When Becky Markhgott had an inkling that spiritual study and prayer could help heal her family of depression and illness, she did not go to church, but to her local library.
Ms. Markhgott says she was drawn to the message of hope in a Christian Science television program on Bible study, but was reluctant to get involved with an organized religion.
Instead, she read biographies about the discoverer and founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy. "I was basing my further study on what I would find out about her life," said Markhgott, of Derry, N.H.
Healings of fear, stress, and sickness, she says, have since resulted from her study of Christian Science. Markhgott's story, a typical example of the new ways people are finding the message of Christian Science, was one of more than 30 testimonies of healing shared during the annual meeting and conference of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, held this week in Boston.
Making the life and ideas of Mrs. Eddy more widely known was the theme of the event marking a transition for the church that historically limited access to Eddy's papers. Church officials believe the new openness will help the public better understand the church's founder and her spiritual methods.
The conference also included reports from church officers on the previous fiscal year and several discussions about "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," Eddy's primary work.
Church members and their friends were also invited to tour the Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity, which will open to the public in September.
The conference and unveiling of the new library represent a significant milestone for the church, noted Virginia Harris, chairman of the Christian Science Board of Directors.
"It is abundantly clear that the life and light of Mary Baker Eddy needs to be known and understood so it can be rightly appreciated. And this sharing begins here, at this meeting, with members and friends," she said.
More than 7,000 visitors from around the world attended the five-day conference, the largest annual meeting in more than a decade, church officials said. The meeting historically has been open only to church members, but The Mother Church began welcoming a broader audience in recent years, including members' families and friends, and church neighbors.
"Some are longtime members, and others are brand new to the transforming ideas in Science and Health," said John Selover, vice chairman of the Christian Science Board of Directors. "Regardless ... we gather in love and thanks for all that has been given to us by Mrs. Eddy."
Much of the gratitude at Monday's annual meeting was expressed in testimonies of healing by new readers of Science and Health. From the main podium of the church Extension, some reported practicing alternative forms of healing like acupuncture and meditation before finding Christian Science. Others said they'd long searched for an explanation of how Jesus healed. Many spoke of becoming interested in Christian Science after reading about Eddy.
"Through learning about Mary Baker Eddy's life, I discovered my life purpose to help mankind," said Irma Duss, of Zugg, Switzerland.
Other events during the week included a session on the role of Eddy's church in the 21st century, a workshop about sharing Christian Science, a panel discussion of Eddy's 19th-century world, musical performances, and a candle-lighting event marking the establishment of the library. Conference, speakers emphasized the world's growing interest in Eddy over the past decade, including her 1995 election to the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, N.Y.
Many participants and attendees expressed a desire for Eddy's life to be made even more widely known. "I find it very interesting that I live in New Hampshire [where Eddy was born] and didn't know anything about [her]," said Becky Markhgott.
Indeed, said Virginia Harris, "In some ways, the ... library is a giant autobiography. It is time to let Mrs. Eddy speak to us and the world directly."
The library's archive contains copies of Eddy's original articles, letters, and scrapbooks.
"Biographies aren't enough," said Yvonne von Fettweis, whose appointment as president of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, was announced Monday. "Nothing speaks like the original material."
Paul Brown, of Birmingham, Ala., spoke with quiet appreciation after viewing the scribbled notations on one of Eddy's Bibles on display in the four-story library. "I didn't realize all the painstaking notes it took to ultimately create Science and Health."
Church officials said they believed participants would leave the conference with renewed inspiration to respond to what they characterized as humanity's growing search for practical spiritual healing. That interest was evidenced in the past year by an increase in the number of non-members seeking class instruction in Christian Science, and the largest number of people reactivating their membership in The Mother Church in 10 years, reported Clerk Mary Ridgway.
"We've realized that we have to come out of our shell if we really believe that Christian Science is for the whole world," she said.
Church members and friends offered financial assistance in several ways last year, said to Treasurer Walter Jones, including a contribution of $700,000 to relief agencies and branch churches to assist those affected by the acts of terrorism last year.
Reporting on the financial status of The Mother Church, Mr. Jones said that funds on hand total $292 million in cash and securities, a decrease from last year of $31 million. The funds include $197 million in restricted funds, and $95 million in unrestricted funds that can be used for any Board-approved purpose. Spending for the year ending last April 30 from both funds totaled $172 million, up $31 million from the previous year. The church has no indebtedness.
Capital expenses accounted for the bulk of the spending increase, including $24 million for updating of employee workspace and $23 million on the construction and fitting out of the library. Jones said the church has received $2.4 million in contributions to the library, and that it is exploring ways to broaden the library's funding base.
Jones said capital spending will be much lower this year, but emphasized the need for additional donations. He ended with a quote from Eddy: "Whenever there seems to be a need or lack in your experience, this simply indicates the scientific fact that this seeming need is already supplied by God's gracious abundance."