The following is part one of a two-part edited and abridged transcript of the 2018 Annual Meeting workshop called “Reading Rooms and Sunday Schools in today’s world.” Please look for part two in the next issue of the Journal. To watch the full video replay of the workshop, visit christianscience.com/reading-rooms-and-sunday-schools. This link will be viewable until June 3, 2019.
Lynn Bingham: Welcome! We are so happy to have you all here with us today. We’re going to be talking about how Reading Rooms and Sunday Schools are spiritual resources that are addressing the needs of today’s world. My name is Lynn Bingham, and I’m the Reading Room Ambassador in the Church Activities Department.
Ariana Herlinger: And my name is Ariana Herlinger. I manage the Church Activities Department, which is charged with supporting branch churches all around the world, including the activities of Reading Room, Sunday School, and institutional work. In addition, we support Christian Science organizations on university campuses, and we have the youth program, TMC Youth, in our department.
Margee Lyon: And I’m Margee Lyon, the Librarian at The Mother Church Reading Room. There are going to be three main points that we talk about today. The first is the effectiveness of members working and praying together to demonstrate vital, active churches. Each member and each activity is needed and important. The second point is that Sunday Schools and Reading Rooms are powerful, relevant resources that enable the world to have access to this healing Science, Christian Science. And third, that we have everything we need right now to demonstrate vibrant, vital, active Reading Rooms and Sunday Schools. Over the course of this workshop, you’ll be hearing not only from the three of us, but also from people from around the world—how they’re praying and then the actions they’ve been guided to take to provide Reading Rooms and Sunday Schools in their communities.
Ariana Herlinger: We’ll be using the words church and church work a lot. And we just want you to know that when we’re talking about these terms, we mean both Churches of Christ, Scientist, and Christian Science Societies. Both those entities are doing the work of church.
So, let’s think about the purpose of church. I love what Mary Baker Eddy says in The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany. She says that “the church is the mouthpiece of Christian Science …” (p. 247). Church is how we ensure that others can know about Christian Science and be blessed by it, just like we’ve been.
Let’s hear an example of this from Alan in Stamford, Connecticut. He’s going to share a story with us about how an interaction in their Reading Room led to a revitalization in their Sunday School.
Alan: Well, the Stamford Society is small in numbers, but we’re an active church, and we have an active Sunday School. About 12 to 15 years ago, our church had a very small satellite Reading Room located in the front of a laundromat in downtown Stamford. And at that laundromat each week, a young boy and his mother would come to do their laundry. While they were there, the boy would come into this little Reading Room and talk with the librarian about Bible stories and look at things.
One day the librarian told the boy about our Sunday School and invited him to come. He immediately ran out and asked his mom if he could, and she said yes. And after he came to Sunday School for a couple of weeks, he said, “Well, could I bring a friend?” We said, “Of course!” Well, soon after, this new boy asked, “Can I bring my cousin?” “Of course!” Well, from there on things just blossomed, and we began to get younger brothers, younger sisters, friends, and so on. On an average Sunday, we have anywhere from 6 to 10 kids from Stamford and from nearby communities. In fact, of the 18 registered students, only 3 are from church member families. This is the kids’ church that they have chosen, and they feel very much that this is their church. And they can feel the presence of God, they can feel the Christ.
Sunday School is a 24/7 activity. What I mean is, you need to constantly be thinking about these kids. As you’re reading the Christian Science Bible Lesson each day, as you’re doing metaphysical work, as you’re handling things that come to you each day that need to be handled in your experience, think about how spiritual insights can be used to handle things that you know are going on in your Sunday School kids’ experiences. It isn’t burdensome, it isn’t a whole lot of work—it’s just keeping this at the forefront of your thought. And as you do, the ideas will come, the blessings will come; the sense of God’s love will be felt, the touch of the Christ will be felt.
Lynn Bingham: I love what Alan said. We’re seeing how the activities of church really work together, and it makes me think of a passage in First Corinthians where Paul says, “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit” (12:4). And then he goes on to describe these different gifts and how they all work together in one body, Christ. Similarly, one of the things that I love about our Church Manual, by Mrs. Eddy, is that it gathers all of these activities into one body we call church. None of these activities are acting without the support of the other activities.
Now we’re going to hear from Edna, who’s going to share with us how a Reading Room in Atlanta, Georgia, touched the lives of its visitors.
There is so much in the world right now that tells us that church and religion are irrelevant or that there are other powers besides God. And it’s really important to address these metaphysically for the world, but also to be looking at our own thinking.
Edna: My first introduction to Christian Science was through a Reading Room. I had an interest in religion, so when I came across the Reading Room, this was something I hadn’t seen before, and I was curious and went in. I visited that Reading Room several times and, as a result, also purchased a Science and Health. But at the time, even though I had this interest in Christian Science, I just didn’t understand Science and Health, and I laid it aside. However, about 18 years later, walking past another Reading Room at another location in the Atlanta area, there were Sentinels. So I began to read the Sentinels, and as a result of that, two things happened.
One, I began to visit the Reading Room, and particularly a wonderful librarian I will never forget began to help me. And after reading the Sentinels, I remembered that at some point in my life I had purchased a Science and Health, because the Sentinels kept mentioning Science and Health. And one day I thought, “Wait a minute, I own that book!” And so I decided to search for it. I figured it would take a little time. But as soon as I stood on the chair near where my books were and I looked directly in front of me, the Science and Health was right there, at eye level. As a result, from that time forward, Christian Science really became very important to me. And it was also within six months of the time that I walked into that Reading Room that I had my first Christian Science healing; it was a very important healing to me, and it made a tremendous difference in my life. And, incidentally, I am now currently the librarian at the first Reading Room that I walked into. I think God had a plan all the time, little did I know!
Ariana Herlinger: There is so much in the world right now that tells us that prayer is passive or that prayer doesn’t actually do anything, or that church and religion are irrelevant or that there are other powers besides God. And it’s really important to address these metaphysically for the world, but also to be looking at our own thinking, and addressing them in our own thought. We need to make sure that the world’s perception is not something that we are accepting for our own church experience.
Margee Lyon: There’s a couple of big arguments that come into play here. One of them says, “Christian Science is not relevant.” But, what are we hearing out there? People are looking for freedom from addiction, freedom from health and mental challenges. They want safety, a sense of self-worth, satisfying jobs, reliable health care. They aren’t saying, “I want a new church, a new religion, a different way of thinking.” But we can see, they do demand Christian Science. That’s what they’re really asking for. So, we know Christian Science is relevant to handle these issues. It naturally follows, then, that if Christian Science is relevant, then the avenues to provide answers—Reading Rooms and Sunday Schools—also have to be relevant.
OK, so Reading Rooms are relevant. Sunday Schools are relevant. Then maybe we think we have old outdated models—bricks-and-mortar stores. Today, we hear that everybody shops online and gets their education online. So we might conclude, If only we had an online Reading Room or a website, that would do it! I did some research. There are 1.8 billion websites and counting. I thought to myself, “Hmm, is that the best way for me to be reaching my neighbors, the college kid next door, the lady at the bank?”
The US Department of Commerce reports that only 9 percent of all retail sales actually happen online; figures from other sources go just up to about 15 percent. Another trend that we see and read about: Many former “online only” retailers are buying, or starting up, storefronts. They are finding that they need to reach customers through bricks and mortar. And why? What have they learned? People want face-to-face contact. That’s what they are asking for. In fact, I also found, through my ongoing research, that even the majority of those people born in the early 2000s or later say that they prefer face-to-face communication. We may think all young people are doing is texting and going online, but that’s just not true.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that there isn’t a great deal of use for the internet and technology. But it’s just a tool! What we’re learning, and what businesses are learning, is the importance of human contact and building relationships. It’s about really caring for the other person—what their needs are and trying to help find the best solution. Businesses are catching a glimpse of the power of Jesus’ second commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself. In Christian Science Reading Rooms we elevate this to the highest sense of love for our neighbors, the expression of divine Love. When done, this is felt, it draws seekers to our Reading Rooms, and it heals. This Love expressed for our communities through our Reading Rooms will always be relevant.
Now we’d like to hear from Melissa in White Plains, New York. In a video, she’s going to tell us about the Reading Room she works in and how they’re praying to engage with their community’s needs.
Melissa: Since we are two blocks from the hospital and other medical offices, we have many people who come in to pray. Some people come dressed in their scrubs, who are obviously working at a hospital. They just go straight to the study room during their lunch hour, which is just wonderful. My favorite part about working in the Reading Room is seeing how God meets every need. Everything that the Reading Room has from The Christian Science Publishing Society specifically addresses a question in thought. That question always has an answer, and, as a librarian, I don’t have to know it all. I don’t have to have an opinion about it, and I don’t have to worry about God not answering that question.
There was a time when somebody came in, and when he saw the Cross and Crown trademark in the window, he said, “I need a book—that book.” And he went right to Science and Health, because he knew that was the book that had the healings, that heals the sick. As he was leaving, I said, “Please come back if you have any questions!” And I realized, my saying that, in that moment, was because I was really afraid that he wasn’t going to “get it.” But then I realized that “God is His own interpreter, / And He will make it plain” (William Cowper, Christian Science Hymnal, No. 399, adapt.). It’s not me having to teach or instruct. I just bear witness.
At the beginning of every shift, I think about how the Reading Room as an idea is complete—there’s nothing that has to be added to it or taken from it. It is! And it’s fulfilling its purpose. This idea has within it all the qualities it needs to be a blessing to this community. And we’ll be fully staffed, we’ll be fully represented, with the right person at the right place. That right idea will come to us because of how God governs His ideas.
We had a few visitors come in who were complaining about their addictions—different things from more than three people—and one of the attendants mentioned that we should really have a window addressing this. We use the addiction window that The Mother Church Reading Room put together. We offered the featured article for free, because the full article couldn’t fit in the window. We had four people come in for copies of the article. One gentleman wanted it for his son. One person wanted it for themselves. He just said, “It’s time; I just have to stop.” And two people didn’t explain why they wanted it.
During the time that the addiction window was in, a gentleman who had come in often to pray was complaining about being in the shelter system. He very much wanted to have his own apartment again. As he continued to come to the Reading Room and study over a period of months, progress was made. He was placed in a home farther away, for which he was very grateful, and he has since found his own apartment that he can afford. He also called the Reading Room and asked for help in subscribing to the Monitor. The Monitor was one of his favorite things about coming in the Reading Room.
It’s important to note that church members who don’t serve on the Reading Room committee specifically as attendants or assistant librarians can serve the Reading Room with their prayerful support. Every prayer, every focus on what the Reading Room stands for, is helpful. They can even come in and just study for a period of time and specifically focus on praying for the community. It will do a world of good.
If there was some issue that tried to persist in the Reading Room, it could be met through specific prayer, and I could not be blinded to what needed to be addressed in thought.
Ariana Herlinger: I was recently traveling in England to meet with Christian Scientists. One church that we were meeting with shared how they had recently sold a piece of property and rebuilt their church. They had some money left over sitting in the bank, and they were praying about their next steps. What they felt led to do was to not let the money sit in the bank account, but hire somebody to be the Reading Room librarian full time, so that their Reading Room could be open, not just a small handful of hours every week, but six days a week. I was so moved by this dedication they had to their community, and also the courage it took to follow God’s lead and really trust in it.
Now we’re going to see a video from Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo in Central Africa and hear from Charles about his Sunday School and how it is having an impact on his community. This video is in French, so for those of us who don’t speak French, the words in English will be on the screen.
Charles: Christian Science is meant to be shared! It’s not meant to be kept to ourselves. The community we live in needs Christian Science. A while back, we would be praying, and children would walk by and make lots of noise outside. But we prayed to understand that those children were also God’s children, just as we were. We all had the same Mind. The organization of church serves its community and needs its community. We prayed to understand that those children were expressing discipline, order, and love.
Well, those children started to show respect towards the church. They began attending Sunday School. The joy they are met with here really attracts them. The Sunday School teachers express so much love towards these children. In some cases, none of their family members are Christian Scientists. But they come anyway.
Then there is a lady who lives next to the church. She is not a Christian Scientist. But, in seeing our children coming to Sunday School, she was impressed by their manner and behavior. And her curiosity was sparked. And now at Wednesday testimony meetings, she is there in attendance! Sometimes she brings her grandsons, who are not Christian Scientists. It was one of our older Sunday School pupils, who is sixteen or seventeen, who ended up talking with her about what Christian Science is.
Recently, there was a thirteen-year-old boy who didn’t feel well, and had a fever. However, before I spoke with him, his little four-year-old sister, who attends Sunday School, came up to him and told him, “Don’t worry, all is well! All is well! You are not sick!” This gave her brother courage. And after this idea was shared with him, I was able to talk to him, to help him understand his true identity as a child of God who can never be touched by anything bad, and who is made only of the qualities of God. I shared these simple truths with him. And, the healing was instantaneous.
What a joy it was to see this boy return to his daily activities, and to see that the sickness was completely gone. This shows that children are very receptive to Truth. So we understand how important this church is for all the children of this community. In our prayers, it is as though we are seeing them now in our church, praying alongside us.
Lynn Bingham: It could have been tempting just to tell the neighborhood kids to be quiet and go away. But through dedicated, heartfelt prayer, not only did the behavior of the young people change, but they became active participants in their Sunday School, and this ended up having an impact on the wider community.
Sometimes we think it’s easier to immediately jump to material solutions in order to meet challenges facing us in our church work (paint the Reading Room a nicer color, etc.). And yet these very good solutions must be seen as supports to the heart of the work, which is to first listen to God and practice specific prayer on a divinely scientific basis. I’m not talking about giving our challenges a passing thought or checking a box and moving on. I’m talking about persistent, consistent prayer that recognizes the promised Comforter. This recognition makes us ready and willing to receive the honest seeker in our Sunday School or in our Reading Room. This kind of specific prayer puts down whatever would try to oppose the good we’re doing.
I’d like to share one very small example of how this type of prayer impacted my work in a Reading Room. While I was working in a Reading Room that was normally quite active, three days went by without a single person coming in. On the morning of the fourth day, with still no one coming in, I realized I needed to change the way I was praying. I needed to dig deeper and ask God, “What is it specifically that needs to be addressed in thought?” As the other attendant on duty and I began to pray in this manner, this answer came: We were not lacking supply. In fact, we had superabundant supply. We had good! We had inspiration! We had the very Word of God present in that Reading Room! And there was and had to be an equal demand for this supply, because in God’s economy, supply always equals demand. As our Leader, Mrs. Eddy, writes in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, “Divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need” (p. 494). So if we had fifty copies of Science and Health in that Reading Room, then there were fifty people who needed—were demanding—that book, and nothing could keep them from finding us.
The rest of that day there was a constant stream of visitors—mostly newcomers, and some repeat customers—reading, studying, and purchasing. Now, I can’t say that every single day following this day was just as busy, but this day served as a touchstone for me. It taught me that if there was a period of prolonged inactivity or if there was some issue that tried to persist in the Reading Room, it could be met through specific prayer, and I could not be blinded to what needed to be addressed in thought. I know there are many of you here who could share stories similar to mine.
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