Someone recently pointed out the Mother Church is in the middle of their Annual Meeting. Apparently it is only online this year (complete with Twitter feed), so it may reach a wider audience (and lets be honest keep the costs down). I have never bothered to pay attention to Annual Meetings, or TMC costs, and I remain quite content to continue to ignore them. The Great & Powerful Oz over at Emerging Gently may offer some insights into Annual Meetings, but that is really up to him.
Update: Emerging Gently has indeed posted about the Annual Meetings: http://emergegently.wordpress.com/2013/06/07/annual-meeting-2013-small-seeds-vitally-needed-growth/
I have intentionally refrained from titling this post “Church Dead” as I don’t think CS is dead, just incredibly dispirited. If anything, it will fade away slowly, as membership declines, young people fail to be attracted, and branch membership debates unimportant minutia well past the hour of no return. The remnants will float around like a plastic bag in the ocean, indestructible, lingering and deadly.
I hope to have a ring-side seat as the vast holdings of prime Boston real-estate are divided up and sold off, but I have nagging doubts about that day ever coming. The church has held on for over 100 years, they have vast holdings of property in Boston, all church money flows towards them*, they lobby for federal funding to support the cause and TMC at least, is putting on an impressive social media and web display. Branch churches, however, tell a different story, which is played out again and again in the “this week’s question” forum.
The Church Alive’s “this week’s question” forum seems to offer a comprehensive cross-section of the problems the branch churches face**. I went through all 85 weeks to see what the most talked about topics were. In no particular order they are as follows:
- TMC policy related questions/issues
- Old/declining membership/how to stimulate growth
- Sunday School related questions
- Member conflict/how to create unity
- Church Community lack of/how to create
- Perception of CS in wider community
- MBE writings/clarification
There were a few odd ones out relating to Christmas, being thankful for CS/TMC, and healing. Each only had 1-2 posts and most went back to how CS was perceived &/or some greater unity/membership issue.
The language was eerily familiar: unity, community, perception, prayer, perceived differences, prayer, and fellowship.
The problems were also all-too-familiar: differences of opinion, differences of interpretation of Ms. Eddy’s works/TMC policy/church by-laws, “appropriate” use of Church facilities, “appropriate” materials for Sunday School, shortage of church members to take on tasks, where/what to cut back on, lack of Sunday School students, lack of funds, lack of CSPs, general lack of everything.
The answers were also ones I’ve heard time and time again: pray, pray, pray. God will provide. Work to know the Truth, see your fellow church members as God’s Prefect Children, pray for abundance, pray to know supply will be met.
Often, things do have a way of working out, I have seen instances of supply being met, but I don’t think praying to God or using Christian Science had anything to do with it. I would like to think people saw others in need and stepped up to help. Being a CS was not what compelled me to donate used baby clothing and gear to a neighbor in need, nor is it was compelled me to work out a child-care exchange with a friend.
CS did play a role in the financial viability of my attendance at Prin – I was one at the time, and Prin offered financial aid in the form of loans and the tuition-reduction work program, I also received a generous (albeit with strings-attached) grant from a CS foundation who gives money to those “leaning on the sustaining infinite.”
Historically, CS has attracted the educated middle class, it is exclusive – not everyone can follow Ms. Eddy’s metaphysical gymnastics and wordy prose; it encourages individual study, and the more you learn the more you are capable of – you too can heal just like Jesus! Also, praying to God will bring you great material wealth* if you pray and donate!
There are several such organizations and funds (usually at the state level). If you write a nice letter and fill out a ream of paperwork proving financial need (and appropriate radical-CS reliance) they will provide funds for college, CS-nursing training, care by CS-nurses and CS-related facilities. CS-affiliation aside, these groups are not that different from alumni organizations, or other charitable/philanthropic groups and foundations.
Occasionally churches will also come together and contribute to a long-time Sunday School student’s college education, or at least provide a congratulatory copy of The Church Manual as they are sent along on their further journey.
*TMC won’t come out and say it, but they practice what is termed “prosperity gospel” if you pray & donate to them, God Will Provide!
**of course TMC is perfectly divinely inspired in every way and would likely never admit to having any issues