At annual meeting, Christian Scientists celebrate 'pearl of great price'

The annual meeting of Christian Scientists Monday focused on the church's healing ministry. It also reported improved finances since last year.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor
The annual meeting of Christian Scientists Monday included the announcement of new readers for The Mother Church – Second Reader Marian English (l.) and First Reader Karl Sandberg (c.) – as well as new president Fujiko Signs.

What is the "the pearl of great price" referred to by Christ Jesus in the Bible?

For members of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, gathered at their annual meeting in Boston Monday, it is the discovery of Christian Science by Mary Baker Eddy, in the late 19th century. She founded the church, she wrote, to “reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing.”

Jesus' reference to the "pearl of great price" in the book of Matthew was the theme of the meeting, attended by about 1,400 church members at the denomination's home church in Boston, known as The Mother Church, and by thousands more via the Internet.

Members heard testimonies of physical healings from members, both live and on video, as well as reports from church officers, including a brief update on the church's finances.

The church owns, operates, and provides primary funding for The Christian Science Monitor, the online newspaper and weekly magazine begun as a daily newspaper by Mrs. Eddy in 1908.

“I see on an everyday basis the evidence for Christian Science healing," said Bill Dawley, editor of the church’s religious periodicals and broadcasts via a recorded video. "When I see healings of the symptoms of things like Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes – testimonies like that just say to me that the power of Christian Science is as strong today as it was when Mrs. Eddy discovered this great truth."

Christian Science in the Philippines

Another video shared news about Christian Science activity in the Philippines, including a visit to a remote mountain region where more than 200 Filipinos have formed several informal groups to study Christian Science and worship together.

“People are starting to think more logically about their faith and searching for a more meaningful religion or faith for them,” said Florence Carandang, a church member in Manila. “I feel like what we can offer the community is ... being able to learn more about your relationship to God.”

In a brief financial report, the church's Board chairman, Mary Trammel, noted that, as of the end of the fiscal year April 30, the church had $455 million on hand, including both restricted and unrestricted funds. The church has no outstanding debts, she announced, and its expenditures for the last year amounted to $102 million. The General Fund stands at $164 million.

All these figures have moved in a positive direction since last year, said Ned Odegaard, the church's treasurer, in an interview prior to the meeting.

Two years ago the church incurred extra expenses as its activities were consolidated mostly into a single building on the church's campus in Boston's Bay Bay neighborhood. Last year, The Christian Science Monitor received extra support as it made the transition from a daily print newspaper to an continuous online news source and a weekly print magazine.

With those exceptions, the church's finances have been "in a pretty consistent zone the last four or five years,” Mr. Odegaard said. What church members want to know is whether the church's financial position is basically OK, he said. “And it is OK, it’s very OK,” he said.

Redeveloping the church campus

The church continues to move ahead with plans to develop its Boston property, said Ms. Trammel in an interview prior to the meeting.

“The plaza improvements that will be going on will improve the financial situation of the church in terms of paying for our real estate holdings, [and] covering the expenses which they have entailed, which have been considerable,” she said. “Roughly 20 to 25 percent of every dollar that members currently give to The Mother Church each year is devoted to just maintaining our real estate property right here” in Boston, she said.

The aim, when the development is complete in about a decade, is that the church then could “spend all of our incoming contributions on [our] mission, which undoubtedly is what the members would feel the best about. I know I would be a lot happier knowing it's going to that than to buildings we aren’t using.”

Though Internet viewing figures from this year's meeting aren't yet available, viewers in 37 countries watched or listened live via 5,426 Internet connections last year, a church spokeswoman said. Many of those connections would have multiple viewers, she added.

The church named Fujiko Signs as its president for the coming year. Ms. Signs, a Christian Science lecturer, practitioner, and teacher, is the first Japanese person to serve as president of The Mother Church. Karl Sandberg of Norwell, Mass., and Marian English of Colorado Springs, Colo., were appointed as First and Second Readers of The Mother Church, to conduct services for the Boston congregation from June 2010 to June 2013.

The meeting represented "a celebration" that explored the theme of "The Pearl of Great Price" in its meaning to the church and the world, Trammel said. “We’re really thrilled about this simple message. It means a lot to go right back to Jesus’ words. He’s the master Christian.”


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