The following is an edited transcript of a panel discussion on “Why Church?” that took place during the “Being a force for good” summit of 20- and 30-somethings held at The Mother Church in October 2019. On the one-year anniversary of the summit, we hope you will join us in reflecting on the ever-expanding idea of Church, especially as we all continue to discover new ways to experience church in person, online, and by phone.
Rebecca Salo: We often identify Christian Science as a religion or even a lifestyle. And I think that it really goes beyond both of those. It includes the church and the religion and the lifestyle, but Christian Science, being a Science, explains man’s relationship to God and the laws of our being. I think that’s the coolest part of it—that it’s a Science. We study it. We learn from it. We demonstrate it.
Rachel Richardson: One of the things that has become clearer to me is that my life as a ballet dancer tends to be very self-focused. I spend a lot of my time thinking about myself and improving myself. I’ve consistently looked for ways to give back, and I’ve found that my love for Christian Science has been the most beneficial resource for doing this. I continue to find new ways Christian Science allows me to give back, through participation in the Christian Science movement, Christian Science summer camps, CSO (Christian Science organization at college), and church youth activities—even just conversations with friends about spirituality.
When I was given the opportunity to serve in church, it seemed like a natural progression of the ways Christian Science was enabling me to serve and support a wider community. It gave me a bigger sense of purpose, and I knew it was blessing mankind more than any individual career I could have or any individual effort I could make.
When I was young, I moved across the country to start training in dance. My church communities, both where I was raised and then where I moved to, were such blessings. I knew the people I was surrounding myself with were helping me to become—even if this sounds cliché—the best version of myself. Now I go on tour with a dance company all over the world, and I still really enjoy going to Christian Science church services wherever we are. It’s so invigorating.
Nitya Thomas: When I first started attending church, I was pretty new to Christian Science. Since I didn’t come from a family that practices Christian Science, I took advantage of every single resource that’s part of church. I attended services, went to lectures, spoke with practitioners and others, visited the Reading Room, and asked a lot of questions. I had many people supporting me, whether it was driving me to Sunday School, or talking with me and supporting me in my study and practice of Christian Science.
Over time, as I learned and demonstrated more, it was natural to want to share with others. And I just naturally wanted to be more involved in supporting church, too. It seemed right for me to make a commitment. I joined The Mother Church, and soon after, I joined a branch church as well.
Once I became a member, church became different for me. It was much more about giving back and helping to provide those same resources and support—which had been such a blessing for me when I was new to Christian Science—to others.
Kenny D’Evelyn: For me, it was really nice that the first branch church I joined was in Washington, DC, about two blocks from the White House. So it was a really clear reminder, when I would walk into church, that I needed to be praying for our country.
I like what Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). So church invites the Christ, “the true idea of God” (Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 316), into our experience. When we do that as a group—as a congregation—we’re elevating thought right where we are, and we’re helping to elevate world thought.
Now I live out in California, right by UC Berkeley, which has made me consider how our prayers can elevate all of the amazing research that’s happening there. How can our church contribute to the Christ influencing the intelligent activity happening on campus and lift up the entire community? And, you know, reading the news, that seems like it’s probably more important than ever. So to me, church is a really clear reminder about how we need to be praying for the world, and it’s a really cool vehicle for doing so.
Nitya Thomas: Church to me is like that “prayer closet” we go into when we pray. Church provides a space where we can get really quiet and shut out the noise of the world and just really listen for the voice of God. Sunday services and Wednesday testimony meetings give me a chance to just completely turn off the outside world—turn off my phone, put away worries and distractions, and just be really quiet and focus on God. And I love that church provides that for the world.
Our church services bless the world as much as they bless each of us present.
I have been thinking recently about the word service. A church service is really an opportunity for service—to serve God and to serve mankind. I also have been thinking about the early workers of the Christian Science movement and the sacrifices they made—the time, effort, and commitment they put into church. If it wasn’t for their service, we probably wouldn’t be gathered here today. I’m just so grateful for that unselfed love. And I’ve found that living that kind of unselfed love is such an important part of healing.
I’m also reminded of the Manual directive that the prayers that are offered in Christian Science churches shall be exclusively for the congregation (see Mary Baker Eddy, Manual of The Mother Church, p. 42). And I think I’ve always kept that in mind during the Silent Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer. But then a lot of the rest of the time in church I would be thinking about myself and how the Bible Lesson applies to me. More recently I’ve started thinking more about the whole service as a prayer for the entire congregation. And that has really lifted church to a different level for me. When I’m sitting there with those ideas from the Lesson-Sermon and knowing them to be true for everyone in the congregation, they are just so much more powerful and alive, and they become so much more practical to me. And our church services bless the world as much as they bless each of us present.
Lizzie Witney: In the story of Jesus, the night before his crucifixion, he found his disciples asleep, and he said to Peter, “What, could ye not watch with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40). And I just think, What was Jesus asking his disciples to do in that moment? I think he was asking them to really make a commitment to God and to good, and to Love and Principle—everything that Jesus stood for. And so that’s what I think about when I go to church. I think, OK, this is taking a stand for God and for good and for Love. And in today’s world that’s so important. I just imagine if every single person did that, even once or twice a week, just spent an hour or two committing themselves to goodness and love. I think it’s really incredible to think what effect that could have.
Rachel Richardson: I love what the Board of Directors said at the beginning of this meeting, that church will do more for you than you can ever do for it. I really feel that church, when we’re all unified, can do more for all of us than individuals can do alone. I was also reminded that Mrs. Eddy didn’t plan to start a church. She discovered Christian Science and wanted to preserve and share it. And church became the most effective way to share this goodness with the world.
Lizzie Witney: There have definitely been times when I’ve wondered, What do I have to contribute to church? Recently, I was asked to give an address to a Christian Science students’ association, and I thought, What are they going to think with this young person turning up? What have I got to offer to these experienced Christian Scientists? So I really prayed to follow Jesus’ example. He was so clear that everything he did was from God, and it wasn’t him “of [his] own self” (John 5:30) doing anything. That’s helped me with so many things in church, and I’ve realized we each have something unique to bring to the table as an expression of God, and it’s got nothing to do with age.
Rachel Richardson: I was working at a Christian Science summer camp, and during family camp [when parents can join their children for a number of days], one of the parents explained this cool healing he’d had after joining a branch church. After camp, I went home and joined my local branch church. But then at that first meeting I went to, I was really nervous that they were going to elect me to all these things that I don’t know how to do. But now, as each year passes, I come with not just a willingness, but an excitement to serve however I am needed. They actually asked me to teach Sunday School the day after I graduated from Sunday School. And my mom, once again full of wonderful advice, gently suggested that I spend a year attending church services before teaching, because as she said, part of teaching Sunday School is helping children to love that aspect of church, too. And if you haven’t actually experienced it, then how can you help them to love it? I thought that was awesome advice.
So I spent a year going to the church services, and then said I would be willing to teach. I definitely was nervous! I wondered, Who tells you that you’re ready to teach Christian Science? But I knew I loved Christian Science, and I was so grateful for all the healings I’d had and the peace of mind it brought me. So I felt like, if this is something that I really love, I’m sure that I can share that with these kids, and that will be effective. And definitely it’s been such a wonderful growing experience.
So, whenever it feels like, “Oh, this is scary,” or, “They’re going to ask me to serve in some way that’s going to take up too much time,” or, “I’m not ready or prepared,” I can say, “I know this is something I love,” and I can spend some time thinking about how I love Christian Science and why I love it. This has been effective in taking that first step and saying, “OK, yes, I will serve.” Once you do that, the rest just flows.
We are all ageless ideas of God, and every church member’s prayerful support is needed, important, and valued.
Nitya Thomas: When I first became a Reading Room librarian, it was purely out of need, because there seemed to be nobody else who wanted to take the position. I felt like God was asking me to do it, and so I said yes, but I didn’t have much idea what the job really entailed and how to do it. There was no training, really, and I had to learn on the job. But I learned that if I listened to God and was obedient, the ideas came, and I was able to implement them successfully.
It continues to be that way today. Church work, while it can sometimes feel overwhelming, is really about listening to God for guidance and then following. And when we do that, our work is successful and blesses all.
Kenny D’Evelyn: I can identify with not always feeling super inspired by church. At one point, after moving to a new city, I immediately joined the local branch church. But it didn’t feel like a community. Every Sunday I would go sit towards the front. After the service I’d slowly walk out smiling, and no one would talk to me. On my way home, I would call my mom and complain about how weird it was. Fast-forward a couple of months, and I was asked to serve as a Sunday School teacher, which I was happy to do. Immediately, my willingness to serve changed the way I felt in that church each Sunday, and it also changed the way I was treated. It gave folks a way to get to know me, an opportunity to interact with me.
The parents of my students became especially welcoming. So when I think about times when I haven’t felt inspired by church, I can see it was because I was waiting for church to give me something just for showing up. Now I can affirm that because I’m part of this congregation—because I’m an active contributor—I know I will be uplifted by being here and by being a part of this congregation.
Melissa Frontczak: I think about technology and how it’s really exciting to be on the cutting edge and have the newest devices that are designed to solve the most advanced problems that need solving. And I think about church that way in my community—like it is at the cutting edge of whatever needs addressing in the community’s thought. These issues often show up within how church members are interacting and how our church is operating. Whatever friction or resistance that’s happening in the church, typically there’s a current of thought that’s at the cutting edge of what is going to bring the most healing to the community. Being involved in church can be even more invigorating than having the newest piece of technology that can really make a difference in people’s lives.
Elaina Simpson: A few years ago, it seemed like attendance was imbalanced in the branch church where my husband and I were members. I had grown up in that church, and now there definitely were no other 20- and 30-somethings there. We wanted our church to feel like a place where everyone felt welcomed. Groups of members came together for various reasons via church workshops, board meetings, and email threads, and we asked ourselves: How can we feel like more of a community? What kind of culture do we want to have here? We got together and talked about what makes our church unique. And this idea of family came up frequently.
Every church is very unique, but at our core we all have a sense of family. We worked to see our church not as a separate Christian Science community over here, but as a part of the greater community. We’re in the community, and we’re here for the community. That opened our thought to welcoming all prospective visitors and possibilities.
It has been beautiful to see over the last few years such a sense of balance and diversity in those who attend our services. That sense of family starts with, How do you want to be treated when you walk into church? If you want to be treated a certain way, and you want to feel the love, then you can start by giving the love. When you see a visitor at your church, go say hi and maybe even give them a hug. We had discussed that, and it was beautiful to see the evidence of that healing.
We have had new members and visitors. Those who were members of our church for decades have been very supportive of everyone, reminding them that their contributions and thoughts are valued just like everyone else’s in the family. Even though there is always space for newcomers, people have mentioned our church feels “full.” Church is a constant prayer.
When my husband and I came in as new members, we found that we don’t necessarily need to have people in our own age group to feel a sense of warmth and friendship. We are all ageless ideas of God, and every church member’s prayerful support is needed, important, and valued.
William Whittenbury: One thing I’ve been thinking about is generational differences and how sometimes you can feel like you’re the only young person in a church. When we run into seeming divisions and divides because of that, it’s an example of mortal mind trying to get in there and saying that there is a separation between older generations of Christian Scientists and newer generations. But there’s something that we can learn from everybody we interact with in our church experience. So I think we should try to push back against that idea that you can’t have innovative thinking coming from older folks or that we can’t work together to move the church forward.
I learned so much from a lot of the older people in our churches, and a lot of people brought out that sense of family. When I was serving as a guest soloist for a church for a few months, the pianist kind of became like a surrogate grandmother for me. That was so wonderful. But I think my favorite example of learning from somebody is from a lady in my home branch church who recently passed. She was one hundred and three years old. For the first few years I attended church, I was kind of aware of her presence. She was this tiny kind of wisp of a person, and she would come in and always say really insightful stuff.
Then one time she told this crazy story. She revealed that she had traveled to the Soviet Union on multiple occasions in the 1970s and 1980s. She said she knew the KGB was bugging her hotel room. But rather than being scared, she knew she had a captive audience. So she got out her Christian Science Quarterly with the Bible Lesson [including citations from the Bible and Science and Health] and read out loud the whole Lesson multiple times to the KGB. I learned so much from just this one experience that she shared.
We can learn so much from everybody in our branch churches because they have a depth of experience that we might not have, sometimes in serious real-world situations. Really, all of us together are a force for good.
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