When Christian Scientists convened in Boston, Mass., Monday, June 6, for the annual meeting of their denomination, they faced a question many mainline Christian churches also confront: can church be relevant today?
Their perspective on this question — as on just about everything else — runs counter to the popular narrative.
“There’s a universal hunger for the heartfelt experience of God’s saving power,” said Margaret Rogers, chairwoman of the five-member lay board of directors of the Church of Christ, Scientist, which has its worldwide headquarters in Boston. “The demand,” she said, is for a church “that is vibrant with unselfed love and actively engaged in authentic Christian healing for humanity.”
For most Christian Scientists, this doesn’t seem to mean better outreach or new ministries and programs. It means drilling down on the thing they feel they bring to the world: spiritual healing, based on the teachings of Christ Jesus, that’s expected to be both humane in spirit and effective in results. “We pray,” explained another director, Allison W. Phinney, “because prayer aligns us with how things really work. It lets us see and feel more of the immense good and the divine Love that’s actually here for us and for humanity.”
Founded 137 years ago by religious leader Mary Baker Eddy, the Christian Science Church is a Christian denomination based on the Bible. While relatively small in numbers, the denomination has branch churches in more than 60 countries and has had an outsized impact on Christian thought by its insistence God’s goodness brings not only salvation from sin, but healing of illness and suffering.
The group’s diversity is seen among some of the new officers announced at the meeting. The new church president is Annu Matthai of Bangalore, India. The new First Reader — who conducts Sunday worship and Wednesday testimony meetings at The Mother Church in Boston — is Louis E. Benjamin of Hillcrest, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The new Second Reader is Diane Uttley Marrapodi of Forest Hill, Maryland, USA. Many church members traveled to Boston for Monday’s proceedings, while more followed the meetings live online.
The theme of this year’s meeting — “Church: ‘healing and saving the world’”— comes from Mary Baker Eddy’s view Christ Jesus’ original Christianity has deep relevance for the world and its future, and that church must be a practical force for good in daily lives, bringing hope and spiritual progress for humanity. One small symbol of this is the planned renewal of the Christian Science plaza in Boston’s Back Bay. The outdoor spaces surrounding The Mother Church will be updated to better benefit the community as an environmentally sustainable oasis in the midst of the city. A longer-term commitment of the denomination has been publication of The Christian Science Monitor, an international news outlet providing daily and weekly news, online and in print — news that’s intended to bring light, rather than heat, to the important issues of the day.
Members at the meeting reported on activities in their regions, as well as provided examples of healing from around the world. Christian Scientists from around the world, including Nevada, attended this year’s meeting.