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Conducting Sunday services and Wednesday meetings: each part a prayer

From the February 1994 issue of The Christian Science Journal

In part three of "Conversations with Readers" we look at the First Readers' duties in conducting Sunday services and Wednesday evening meetings. (Parts one and two ran in December and January.)

"First Readers' Duties. sect. 2. It shall be the duty of the First Readers to conduct the principal part of the Sunday services, and the Wednesday evening meetings."

Article III, Section 2,
Manual of The Mother Church
by Mary Baker Eddy

Conducting a service well comes from the prayer behind what's spoken. It's allowing prayer to undergird every part of the service—reading, silent prayer, audible prayer, the hymns—to let each element be a prayer. Prayer works; it makes things happen. I've come to see conducting a service as letting God orchestrate the hearts of everyone there. When I've prepared to read the Sunday Lesson or Wednesday readings, I know them well... but every moment I listen for God to orchestrate. Whether it's through silent prayer, or the way a hymn is sung, I see everyone as orchestrated by God.

I'm doing the reading, but I'm not the source of the words and ideas. Our pastor is impersonal and universal. I've been helped by understanding Mrs. Eddy's directive for rotation in office, and by the fact that any member of a branch church who's also a member of The Mother Church can be called on to be a Reader. The wonderful Church Manual provision that a Reader is not a Leader (Art. Ill, Sect. 8) is something I've clung to tenaciously. It's easy for a visitor to mistake the one who's conducting the service for a minister in the orthodox sense of the term. But there's no intermediary of any kind between God and man. If we keep clear that God is the source, that the particular qualities needed to be a Reader come directly from God and are not special gifts to one person, we can fulfill the duties of the office of Reader wonderfully—by basing it all on God and not on person.

When I'm conducting a service, I want to have the "nuts and bolts" down well—the pauses, what I want to accent. Then I let go of that. There are infinite possibilities for spontaneity, inspiration, the new understanding that comes to me as I'm reading. For the parts of the service that aren't Manual specified, such as the content of the announcements, and introducing hymns, I know for some Readers it's easier to have everything on cards and say the same thing each time. But if my thought is very welcoming and loving, I find it's easier to speak naturally and vary the wording.

Eye contact is natural when someone is giving a testimony, as is responding to what he says. If he says something humorous, I laugh with him; if it's something moving, it's OK to be moved yourself.

"When the omnipotence of God is preached and His absoluteness is set forth, Christian sermons will heal the sick." Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, page 345

The best experiences I had as a Reader were the services where members came to me afterward to tell me they had been healed... those were the experiences that most touched me. In one case it was a healing of eyesight, in other cases economic problems were healed. I live in a South American country where we've been going through a time of economic instability. I am convinced that healings are a sign that God is in action, and we can recognize this fact.

Choosing hymns is a great joy, a very important part of conducting the service or meeting. There's a message in each hymn that contributes to the healing atmosphere, and each one shines light on some aspect of the topic. The first hymn sets us off joying in singing. Music isn't a secondary part of a meeting or service but an element of its wholeness. Often I've heard in testimonies how something in a hymn brought healing.

I see the Benediction as a promise of good, a strong statement that brings out the unity of God and man and leaves the congregation with a sense of God's goodness and nearness. I feel it should be succinct, inspiring, and embracing... so members of the congregation go out feeling their inseparability from the Father. I like the Benediction to be something new and fresh, maybe a Bible verse that hasn't been used before.

To me the Benediction should make the congregation feel blessed.

To have a letter-perfect service... that's not my primary goal as a Reader. What people should go out remembering is not that the First Reader didn't have to correct himself once, but that they felt God's love.

Sometimes there's a temptation to prepare Wednesday readings as the "gentle rebuker," to say to myself, "This will correct their thought." That's a temptation to be resisted with all you're worth!

There isn't any topic that can't be addressed in Wednesday readings, including the healing of sin and the world's troubles. Wednesday evening is such a great opportunity to consider healing ideas together. It's for lifting thought and bringing light, blessing, healing. I would go to my study when it was time to start work on readings and I would pray: "God, what is Your message of healing to Your beloved children at this time—this week, in this place, to this congregation? I want to do Your will." I'd listen, and be so filled with joy in seeing the wondrous way God was at work.

The Wednesday meetings traditionally are an hour long, and yet if we occasionally go over an hour, I don't mind. I don't cut anyone off because the hour's over. I aim to allow plenty of time for the testimony period.

For Wednesday evening, the testimonies are the crux of the meeting. The readings should be a preparation for the testimonies, because it's the testimonies that attest to the practical truth of what the pastor is saying. I think of these meetings as the church's weekly workshop, with the focus on universal applicability. It's an opportunity to hear the proof of the truth that's heard in the Sunday Lesson-Sermon.

There's such joy in being given the opportunity to do this work, and you can't not love it, and love the Church that Mrs. Eddy established—the form she gave for our services, the pastor she provided. Reading is a demand, and a discipline. You make a commitment. But it's not a burden. It's a great joy when we realize it's not a personal responsibility to originate something. Our responsibility is to trust God and to listen and follow

Early on, I came upon a passage from Hebrews 12 that speaks of Jesus as "the author and finisher of our faith." Those words author and finisher stayed with me for the rest of my reading term. Each week I would think, God is the author and the finisher of these readings. All the treasures to be found and used were in our books, the ideas were already complete. God saw to it that everything was finished. I'd be in awe sometimes at the way readings would take form and develop, the connections between ideas that became apparent and the relationships of passages. What at the beginning of my term had seemed such hard work, the ordering of citations, became a part I loved to do because I saw a rhythm to it when I trusted God.It can be challenging to the Reader to have quiet periods during the testimony section. At those times I found it was most important to be praying for the meeting, and not let my thought drift into personal considerations. My work was to pray, knowing all were free to express this gratitude for healing.

During my term quite a few major events took place in the world. The Berlin Wall came down, United States forces invaded Iraq, we had hostage taking and hostage releases and, locally, a trial of parents who are Christian Scientists. If something occurred quite close to Wednesday evening and I felt impelled to make a change, a new set of readings came together harmoniously, quickly, in the right order. God always was taking care of things; Mind was always guiding. 

And the Redeemer shall come to Zion,
and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob,
saith the Lord. As for me, this is my covenant with them,
saith the Lord; My spirit that is upon thee,
and my words which I have put in thy mouth,
shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth
of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the Lord,
from henceforth and for ever.

Isaiah 59:20, 21

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