At Christian Scientists' meeting, a call to engage with Christian community

The Annual Meeting of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, held June 4 in Boston, urged a closer dialogue and fellowship with Christians of other denominations – part of an effort to look outward.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor
Members of the Christian Science Church attend the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Mother Church, on June 4, 2012 in Boston.

Now is a time for the Christian Science Church to look outward and engage the rest of Christianity – and the world at large – in a closer, heartfelt dialogue.

That was the message underlying the June 4 Annual Meeting of The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, the headquarters of the worldwide Christian Science movement.

Church members who gathered Monday in the church edifice in Boston, or attended around the world via a webcast translated from English into Spanish, French, German, and Portuguese, heard how the church’s many activities contribute to that dialogue.

The meeting’s theme, “Christ calling us together,” was drawn from a statement by Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Christian Science denomination more than a century ago. “Our unity with churches of other denominations must rest on the spirit of Christ calling us together,” Mrs. Eddy wrote. “It cannot come from any other source.”

In an interview prior to the meeting, the church’s new president, Chet Manchester, noted, “There’s a need to be thinking beyond boundaries and beyond lines and more universally about the church and its mission.”

To that end, early in the meeting the congregation sang Hymn 196 from the Christian Science Hymnal, which reads in part: “Let all that now divides us/ Remove and pass away.... Let all that now unites us/ More sweet and lasting prove....”

The meeting marked the 10th anniversary of the Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity, founded to introduce the general public to the life and accomplishments of Eddy and to provide a rich archive for scholars studying her life and work. During the past year, for example, a resident scholar’s research has shown that an early, unflattering biography of Eddy, published in 1909, was not, in fact, the ghost-written work of Willa Cather, the celebrated American novelist, as had been assumed for decades. The new research has “completely shredded that argument,” Mr. Manchester said.

In its first decade the library, located on the church’s campus in Boston, has received a half-million visitors and annually received about 6,000 questions about Eddy and Christian Science, said Mike Davis, a researcher at the library. 

The meeting also reported on the growth of interest in Christian Science in Africa and on what Lyle Young, one of the five members of the Christian Science Board of Directors, the church’s governing body, called “a historic trip to Africa” by that board.

Mr. Young and Bosede Bakarey, a Christian Science lecturer and teacher based in Nigeria, both noted that healing through prayer in Christian Science is being seen in Africa, including cases of AIDS. 

The website of The Christian Science Monitor, published by the church, received more than 12 million unique visitors in May alone, making its journalism more available than ever to readers, reported John Yemma, editor of the Monitor. A new online website, JSH-Online, an online archive of more than 100 years' worth of articles and testimonies of healing from the church’s religious periodicals, went live in April. In its first month it recorded more than 1 million page views by visitors, said Dorothy Estes, editor of the periodicals.

In a brief financial report, Nathan Talbot, chairman of the board of directors, said that the church had $499 million in funds on hand, that it had spent $99 million during its last fiscal year, and that it was free of indebtedness.

The Christian Science Church is in an “active ecumenical dialogue” with the National Council of Churches, said Shirley Paulson, who serves as the church’s head of ecumenical affairs. According to its website, the NCC represents 40 million Americans from 37 different faith traditions in 100,000 local congregations in the United States. Eddy was “a reformer of Christianity” who is “bringing us to Jesus, to be disciples of Jesus,” Ms. Paulson said. Christian Scientists now serve on four NCC commissions. The Christian Science Church is not a member of the NCC, but a dialogue about possible membership is under way, she said.

There is more in common between Christian Science and other faith traditions than many have realized, Manchester said in a pre-meeting interview. “There’s evidence that [Christian Science] has broad appeal to people across faith backgrounds, that Eddy was a writer who spoke in very universal terms about the practicality of Christ Jesus’ teachings,” he said. “And there are lots of people studying and practicing Christian Science that are within their own churches, within their own faith traditions and backgrounds.

“We have at times isolated ourselves from that Christian discussion, and there’s a perception that Christian Science is not Christian,” he continued. “But the more we are willing to be in dialogue with those of other faiths, the more people realize in many cases that there’s just a need to get past semantics. When you really get down to it you see how deeply Christian [Eddy] is as an author and as a thinker.”

A replay of the webcast of the church’s annual meeting, as well as of several related meetings before and after, is available.

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