The Church Manual by Mary Baker Eddy includes a section titled “Prayer in Church.” It lies in close proximity to other fundamental sections such as “A Rule for Motives and Acts,” “Christ Jesus the Ensample,” “Daily Prayer,” and “Alertness to Duty.” The section reads: “The prayers in Christian Science churches shall be offered for the congregations collectively and exclusively” (p. 42). Why is this pointed instruction about what to pray for in Christian Science services so helpful?
Beyond passive listening to readings or music, participating in the services and meetings in Christian Science churches provides a unique opportunity to love God and our fellow man with our whole heart through praying together. Of course there are many ways to pray, but one way of describing prayer, at Christian Science church services and elsewhere, is the deep desire to be what we truly are—selfless expressions of divine Love, created in the image and likeness of God (see Genesis 1:26, 27), free of fear, sin, and self-will. To be genuine, that desire has to be expressed not just when attending services twice a week but in daily living.
The New Testament brings out that those who are Christ’s (and in Christian Science one might say those who have made a wholehearted effort to follow Christ Jesus) have “crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Galatians 5:24). This means recognizing one infinite Spirit and oneself and others created in the likeness of this Spirit. This high standard, which lifts us all up, and which we can all aim for and achieve, implies abandoning the pains and pleasures of the flesh or matter and having pure thoughts, motives, and actions. Then one naturally brings that purity to one’s prayers in church.
When praying at Christian Science services for the congregations collectively, there’s no room for just thinking of oneself or for lack of commitment toward others. Because the Bible says that Christians are to love each other “with a pure heart fervently” (I Peter 1:22), anything less than practical, Spirit-based affection and fellowship falls short. To have that Mind that was in Christ Jesus is to turn away from a limited material sense of anyone and see those around us in church as expressions of divine light, individual embodiments of divine qualities such as joy, intelligence, warmth, and wisdom. It takes mental discipline to feel the divine presence and look beyond disappointment, frustration, or irritation with ourselves or others. But only that divine presence silences human opinions and assessments, uplifting all participants.
To pray collectively for the congregations is to cherish every Christian Science congregation as a united, healing thought-force. Often people believe that for prayer to be powerful and effective many individuals must pray. But that is a misperception. Power comes from unity. And unity doesn’t mean uniformity. It does mean selflessness, love, appreciation, and forgiveness.
Mary Baker Eddy, speaking of divine Mind or God, once said to a class that she was teaching: “We, to-day, in this class-room, are enough to convert the world if we are of one Mind; for then the whole world will feel the influence of this Mind; as when the earth was without form, and Mind spake and form appeared” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, pp. 279–280). Elsewhere in that same book she writes: “Thought imbued with purity, Truth, and Love, instructed in the Science of metaphysical healing, is the most potent and desirable remedial agent on the earth” (p. 4).
Praying collectively for the congregations may be straightforward, but how about praying exclusively for the congregations? In a world that cries out for help for so many situations, isn’t this inward-looking and insular?
One way of seeing this Manual provision is as providing two specific times a week when congregations can unselfishly hold up, cherish, and defend in prayer themselves as a congregation, as well as other Christian Science congregations. Beyond praying for yourself, which you can do at other times, the motivation for this prayer is to strengthen congregations around the world to more effectively respond to the world’s challenges. Christian Science congregations are special. No other groups of people dedicate themselves to affirming the Science of being together twice a week. The solution to every problem lies in this teaching, and Christian Science congregations are making it available, not by advertising it on billboards, but much more powerfully through supporting each other in living the truths of Christian Science.
What a Cause to celebrate! And what a Cause to guard! What Paul calls the carnal mind (see Romans 8:7) might put forth that congregations are discouraged, dwindling, ineffective, etc. But every Sunday and Wednesday in branches in dozens of countries, congregants unite in prayer with their own congregation and with hundreds of other congregations to deny such suggestions; to illustrate, congregations in the United States pray with and for those in France, who are praying in solidarity with congregations in Cameroon, who are supporting in prayer those in Australia, and so on. And of course one can think of all the members of The Mother Church as constituting a single, united congregation praying together constantly.
Spiritual intuition shows us what to pray for in churches. During church I love to pray for the holiness, health, and unity of the congregations; the daily living of Christian Science by congregations in their families and communities; the Sunday Schools and branches guiding students in graduating from Sunday School and becoming active church members; the Reading Rooms that congregations are supporting and staffing; the Christian Science treatments (specific prayers for individuals or situations) given by members of congregations. Congregations listening to the Word of God, praising God through singing, and sharing testimonies all contribute to the effectiveness of these prayers.
Services alive with congregants praying for the congregations “collectively and exclusively” heal, uplift, and inspire. What a joy to contribute to these services!
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