Lynn Bingham works at The Mother Church in Boston as Reading Room Ambassador. The following interview covers both familiar and fresh ground, in terms of Reading Rooms and how vital they are for communities all over the world.
Lynn, to start off with, can you tell us a little bit about your role as Reading Room Ambassador?
I’m happy to. In my work, I have the privilege of helping to support Christian Science Reading Rooms all around the world. I serve as a resource for Reading Room librarians and attendants, as well as other church members, as they think and pray through various Reading Room issues. I also serve as an advocate here at The Mother Church for Reading Rooms in the Field (those maintained by branch Churches of Christ, Scientist, or Christian Science Societies). I help various departments gain insight into their needs.
The goal is to connect individuals and their churches with resources that support a higher understanding of the purpose of Reading Rooms and their vital role in the collective demonstration of an active, healing Church.
One of the best parts of my job is talking with members in the Field about their prayers for their church, Reading Room, and community. There are so many inspiring stories out there, and I really treasure hearing about the healing fruitage that has resulted from this prayer.
I’m sure you’ve been asked this question plenty of times—why are Reading Rooms an important part of church work?
Let me share an experience that gives a clear picture of the value of Reading Rooms.
Because we were speaking face to face and heart to heart, the whole tone of the experience was very uplifting and felt deeply significant.
Just a few years ago, I was serving in a Reading Room in a large city known for its technology and for being a cool place for young people to live and work. One day a young man, probably in his twenties, walked through the door. After I greeted him, he told me he had recently visited one of the popular megachurches in the area, and the sermon that day had included a lot of negative things about Christian Science. So as he walked by the Reading Room, he figured he would stop in and give us the chance to defend ourselves.
As he was relating this story to me, I reached out to God for what to share with him. We ended up having a very lengthy discussion, during which we pulled several books from the shelves and looked at many passages in the Bible and the writings of Mary Baker Eddy. I even referenced some of the biographies about Mrs. Eddy. It was a great conversation! By the end, it was clear that we both felt a fellowship and respect for each other.
As the young man was about to leave, he shook my hand and shared a couple more thoughts that were particularly meaningful to me. First, he shared that he didn’t feel the negative things that were said about Christian Science could be true, because everything we had spent the afternoon discussing synced up with what he felt the Bible was teaching him. He especially connected with the Christian Science view that we are capable of healing ourselves and others when we follow in the footsteps of Christ Jesus.
Then, he sincerely expressed gratitude that there was a physical place where he was able to interact with a real live person and have his questions about Christian Science answered. And he concluded by saying something I thought was really remarkable: He said he wanted to thank us for not being “just a website and a mission statement.”
We so often assume young people get all their information from the internet. And the world also says that much of this generation is not interested in organized religion. In this case, both claims proved to be false.
This experience reinforced for me the value of human interaction and relationship building. Because we were speaking face to face and heart to heart, the whole tone of the experience was very uplifting and felt deeply significant. The interaction left a lasting impression on me, and I suspect on both of us. I might add that this was far from the first or last time that a hungering heart walked through our Reading Room door and found the spiritual nourishment needed. And I know experiences like this are happening at Reading Rooms all around the world.
Certainly the internet has its place, and it has been enormously helpful in so many ways. But there’s a human dimension that’s lacking if we don’t also have places where people can go to talk to a real person, open a book at random, or have help finding the particular Christian Science resources that meet their need. The most loving thing we can do for people is to be there for them, right there in the heart of the community.
That’s a nice example, Lynn. It really shows Mary Baker Eddy’s wisdom in establishing Reading Rooms as a vital part of the Church of Christ, Scientist.
It does! As many readers likely already know, our Leader wrote a By-Law in the Church Manual actually requiring every branch church to have a Reading Room (see p. 63). And when we’re thinking on this subject, I think we have to ask ourselves, “Was this an inspired requirement, or not?”
The Reading Room is a tangible and outward expression of our church’s love for its community.
In regard to that point, I really got a lot out of a recent Journal article where the author, speaking on the subject of healing, writes of Mary Baker Eddy: “Do we feel she was a prophet speaking out of revelation? Or simply a Victorian woman offering a human analysis—making a number of … temporary human assessments that don’t quite hold up today?” The author goes on to say, “How we answer questions like these in our hearts might determine how effective we are in our healing” (Nathan Talbot, “The potency and power of Christian Science healing,” May 2017). I would add that how we answer these questions might equally determine how effective we are in our demonstration of Church.
If it’s true that the By-Laws in our Church Manual were “impelled by a power not one’s own,” as Mrs. Eddy said (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 148)—and are not arbitrary, dated notions of a Victorian woman—then they have all the force and support of God behind them and must be exactly what is needed to prosper the Cause of Christian Science right now. Reading Rooms are right on the cutting edge of society’s demand for truth!
For me, the By-Law requiring each church to have a Reading Room—open and available to the public and our fellow church members—does two things. First, it informs us that the Reading Room is a necessary and important part of church. Second, it represents for us not only an opportunity but also a promise.
Could you expand a little on how this By-Law is a promise, Lynn?
Each By-Law carries with it a promise that, since God is asking us to do it, we are going to have all we need to successfully carry it out. In The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, Mrs. Eddy writes: “Notwithstanding the sacrilegious moth of time, eternity awaits our Church Manual, which will maintain its rank as in the past, amid ministries aggressive and active, and will stand when those have passed to rest.
“… Of this I am sure, that each Rule and By-law in this Manual will increase the spirituality of him who obeys it, invigorate his capacity to heal the sick, to comfort such as mourn, and to awaken the sinner” (p. 230).
To me, this passage represents that promise I mentioned. It indicates the imperative and timeless nature of the By-Laws written in the Manual and assures us that obedience to them actually helps our churches and our individual lives flourish. The effect of doing right is always to prosper us, and it blesses the public, too.
Is it right to have a Reading Room? I think we know the answer. Then whatever resources, whatever time and energy and love we pour into this precious idea, it’s never going to deplete us, but will prosper us, in big ways. The many accounts of healing over the years from time spent in Reading Rooms are an indication of just how vital they are.
Tell us a little bit about what brings people into a Reading Room. What inspires them to see the good in it—and what can inspire church members who are serving there as well?
I think it’s important to recognize just what it is that we have in our Reading Rooms—and that if everyone actually knew what Reading Rooms had, they would be running through the doors! Never before in human history, until Mary Baker Eddy authored and published Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, and then established means for making it available to everyone, could people just walk right into a place and learn of the Science of Christ that heals all of humanity’s ills. To me this is amazing—the promised Comforter is right at our fingertips!
In the words of Isaiah in the Bible, for thousands of years this knowledge of our salvation was “sealed” (see Isaiah 29:11, 12). Daniel had a glimpse of the sealed book of knowledge Isaiah refers to, but was instructed to “shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end” (Daniel 12:4). That theme—of knowledge that is sealed, or not yet revealed to human understanding—continues all the way through to the book of Revelation, which mentions a book that is “sealed with seven seals” (5:1). But then, in Revelation, chapter 10, verses 1 and 2, a “mighty angel” is presented that “had in his hand a little book open.” Suddenly, the knowledge of God, and of His loving relationship to His children, in that little book—which had been hidden away for so many centuries—is unsealed. It is available to everyone, to bring comfort and healing.
Mary Baker Eddy, speaking of the little book mentioned in Revelation 10, pointedly asks,“Did this same book contain the revelation of divine Science, the ‘right foot’ or dominant power of which was upon the sea,—upon elementary, latent error, the source of all error’s visible forms?” (Science and Health, p. 559).
I think anyone who’s been healed just by reading Science and Health (and it has one hundred pages of such testimonies as its last chapter) has a pretty good idea just what that “little book” is, and that it does indeed contain the revelation of the divine Science that heals.
Mary Baker Eddy wrote Science and Health under the most trying of circumstances, tirelessly laboring because of her deep love for humanity. It was a monumental task. As she wrote, “To-day it is a marvel to me that God chose me for this mission, and that my life-work was the theme of ancient prophecy and I the scribe of His infinite way of Salvation!” (Yvonne Caché von Fettweis and Robert Townsend Warneck, Mary Baker Eddy: Christian Healer, Amplified Edition, p. 207). How could God’s “infinite way of Salvation” not be uplifting and attractive for the newcomer and seasoned church member alike!
On a related note, in an enlightening address given to a group of Reading Room librarians in 1936, Harry Hunt (the Publishers’ Agent from 1922 to 1939) spoke about the important role that the Reading Room has for the Church in making the revealed Truth available to all mankind. He suggested the Reading Room functions “somewhat as the angel of the Apocalypse whose hand held the little book open—‘open for all to read and understand,’ Mrs. Eddy tells us in our textbook.”
Mr. Hunt added: “A closed book imparts no message, even though its pages may contain it. The book must be open to be read and must be studied and digested that it may be understood. Thus, under our Leader’s wise plan, it is the Reading Room which holds out the open book to the wayfarer, and exclaims to a weary world, in Isaiah’s poetic appeal, ‘Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price’ (Isaiah 55:1)” (Harry I. Hunt, “Mr. Hunt’s Address at Librarian’s Meeting,” July 1936, Church Archives).
For many, the Reading Room is a safe harbor to seek answers to their deepest questions.
I think what Mr. Hunt is pointing out here can have a huge impact on how we approach this work. For me, it means that the Reading Room is an angelic presence in our community, making the promised Comforter accessible to all. And it further says that keeping Science and Health “open for all to read and understand” (Science and Health, p. 559) is a tangible and outward expression of our church’s love for its community.
Also, in a letter to Carrie Harvey Snider written in December of 1904, Mrs. Eddy revealed the urgency she felt about the Reading Room’s healing mission:
“I was sorry to read your purpose to give up your reading room in Harlem; that must not be left without a Reading room any more than minus a church of Christ, Scientist. It is an important location for giving to the public our literature and if you relinquish your Reading room the central Reading Room Association must establish a branch in Harlem at once” (L06090, The Mary Baker Eddy Collection, The Mary Baker Eddy Library).
The church in Harlem had been considering giving up its own Reading Room in favor of solely supporting a joint Reading Room in another neighborhood. And what stood out to me was how Mary Baker Eddy saw the importance of each church really committing themselves to being a presence and support in their community through their Reading Room.
Could you speak specifically about how the Reading Room is a support to both the public, as well as to church members and churches?
Sure. The Reading Room supports an individual’s spiritual growth and practice of Christian Science, and consequently our churches, in several important ways. For starters, a Reading Room provides a place set apart to deeply engage with the Word of God in an uninterrupted manner—there are no phones ringing, no laundry to put in the washer, nor any other business to distract.
For many, the Reading Room is a safe harbor to seek answers to their deepest questions, and it may be the only place where they can freely do this type of work. There is a pervading peace and sacredness, coupled with a vibrancy of spiritual ideas, in these rooms that help one really focus on getting to know God better through His Word and through the literature that The Christian Science Publishing Society makes available.
As the visitor or member gets to know God better, this causes shifts in thought, and healings occur, which causes a widespread ripple through our church, community, and even the world. This ripple of changed views—from the belief in matter to an understanding of Spirit—is the real value of the Reading Room.
One way I like to think about this concept is in terms of a play on the spelling of the word profit. A Reading Room sells books, and this is important because Christian Science is the “pearl of great price,” but while it can be important for mortal mind to lay down something of value materially (money) to gain something of value spiritually (Truth-healing/inspiration), what a truly successful Reading Room is really focused on is turning p-r-o-p-h-e-t-s, or spiritual seers, over to the church that maintains it—not just sales, or p-r-o-f-i-t-s. It should also be mentioned that when we are turning over spiritual seers to the church and becoming better spiritual seers ourselves, “all these things shall be added unto you” (Luke 12:31). So we can expect the fiscal needs of the church will be met as well.
In order for a Reading Room to be “prophet-able,” it requires a membership to keep their Reading Room “well located.” By this I don’t mean just physically—though that is certainly important—but mentally too. Are the members using the Reading Room, serving in it, and praying for both the Reading Room and the community? When we answer yes, then, and only then, is it really well located and primed for success. Far from this mental work being a burden on the member, it is actually a fantastic opportunity.
Final thoughts, Lynn?
It has meant a lot to me, and I think to others as well, to see and feel that we are all working and praying together for Church—including its Reading Room activities—as a church family. We are not alone in this work. For me the biggest takeaway about church work is that right now, in 2017, we each have the opportunity and privilege of both demonstrating Christian Science ourselves and also being part of the collective demonstration of Church that is bringing healing to the world. And that’s a thrilling movement to be part of!
No man, when he hath lighted a candle,
putteth it in a secret place, neither under
a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light.