A couple weeks ago I was a speaker on a panel at a workshop in Connecticut of the title shown in the image above. It was given by our local Christian Science care facility, which is federally certified as a “Religious Non-medical Healthcare Institution Medicare Provider.” Highridge House is like a nursing home and intensive care facility, Christian Science style, and for those of you unfamiliar with Christian Science, you may not even know such places exist, but thankfully they do.
Then yesterday, I gave the middle piece of this panel again–nursing our churches– this time in NYC. Below are my comments. But before we get to them, I want to give a plug for Highridge House’s amazing director, whose photo is shown below, and who is a remarkable, positive force to be reckoned with! I am so grateful she’s in that position. Also, if you want to donate to Highridge House, you can do so here, all contributions to their benevolent ministry are much appreciated.
Anyway, before I spoke, ways to “nurse ourselves” were discussed, and after me, there were ideas of how we can “nurse the world”. But for my piece, I spoke about how to “nurse our churches.” This is the gist of what I said:
Make attendance a priority
- I know a lot of Christian Scientists that don’t go to church. So much so, I obtained loose unofficial numbers that reveal only approximately 1/4 attend a branch church.
- Please encourage them to come and participate in what we have.
- It is so much more fun when everyone comes. The more everyone attends regularly, the more everyone will want to, and the more likely it is for newcomers to want to continue coming as well. It is a self-fulfilling prophesy; let’s proactively choose a joyous crescendoing direction instead of a bleak downward spiral. Whether we attend or not chooses that direction.
LOVE at church
- Love is what it is all about.
- I went to the first branch I joined (one in NYC) for two whole years before anyone said hello to me. Yes, you heard that right. Be aware and be warm, welcoming, and pleasant to those who come, not just being social among your own acquaintances. (Conversely, I have seen newcomers get pounced on like maybe they’ll join in two minutes and take on all the work load of the branch church. That attitude is just as detrimental.) Love, consideration, conscious balance, please.
- One person is enough to change a church culture. When I left that church several years later, it wasn’t like that at all anymore, and was full of gracious hugs for newcomers, following my outgoing example.
- I was ushering at that church once and had invited a newcomer who came. I had some duties after the service that I deferred a few moments in order greet my guest, and because I did, I got the brunt of some grief from the head usher about it. Ever since, I’ve encouraged churches to be aware not to put protocol before Principle or Love. Let’s not be busy being officious. There is plenty of time for that far outside of church services.
- A friend, an active church worker in a different branch church than mine recently removed her membership, because even after contributing so much, she felt unsupported by her fellow members when she needed it. She was made to feel taken for granted and like she shouldn’t have any needs herself. What a loss for that church!
- Church is defined in the Christian Science textbook as “The structure of Truth and Love…” As a former structural engineer, I’m aware that the image that comes to mind with that for most people is usually a building. However, I wrote a poem about what church is, using instead a tomato cage analogy, and read the poem out loud during my talk. Blog readers will remember that poem from last summer; you can read it here.
- There is something called the Matthew Code, which is a bit in the Bible directing that if you have a problem with someone, go to them directly about it, instead of talking it over with others. This is the loving thing to do, and instead of causing problems, it avoids them by confronting them graciously, without letting them fester or mushroom in ugly and hurtful ways.
- Yes, our order of service is rather fixed, but instead of chaffing at how it could be different, or more entertaining, fully own how great it is the way it is. Love not only attendees, but the content and the way that content is relayed. We are entertained and barraged all week long with the material world; our services are thoughtful sanctuaries where untainted spiritual ideas can occupy your consciousness. Cherish that and expect others to as well.
- Think of a stick. (I held out an imaginary stick.) Snap! Easy to break in two. Now put a bunch of sticks together. Hum; not so easy to break. Together, unified, we are stronger than anyone of us can be.
- Recently I blogged about an experience in a California fire where a church prayed together, and the fire went around the church member’s house, leaving it unscathed. The article in that post is worth reading, if you have not done it already. Together we can heal and address so much more than we can alone. We need to go beyond that demonstration, however, and include the whole neighborhood instead of just the house of our own member. We have as much a responsibility to collectively demonstrate Christian Science as we have to do it individually. The world is crying out in need at every turn.
See each other correctly and refuse the us/them model
- I told a story about my current branch church some years ago. The nearest other branch church to us, the next town over, was closing, and had offered our branch their downtown reading room (a church bookstore and community outreach center). Our own was an untrafficked one in the basement of our church, but the one offered us was on Main Street in a bigger town than ours. But better yet, it was paid off real estate, and the offer was made including lots of money to take care of it in perpetuity, as well as pay for a full time employee. My husband was happy to take that position as employee, so we were really ready to run with this awesome gift, which seemed was being handed to us on a silver platter. But when we got to our corporate meeting, they voted not to accept the offer! My husband and I were gobsmacked. It never occurred to me that might happen. As we drove away from that meeting we were very tempted to get frustrated, self-righteously indignant, and defensively justify our position. But before we went a block in the car, I realized that it was up to us if this was going to divide our branch church or make us stronger. We chose to see those other church members correctly, even when it was most difficult to do so. We owned that they had the same Mind (God) that we do. We honored their spiritual sense of what was right, even though it was different than ours, and accepted their decision without further comment. I think some were surprised– but all were delighted– that we didn’t bring any animosity to the situation, and instead chose to unconditionally love instead. It turned out to be a strengthening experience all around.
- We also often stand in judgement about who is ready for Christian Science in the public. I am a former atheist, and am the daughter of a doctor. I pretty much epitomized who someone might think would be unreceptive to Christian Science, but here I am writing and talking about this stuff. Don’t limit what God can do in someone’s heart. One thing I love about Christian Science is the understanding that everyone will “get there,” be it fast or slow. None of us here have ascended yet, and all of us are somewhere on the path. God is at work in all of us. See the receptivity in everyone, because God does.
Be active in the community
- I’ve been on the Ridgefield Clergy Association for 21 years representing our branch church. Because of the frequent turnover in ministers, pastors, and priests, that makes me a senior member of the group. I’ve been a past president of it, and we’ve held and catered meetings for it at our church. Ministers of other faiths in town have come to our services, and for example, this month I’m invited to teach the adult Sunday School at the local Congregational Church (that meets before my own service down the street). We have participated together in the interfaith services for Thanksgiving, Martin Luther King Day, Good Friday, 9/11 and Holocaust Memorials, and vigils for all kinds of atrocities like the Sandy Hook massacre that took place here. Our branch church has a yearly budget to give to local charity groups like the food pantry, homeless shelter, etc, equal to Christian Science charities that we support. Christian Science is largely demystified in our community, because we are out there active in it.
- It is important to know people different than you. Once I was lecture chairman, and asked my committee to invite their friends to our lecture. It turns out all the people they knew were Christian Scientists! How is that possible? So I encourage you to find some way to interface with people in public that puts you out of that comfort zone. We are wonderful but other people are too.
- I’m in a book club that I love which you’ve heard about here. For example, when we ended up discussing what book had mattered most to each of us, I told then about Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy. I relayed to the book group how I had been an atheist, but that when I read that book define God as Truth, Life, and Love itself, I realized I believed in those things. It literally changed my life. When you speak from the heart, out of your own simple experience, people hear and accept what you say as true.
- My branch church held a rededication meeting a while back and the next day I got a call out of the blue from a blog reader I know through the homeschooling community, asking to have lunch. I said ok, wondering what this was about. When I got to the lunch, the first words out of her mouth were, “tell me about your church.” This resulted in her coming and bringing two kids to our Sunday School, and now a friend of hers regularly attends. First of all, the timing of her call, seemingly out of the blue, did not seem like a coincidence to me, but secondly, if I was not casually open about my church going in public, and here on this blog, how would she have known to ask?
Come out of the closet
- What we need to realize is that most of us are the only representatives of Christian Science that anyone we know is likely to know. How we live it, and that we give it credit, matters.
- I discussed the idea of our need to come out of the closet as Christian Scientists, which I shared in detail in this recent blog post. In this current cultural climate, we need not fear doing that, but there are many blessings awaiting our friends and acquaintances if we indeed do it.
- Consider the injunction from Jesus that we put our light on the candlestick and not under the bushel. What happens if we hide our light under the bushel? People act like they do that to keep it safe, but actually, under the bushel is where it will be suffocated and extinguished for lack of air. Up on the candlestick, wafting in the breeze seems vulnerable, but it is actually the safest place to be. Put your light on the candlestick, humbly glorifying God for all to see. Doing so is your protection, as well as their illumination.
- If you had a great brownie recipe, wouldn’t you want to share it? We’ve got something greater than a brownie recipe. We even have more than buildings and services. We have the thing that can make the most difference in people’s lives. We’ve got the very Truth, Life and Love it takes to heal the world. The promise of the salvation and sustainability of the earth is what we have if we’ll only show up, and own it, love it and each other, getting out of out closets, into our communities, and up on the candlestick, confident, grateful, and rejoicing. Together we can do it. xx
Tell us in the comments how you can nurse your church!