THE privilege of reading in a Christian Science church is a sacred one, for this is an important means by which the truth goes forth from the Bible and the Christian Science textbook, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" by Mary Baker Eddy, to heal and regenerate the human consciousness. Therefore, the selection of those persons best prepared to serve as Readers should be preceded by prayerful consideration on the part of each member of a branch church. Each member should guard against being influenced by human advice. Our Leader makes it clear that Readers should be spiritually-minded, consecrated students, exemplary Christians, well educated, and able to read understandingly.
While Mrs. Eddy specifically provides that the Readers in The Mother Church shall be a man and a woman, she carefully corrects the mistaken belief that a First Reader should necessarily be a man and the Second Reader a woman. She considered the correction important enough to include it in her written works as follows: "The report that I prefer to have a man, rather than a woman, for First Reader in The Church of Christ, Scientist, I desire to correct. My preference lies with the individual best fitted to perform this important function. If both the First and Second Readers are my students, then without reference to sex I should prefer that student who is most spiritually-minded. What our churches need is that devout, unselfed quality of thought which spiritualizes the congregation" (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 249).
In specifying spirituality as the all-important qualification for the Readership, Mrs. Eddy lifts the function of this high office from the realm of the human to the divine. Spirituality is a divine quality of thought, which emanates from Truth and is unobstructed and uncontaminated by material sense. It is the pure, unselfed thought which elevates accomplishment from the level of a personal achievement to the evidence of divine activity; it is the humble, Christlike spirit which deflates self to serve God, the spiritual conviction of Truth which overwhelms human inadequacies with divine abilities.
Reading imbued with the quality of spirituality heals the sick, casts out evil, comforts the sorrowing, and raises thought deadened by materiality into an insight of divine glory. Such reading fulfills the divine purpose for Christian Science church services. It evidences no weak, vacillating, or uncertain understanding of Truth. It emits no superficial, personal interpretation, nor does it sound the notes of fear and self-consciousness. It is neither phlegmatic nor emotional; nor does it evidence the monotonous drone of attempted impersonalization, the artificiality of affectation, or the labored efforts of self-assertion. It is vital, colorful, inspirational.
When the Word of God is voiced at the Reader's desk from the depths of spirituality, it goes forth to human consciousness in the rich, full, free, even tones of a spiritually understood conviction. It is heard in the farthermost corners of the church edifice, piercing the darkest shadows of human thought. It awakens, uplifts, heals, and regenerates. How applicable to such heaven-inspired, Truth-imbued reading are the words of the Psalmist who sang (Ps. 19:1,3): "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. . . . There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard."
The work of a Reader, if fulfilled in its highest sense, is a task of consecration. It calls for self-abnegation, which is unmoved by worldly honor or praise of men; it requires Christlike humility, responsive alone to divine unfoldment; it demands a courage which knows neither discouragement nor defeat, and a thorough preparation of each week's Lesson-Sermon.
Our Leader sets forth the moral obligations of Readers thus (Manual of The Mother Church, Art. III, Sect. 1): "The Readers of The Mother Church and of all its branch churches must devote a suitable portion of their time to preparation for the reading of the Sunday lesson,—a lesson on which the prosperity of Christian Science largely depends. They must keep themselves unspotted from the world,—uncontaminated with evil,—that the mental atmosphere they exhale shall promote health and holiness, even that spiritual animus so universally needed."
The Christian Scientist realizes that the duties of Readers involve an obligation which transcends any merely human, personal effort, a duty which is universal in scope, perfect in its ideal, healing in its mission. A Reader therefore strives diligently to manifest the Christ in his daily life, to perfect his reading, and to bring to the church services inspiration, joy, love, and healing. If he feels the need of instruction in reading, diction, voice culture, or platform conduct to improve his work, he seeks it in the spirit of St. Paul's counsel (I Cor. 14:12), "Forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church."
A Reader in a Christian Science branch church spent many hours in consecrated study of the Lesson-Sermon, paying meticulous attention to such details of reading as pronunciation, enunciation, voice quality, tempo, and volume. But on Sunday she banished from thought all technicalities that she might read the Bible selections wholeheartedly and joyously in the spirit of their message. She did not feel, however, that she had reached the pinnacle of her ideal until one Sunday morning when she sat waiting for the signal to go onto the platform. As she contemplated the Lesson on "Love" which was about to be read, she felt such an overwhelming longing to impart love that she fervently prayed, "Father, if I may but read the Lesson so that everyone in the audience feels the love of God, it is all I ask." To her that service was a holy one, and she felt that for the first time she understood what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote (I Cor. 14: 19), "In the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue."
The essence of good reading is love—love that has overcome the human and risen to the sublime heights of spiritual understanding. What more comprehensive or conclusive summary of the healing and regenerative mission of the Readership in Christian Science churches can be found than the following excerpt from a letter written to a First Reader by our Leader (Miscellany, p. 247): "God has called you to be a fisher of men. It is not a stern but a loving look which brings forth mankind to receive your bestowal,—not so much eloquence as tender persuasion that takes away their fear, for it is Love alone that feeds them."
Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest.
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