A time of 'demand for spiritual answers'

At '99 meeting, Christian Scientists explore rising spirituality - in

From scientists' broader views of the universe to individuals' growing interest in spiritual understanding, the close of the 20th century is marked by a challenge to conventional thinking - in theology, medicine, and science.

The shift includes an expanding concept of God as infinite. This idea - that humanity collectively is enlarging its views about existence - was a theme underlying yesterday's annual meeting of members of The First Church of Christ, Scientist.

Noting that the past 200 years yielded unprecedented progress in the physical sciences, financier and religionist Sir John Templeton drew a connection between new scientific views of the universe and new views of God.

In a videotaped talk, he said that understanding gained from the spiritual evolution of man far outweighs information in "physics or chemistry or anything else." If the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion had been available in her lifetime, "in all likelihood" Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, "would have been a prizewinner because she did something totally original in religion that had never been done."

Christian Scientists from around the world, meeting in the newly renovated Mother Church, heard reports from church officers and members in the field - all focused on the validity of this omniscient concept of God and its power to redeem and heal.

"Society is becoming more articulate and more demanding in its search for spiritual answers," said Virginia S. Harris, chairman of the Christian Science Board of Directors. "The demand may appear to be accelerated by the times, by the millennial change. But a more discerning look at the real signs of the times reveals that the demand is stirred by the leaven of Truth."

Spiritual 'leaven'

Much of the meeting focused on the leavening power of Truth on the sciences and in life. Laurance Doyle, an investigator at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI) and an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz, described this spiritual leavening at work. All the sciences, he said, are beginning to exceed the previous definition of their boundaries.

"For example, most of astronomy is now done in the invisible realm, using radio waves and gravitational studies for observation," he said. "Visible light is only a small portion of what's out there to see. It's indicative of having more confidence in ideas than in things." Just as astronomy leavens thought to accept the infinite, Mr. Doyle concluded, so the tiny computer chip is about expanding thought toward the infinitesimal. "More understanding and less material accompaniment," said Doyle. "That's certainly one way to read progress in science as expressing progress toward divine Science, which Mary Baker Eddy says, 'resolves things into thoughts.' "

The incoming president of the Mother Church, Jean Stark Hebenstreit of Kansas City, Mo., reminded church members that "yeast on a shelf doesn't leaven bread." She said that Christ Jesus, in his healing ministry, lived the "Science of Christ," and members must also step "into the laboratory of daily living to be tested and proved."

Interest in Mary Baker Eddy

Over the past few years, several speakers noted, there has been considerable interest in Mrs. Eddy as one who was tested by her times. She not only founded a worldwide church, but wrote "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," a book explaining healing principles based on the teachings of Jesus.

She did this in the late 19th century - an age when few women reached success beyond traditional domestic roles. The media, universities, publishers, and others have rediscovered her accomplishments in the context of the women's movement, journalism, and religious studies.

The church also reported global interest in its activities. During 1998, people from 49 countries joined the church, and some 1,500 students from 39 countries came to Boston in August for a conference, "Pioneers of the Spiritual Millennium," said Olga Chaffee, clerk of The Mother Church. Planning for another conference, "Spiritual Pioneers for the New Millennium," to be held in 2001, is under way.

The Mother Church is also organizing a global Christian Science Sunday School project named "World Wide Weekend 2000," to be held Sept. 22-24, 2000. On that weekend, after months of planning, each participating Sunday School will offer some kind of innovative, healing activity for its community.

Reporting on the financial picture of The Mother Church, Treasurer Walter D. Jones said funds on hand total $318 million in cash and securities, a $16 million increase over a year ago. Of that $318 million, $128 million are unrestricted funds that can be used for any board-approved purpose, and $190 million are restricted funds.

The church's capital and operating expenses for the year were $82 million, up $9 million over last year. Some of these expenditures were related to ensuring that the church's technology and communications systems are "Y2K compliant."

The church reported it had paid off the $35 million balance of a loan from its Pension Reserve and thus has no internal indebtedness. The internal loan was paid off last year at the same time the church set up a $68 million irrevocable trust fund for the sole purpose of providing benefits to pension-plan participants.

In summation, "the leaven is at work throughout human thought - in science, as we heard from our field reports, as well as in theology and medicine, which we have been watching and have featured at annual meetings the last two years," said Mrs. Harris. "At next year's meeting, we plan to consider the working of the leaven in the entire lump of human thought."

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