At Annual Meeting, Christian Scientists Consider What Meaningful Worship Means in Time of Crisis

By Kevin Ness

It was a different kind of worldwide church meeting — a small group of individuals sat in a church in Boston, six feet apart, and took turns speaking to a camera rather than the usual sea of faces from around the world. Monday, June 8, marked the annual meeting of the Church of Christ, Scientist, and this year, the church’s five-member board of directors determined that the best way to express love and care for all — in the spirit of the Golden Rule and out of respect for public orders — wasn’t to gather in person, but to unite in a virtual space to acknowledge God’s love and presence globally.

Although done online this year, Christian Scientists gathered to pray, reflect, and look ahead, as they have nearly every year since the church’s founding over 140 years ago. A hymn was sung in five different languages, with video submissions from members around the world. The message was clear: in a time of tremendous challenge and global crisis, when all are seeking solace, strength, and real help in confronting issues like injustice, hatred, isolation and loss, Christian Scientists are committed to going deeper and stretching further to live lives of real service.

“There’s a lot of progress yet to be made, a lot of healing in the world is needed,” board chair Scott Preller said, “and we want to keep working to be part of the healing light of how this world moves forward.”

The words “God is Love” appear near the front of almost every Christian Science church sanctuary, including the one where the church officers sat, as a reminder of what church is all about: the power of love, found in Christ, to transform and heal individual lives and communities at large.

“What real love does is reduce fear,” said Robin Hoagland, of the church’s board, “and that is the love that is most needed right now.” 

The church’s clerk welcomed new church members from over 30 countries, — from Angola, Argentina, Australia, Austria, to the UK, US, Uruguay and Zimbabwe. Members also welcomed a new president, Anne-Françoise Bouffé, of Paris, France. The meeting included field reports on what church has meant to members this year.

A member from Germany who has been organizing humanitarian aid for the UN spoke about the power of prayer to bring inspired ideas for providing meaningful and effective assistance.

A member from Peru shared how the encouragement of church members after his son died in a car accident not only healed his sorrow but also brought an end to chronic joint and spine pain that had not been cured by medical treatment. These healing experiences led him to join his local Christian Science branch church, and eventually “The Mother Church” — The First Church of Christ, Scientist — which has a global membership.

“Great charity and humility is necessary in this work of healing,” wrote the founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy. “The loving patience of Jesus, we must strive to emulate.” Christian healing isn’t something that can be imposed or approached dogmatically, Christian Scientists emphasize, but is a transformative experience of coming into closer communion with God, and grasping a new view of oneself as made in God’s likeness. 

The Christian Science Monitor, the church’s international news publication, was mentioned during the meeting as having a deep impact on members’ efforts to be problem solvers and healers. The paper aims to “embrace the human family and [shed] light” on the day’s most pressing issues, like racism — as it has since the early days of the U.S. civil rights movement — and COVID-19, its coverage of which has been offered without a paywall, as a public service.

Many church members have missed the sense of community that comes from worshipping together in person, but they have also expressed a growing conviction that God’s care becomes even more tangibly present and alive when people are urged to think in new and innovative ways about what it takes to truly meet needs.

A newer member from India said: “Real church is not made up of bricks or cement. Real church is demonstrating Truth, Love, and Life [meaning God] wherever you are. Church [is] never closed.”

Kevin Ness is the Manager of Christian Science Committees on Publication for The First Church of Christ, Scientist.

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