The new president of the Christian Science church is Bosede Bakarey of Ibadan, Nigeria, the first African to be appointed to a post that typically involves much interaction with the public at large.
Ms. Bakarey will hold the office for the next year, serving from her home in Nigeria, as well as traveling widely in her separate role as a lecturer on Christian Science.
"Today, it's like a fulfillment of prophesy that an African can be president of The Mother Church," a term used to describe the denomination's headquarters in Boston, she says. "We're making history today. It's never happened. So I'm so grateful to be a part of it."
But Bakarey doesn't view it as a personal honor, she said in an interview Monday shortly after her appointment was announced during the denomination's annual meeting, which Christian Scientists around the world attended via a broadcast on the Internet.
"It's an honor to Africa. Sometimes I'm in awe when I think about it," she says. "Who am I to be the president of The Mother Church? But I just know it's God; it's beyond me.... We can see the hand of God in it."
Bakarey has already served The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in a number of capacities. It all began when she borrowed a copy of the denomination's textbook that had been intended as a gift for her boss. She received permission to take "Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures," written by Mary Baker Eddy, home with her for the weekend.
"At that time I used to suffer from very terrible migraine headaches," she recalls. By her bedside as she read the book was a glass of water and tablets she took for her migraine headaches. But after reading the Christian Science textbook over the weekend she realized that she hadn't taken a single tablet and that her headaches were gone – permanently.
This healing caused her interest in Christian Science to blossom. "I could not look back. I was willing to give [the book] to anyone who would take it," she recalls. She took instruction in Christian Science in London and soon became a Christian Science practitioner herself, praying for the healing of others. Today she gives talks on Christian Science throughout Africa and the United States.
Monday's church meeting emphasized the movement's strides in Africa and included reports from Christian Scientists and local churches in Zimbabwe; Lagos, Nigeria; and Johannesburg, South Africa.
Africans are very receptive to the message of Christian Science, Bakarey says. "A lot of Africans are spiritually minded. They know that God heals. Many of them have investigated other ways of healing: medical, traditional, you know?"
Christian Science offers solutions to problems beyond physical healing, such as lack of resources, a significant challenge for many Africans. Poverty was something Bakarey herself struggled with at one time as a widow and the mother of three boys. Through Christian Science those needs were met in her life, she says.
But she notes that Christian Science demands something, too, of those who would practice it: regeneration. "There's a need for spiritual growth. There's a need to change, to change your thinking. Repent," she says. "And the word 'repent' means 'give up' " ways of thinking that are self-destructive, she adds.
Trained as a lawyer, Bakarey found herself compelled to leave that field to practice Christian Science healing full time. "It was a good thing to leave the human, material law practice and go into the practice of the law of God," she says. Bakarey was appointed president by the five-member Board of Directors, which oversees church business.
Eddy, who founded the Christian Science church in 1875, lived most of her life in the 19th century and never left the United States. But Bakarey says she feels that Eddy had the needs of Africa always in her thought.
[Editor's note: The original version of this article incorrectly stated where Mary Baker Eddy had traveled.]
"She said in an address that from the interior of Africa people were calling on her for help, and she was answering them," Bakarey says. "There was no Internet. No telephone calls. Was that a mental call?
"She was able to discern the needs of Africa. And I tell you Christian Science [was] in Africa even when she was alive. Yes, it was there."