as a chaplain in the armed services are a superb resource," Harris said.
The directors also announced that at the Annual Meeting they would name J. Thomas Black as First Reader and Patricia Tupper Hyatt as Second Reader to conduct services in the Mother Church for a three-year term. Mr. Black, from Southfield, Mich., is completing a term as church president. Mrs. Hyatt is a Christian Science lecturer from Columbia, S.C.
For several years, the church has focused on ways of sharing more widely Mary Baker Eddy's book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Bookstore distribution and sales around the world are up. Christian Science Reading Rooms are another major avenue for making the book available. Mrs. Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, called for each local church throughout the world to maintain a public Reading Room where Science and Health, as well as the Bible and contemporary literature on spirituality and healing are available.
The Directors announced formation of a separate department to help local Reading Rooms worldwide better meet the needs of spiritual seekers in their communities. "This work has grown and clearly shows the demand for a department to respond to this need," Harris said.
Carol Hohle was named to manage this new Reading Room department. Hohle also will remain as librarian of The Mother Church's Reading Rooms. Christine A. Raymond of San Francisco will become managing publisher in the office that publishes Mrs. Eddy's writings. Mary Ridgway, retiring Second Reader, will stay in Boston to manage field programs for Science and Health. Mrs. Raymond is currently a vice president at the Foote, Cone & Belding advertising agency. She also has a strong background in the design and launching of sites on the World Wide Web portion of the Internet.
Harris notes that the church and its publishing arm, The Christian Science Publishing Society, are making increasing use of the Internet to reach the public. At the Society, a variety of steps are under way to help the church's religious and news publications better respond to public needs. New subscriptions to the weekly Christian Science Sentinel have climbed sharply in recent months after its content was redesigned to be more accessible to the general public. "We are trying to be seeker sensitive," Harris says.
The Board named Margaret Rogers of Larkspur, Calif., an associate editor of the church's religious periodicals and Noel Fischer of Richardson, Texas, as publishing director.
Meanwhile, the Trustees of The Christian Science Publishing Society, who oversee its business affairs, have elected Donald R. Kurtz of Stamford, Conn., as a member of their board replacing Harry Schiering of Atlanta, who is leaving as a Trustee April 30. Mr. Kurtz was formerly a senior executive at General Motors Corp.
Preserving religious rights for all is one of the church's continuing priorities. "Our theology teaches that man has God-given freedom. We want to do our part to see that this freedom is preserved around the world," Harris said.
The office that represents the church in its dealings with the press and national and local branches of government throughout the world will have a new manager. Gary A. Jones assumes managership of the Committees on Publication effective June 8. Mr. Jones has been the church's general counsel. M. Victor Westberg of San Francisco has served as manager of committees for six years and will become president of the church's Board of Education that selects and trains new Christian Science teachers. Daniel C. Bort, currently assistant general counsel, will become general counsel of The Mother Church.
An additional sign of the church's vitality, Harris said, is a significant increase in financial support for the church, which publishes this newspaper. Contributions have grown in recent years and the annual balanced budget has expanded by nearly $20 million in the last six years.
In the early 1990s, the church became the object of public criticism of its efforts to expand the Monitor's reach into electronic publishing. Now, by contrast, the church "is often an actively sought participant in conferences, discussions, and research on spirituality and healing," Harris said.
On behalf of the Board, Harris offered "thanks beyond measure" to those who have served at church headquarters and who will now be returning home. These include outgoing publishing director Pamela Lishin Jones, retiring First Reader David Degler, associate editor Barbara Vining, and Jean Stark Hebenstreit, president of the Board of Education.
"The changes in executive ranks do not indicate a change in our mission," Harris said. "We remain focused on the direction set by Founder and author Mary Baker Eddy to make available the healing message of Science and Health for today's spiritual seekers."