In Science and Health, p. 570 Ms. Eddy refers to
Millions of unprejudiced minds — simple seekers for Truth, weary wanderers, athirst in the desert — are waiting and watching for rest and drink. Give them a cup of cold water in Christ’s name, and never fear the consequences.
The Church Alive Weekly Questions are showing that the minds are skipping out on Church entirely, that true reform is unlikely to happen at any level, and that to a “Spiritual Expert,” whatever that is, “prayer” is always the answer.
The following are a selection of Church Alive Weekly Questions which seemed to go along a similar theme: Wednesdays are dull, children are not attending, we can’t get new people. The problems are related.
- Week 8: “I love my church and the fellow members, but we spend a lot of Wednesdays sitting mostly in silence during the testimony period. How can I pray about this?”
I love the Spiritual Expert’s explanation:
Silence at a church meeting, in some instances, may be born of honesty or wisdom. We can actively pray during quiet times and realize that healing and renewal may occur at any moment of the meeting. Sometimes a quiet moment at our church has opened the way for a visitor or infrequent testifier to speak.
That is all well and good, but sometimes the reason everyone is sitting in silence is because there are five people there – the usher, the organist, the reader, and two (maybe three) people in the congregation. The organist is often not a CS and does not feel compelled to speak. The reader has nothing to say – they picked all the readings for the evening, and even if all of the two-three people spoke up for 2-3 minutes, they are unlikely to fill the twenty minutes set aside for testimonies.
- Week 50 also addresses Wednesday testimony services: “Why don’t more children come to Wednesday testimony services?”
This time it is one of the commenters that nails it:
I like what MW says “there are hundreds of kids & teens who have gone to weekly testimony meetings at summer camps for christian scientists.Why stop when camps close?”
I think one of the main reason for this is that they are really good fluid meetings and well attended, this does encourage young people to go.however the same cannot be always be said for local meetings at branch churches, (emphasis mine)
The simple answer is because they are boring. I hated going to Wednesday evening testimony meetings as a child and they have not gotten any better as an adult. I also loathed the CSO-sponsored Tuesday morning testimony meetings at Prin – while they were far better attended, it was a lot of “look how Spiritual I am!” They also served as a reminder about what a failure I was at CS, although some of the testimonies given also gave me pause to wonder if I was practicing the same religion as much of the rest of the congregation.
- Week 22 also deals with young people: “I think many young people don’t transition from Sunday School to church because young people are not used to sitting and listening to someone read to them for 30 to 40 minutes. Is there any reason why the ‘Present Order of Services in The Mother Church and Branch Churches’ listed for the Sunday service (see Church Manual, pp. 120-121) isn’t being looked at for possible updating?”
As a young person who “didn’t transition from Sunday School to church” (unless under duress while living rent-free at home), the problem is not sitting for 30-40 minutes being read to, the problem is that we’ve (theoretically) read the lesson all week long on our own, and that the readers are usually as exciting as watching paint dry.
I have sat through longer sermons at other churches with far more engaging pastors/ministers, I have also sat through lecture courses where the information was new and interesting, but the format of the CS service – read it all week and then have it read to you again is tedious at best.
In this case the “Spiritual Expert” totally misses the mark
For me this question of transition from Sunday School to church is really more about preparation rather than needing to change the order of services.
For the young person, moving on to church should be something to look forward to—a completely normal, natural next step forward in their Christian Science journey. And Sunday School teachers can help them in taking this wonderful step. Sunday School students can learn right in Sunday School that it’s the sacredness of sitting prayerfully in church and feeling God speaking directly to them through the pastor—Science and Health and the Bible—that will continue to inspire progress in their lives.
Going from sixteen years (assuming you start Sunday School at around four and continue through the age of 20) of discussion about the Bible and S&H and being able to question and learn from a teacher and your peers to reading the lesson on your own and sitting being lectured once a week is supposed to be something you look forward to? To abruptly go from a setting where conversation and questioning are (somewhat) encouraged to the “sacredness of sitting prayerfully in church” is going to inspire progress? This sounds like it should be a condescending Wonka meme not advice from a “Spiritual expert.”
The other “expert” fares no better:
Besides the Lesson being the “sermon” for Sunday services, we have these Bible verses and their key to study all week. So when we attend church on Sunday we have the double advantage of familiarity with the topic as well as our own expectation of what it means. We then listen, not to a person, but the Word of God given in the Lesson-Sermon and have the opportunity for further enlightenment and application.
Or I could simply read the lesson again from the comfort of my own bed (or the beach, or a hot tub, or a hammock, or not at all because I’ve READ IT ALL WEEK) and not bother to get to church in the morning.
Since a major part of the church service is listening to the pastor for 30 minutes, what makes listeners receptive and look forward to hearing the pastor? What was it that drew multitudes to listen to Christ Jesus sometimes for many days at a time?
Jesus provided snacks, he didn’t want money, and wasn’t lobbying the government for special funding. He also told really cool stories. Christian Science Sunday Services fall short of Jesus’ high standard.
The “expert” continues:
It’s not about the reading. It’s about receptivity to the message. If we approach each service expecting to hear the Word of God—the same kind of message Jesus delivered—how could our young people want to be anywhere else on Sunday morning?
That’s all well and good, but the weekly lessons are falling short of the sort of messages Jesus delivered and young people are picking up on that.
- Week 12: “In the Church Manual (p. 120) the heading for the order of Sunday services and Wednesday meetings reads: “Present Order of Services in The Mother Church and Branch Churches.” Does the use of the word ‘present’ imply that this order could or should be changed?
The “experts” again fail to address the question, the Order of Services is pretty much set in stone, the Church Manual can’t be modified with out Ms. Eddy’s permission, and so it will remain the same forever. The Expert’s
own observation, after attending services in some 40 countries, is that branch churches yearn to have services that heal. One way is by making those services appropriate for their time and culture, especially musically. I’ve attended services in the Argentine Andes in Salta, where the hymns were accompanied by guitar; in Kampala, Uganda, where the solo was a series of beautiful unrehearsed, a cappella vocal riffs based loosely on a text from Psalms; and in Alhaurín el Grande, Spain, where the congregation sang texts of Christian Science hymns to well-known local melodies. In each of these instances, the branches weren’t seeing the “Order of Services” as limiting, but were allowing the Holy Spirit to speak through the “Order of Service” in a language and spirit that touched the heart of participants— like on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:1-12).
completely misses the mark, so people changed up the music, big deal. They still had the 30-40 minute BLOCK OF LESSON READING (see above as to why that’s driving people away). The comments in this particular section are rather insightful (all emphasis mine)
- Some people may find no problem at all with this format. It may well give them another opportunity to listen to the “Lesson” again in the quiet and peaceful sanctuary of the church. But for the newcomer I can only imagine that they have a very difficult time staying alert during approximately 35 minutes of non-stop “reading”, no matter how good that reading is. Reading to someone is simply not the most effective way of getting the message across. Recently, I listened to the Sunday service from the Mother Church. The reading was very good, but I found that I simply could not stay with the reading without interruption, so every two sections or so, I put the broadcast on pause for a few minutes. What I did find very enjoyable was the special music provided by a brass quintet (it was the Sunday before Christmas).
- My sense of that use of “present” concerning order of service means she intended it to be open for future adjustment. There are two reasons to think that: first, because she did not use “present” concerning order of Sunday School services (so that’s clearly locked in) and the other place she used “present” in the Manual was for directors’ salaries, implying that they would be—and no doubt have been—subject to substantial change. So if one use of “present” has been accepted as the ability to change salaries it would also seem order of service would fit in the same category.
- It is interesting that in the latter half of 2009 a variety of new explorations of worship and fellowship, by dedicated Christian Scientists who love The Mother Church and its Church Manual, began in the midwest and on the west coast. If readers of this thread are interested in first hand accounts of these developments the following are the websites of these groups:
St. Louis: http://www.ngcsf.com
Los Angeles: http://www.livinglovecs.org/LivingLove_CSInAction/Intro.html
- What may seem very normal, even comforting, to those who have long familiarity with the traditional Christian Science church service, is not necessarily what will speak to any (or at least many) of the “millions of unprejudiced minds” MBE says are yearning for the help Science can offer and to whose yearning we are supposed to respond.
They continue to go back and forth similar to a church committee only on a much larger scale. The Church must serve both the long-time membership AND the new comers which the churches so desperately need.
As with all the problems, TMC’s Spiritual Expert appears to think the problem is not with the Order of Services, the lesson format, dwindling congregations, or dreadfully dull content (I’m going to disagree on all counts), but the flock’s inability to allow the Holy Spirit to speak through it and their lack of Divine Inspiration. Ms. Eddy and TMC policy remains infallible, the flock remains flawed, and they wonder why people are leaving.
Maybe they’re doing it wrong.