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Remarkable innovation in moving a message outward

From the June 2004 issue of The Christian Science Journal

Looking back

A conversation in Boston

It's early June, 1889, late spring in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood. A Bostonian and a friend from New York have met unexpectedly at the corner of Boylston Street and Massachusetts Avenue. We join them in the middle of an animated conversation:

Bostonian: All I can say is, the ideas in this book have wholly changed my life. As you well know, I was an invalid longer than I care to remember. Now I am hale and hearty.

Visitor: Just by reading a book?. ... By a woman?

Bostonian: It is the power of ideas, my good man. Her conceptions of God and human existence are deep, often challenging, yet so simple. These ideas have renovated me mentally, touched my heart, healed me. I would say. ...

Visitor: Say no more. Where do I find this Mary Baker Eddy book?

Bostonian: The book is Science and Health, and I purchased it at the Reading Room, in the Hotel Boylston, next to Steinert Hall. They opened just last September.

Take the streetcar almost to Tremont Street. ... one of the city's busiest corners. On the way, Trinity Church will be on your right, then the Public Garden and the Common to your left. The Christian Science Reading Room is in a large room on the Hotel Boylston's second floor. I found shorter tracts there, as well, and they sell a monthly magazine, The Christian Science Journal, in the same location. All in all, 'tis worth far more than the car fare.

Visitor: I hope so, but answers have eluded me so long. ...

While this is an imagined exchange, many conversations like it probably took place in Boston around the close of the 1880s. By this time, Science and Health (first published in 1875) was stirring conversation and debate—praise from readers benefited by a theology that actually healed as Jesus did, and fierce criticism from those who felt threatened by the book's impact on religious and healthcare traditions.

Top: The Reading Room at Christian Science Hall in Concord, New Hampshire, circa 1902. The Rev. Irving C. Tomlinson, one of Mrs. Eddy's biographers, is seated in the foreground at right, reading. Bottom: The current Reading Room on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston (see page 24 for story).

Forerunner Reading Rooms

Although they've been a feature on urban streets and town centers for more than a century now, Christian Science Reading Rooms had venerable ancestors in the publishing world. During the 19th century, "reading rooms" located on the premises of book publishing houses were a way to showcase new and backlist titles. Books were a relatively expensive commodity in those days, and reading rooms allowed customers to sample before buying.

Avid book and periodical readers, and budding writers, also valued the reading room at the Boston Public Library and those in other public libraries. University students and faculty gathered at campus reading rooms.

A notable innovation

Christian Science Reading Rooms were, however, a notable publishing innovation in several ways. They were and remain uncommon as enterprises dedicated to a bestselling title, along with related books, magazines, and a daily newspaper.

While it would be simplistic to say that Mary Baker Eddy invented the modern franchise concept, Reading Rooms do look like a franchise ("Christian Science Reading Room," or its translated equivalent, gives these outlets a global "brand"), and they act somewhat like a franchise. Also, typical of franchise operations, local Reading Rooms are supplied by their parent organization, and they're governed by core guidelines instituted by their founder.

Although Christian churches have done fund-raising in various forms through the centuries, the Christian Science Reading Room was a unique approach to revenue development. The Reading Room system was elemental to Mrs. Eddy's design for her Church. It's a way of producing a steady revenue stream for both parent Church and branch Churches of Christ, Scientist, in order to support their missions. With business-district locations, Reading Rooms were intended to take the message of Science and Health into the public square. Revenue from book and periodical sales (combined with church service collections and other income), could help fund the spread of Science and Health's message.

With Reading Rooms staffed by librarians, (see sidebar, p. 20) each location could be a a place to pursue those inward agenda items—questions about identity, meaning, healing, and how to get to know God.

Christian Science Dispensaries precede Reading Rooms

Mary Baker Eddy was her own first publisher and saleswoman. Sales of Science and Health were supported by word of mouth and by advertising. Her book sold briskly at one downtown Boston bookstore. Her students engaged in prayer-based healing also sold copies to their patients, some taking it door to door for a while. Overall, though, sales of the first edition of 1,000 copies were disappointing.

The book's sales curve rose, however, as Mrs. Eddy began to teach classes at the Massachusetts Metaphysical College, chartered in 1881. Newly instructed Christian Science practitioners and teachers of healing helped spur book sales, as patients and students bought their own copies.

During the 1880s, with the author's approval readers of Science and Health began opening Christian Science Dispensaries. Dispensaries were the immediate forerunners of Reading Rooms within various communities. Visitors could obtain on-site treatment through prayer at no or very low cost. Dispensaries also sold Science and Health, as well as printed "tracts" (pamphlets and single articles) and the Journal.

With the September 1888 opening of that first Christian Science Reading Room in Boston, described as "spacious" in the Journal's report, responsibility for book and literature sales began shifting to Reading Rooms. Dispensaries were phased out in 1899.

A pause

Boston's Christian Science Reading Room suddenly closed in 1894. It was one of those shifts of direction that characterized Mary Baker Eddy's leadership—combining spiritual vision, financial realism, and her ability to discern the mental chemistry of a situation. It would be 1900 before the Reading Room reopened.

The closure's backstory illustrates how Mrs. Eddy allowed ideas to evolve until she was certain that they had a divine source; then they were given permanent footing. In the summer of 1894, Boston Reading Room Librarian Mary Munroe wrote to inform Mrs. Eddy's secretary, Calvin Frye, that it might be necessary to close. "The Rent. ... is $700.00 per year," she explained; "only 180 odd of the Students [in the Christian Scientist Association] pay the Dues of $4.00 per year, and now Dr. Eddy [Mary Baker Eddy's adopted son, Ebenezer Foster Eddy, then publisher of Science and Health] has stopped our selling Mother's Works in the Reading Room, it will be more expense than income right along. His thought is that the whole thing is to be given up. If that is done, does it not mean the same all over the [Christian Science] field. ... ?"  L09760, Mary W. Munroe to Calvin Frye, July 18, 1894, The Mary Baker Eddy Collection, The Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity .

Mrs. Eddy wrote at the bottom of Munroe's letter, "Yes give up the reading room. Tell her I will speak to the field when God bids me." Frye conveyed the message a week later and the Reading Room was closed. Reading Rooms and Dispensaries continued to operate in cities other than Boston.

Branch church Reading Rooms

Boston's Reading Room may have been an incubator of ideas—showing how these rooms could function at the local level—but it wouldn't dictate their form. In late 1899, acting on "necessity, the logic of events,"  Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896, p. 148. Mrs. Eddy approved a new Church By-Law:

Establishment. Section 1. Each church of the Christian Science denomination shall have a Reading Room, though two or more churches may unite in having Reading Rooms, provided these rooms are well located. Manual of The Mother Church, p. 63 .

The immediate need was "to prevent one church [from] having two Reading Rooms,"  L07488, Mary Baker Eddy to Edward A. Kimball, January 12, 1900. The Mary Baker Eddy Collection . thus preventing branch churches from opening multiple locations that would compete for customers. But the longer-term need was to meet the demand for wider public access to Science and Health, by providing that all Reading Rooms be "well located."

The following May, Mrs. Eddy wrote to The Christian Science Board of Directors, "Once more God thunders in your ears—'Get a reading room in Boston and locate it in that part of the city where people will be most apt to go into it.'" Two weeks later, a Reading Room opened for business at 194 Boylston Street. "Once more" apparently did not refer to previous requests to reopen the Boston Reading Room, but rather to her earlier urgings to the Directors to build "another Church building, and publishing house for His Word to be heard therefrom."  L00247, Mary Baker Eddy to The Christian Science Board of Directors, May 16, 1900. The Mary Baker Eddy Collection .

For Reading Rooms, then and now, a key issue is location: The demand for transforming spiritual ideas exists and is growing, so the idea is to position Reading Rooms where people can find them—and the book that will help them understand God. Without the public foremost in mind—without what today might be called a demographic perspective—Reading Rooms could become hidden, inaccessible, mute.

Open-ended opportunities

Was there ever a business plan more open-ended in its simplicity? An enterprise that would eventually grow to thousands of locations world-wide? Granted, this was an openly Christian and missionary enterprise, but it was a mission clearly designed to meet the public's need, at the same time producing a profit. And yet Mrs. Eddy used less than 150 words in three Church Manual provisions See Manual, pp. 63-64 . to describe how a Reading Room should operate. Her unpublished letters and other writings are just as sparse in details and advice.

In one specific directive, she telegrammed a Christian Scientist in Toronto: "Have your Reading Room separate from your church."  L09080, Mary Baker Eddy to Charlotte Allan, February 16, 1901, The Mary Baker Eddy Collection .

A few months before the Boston Reading Room was reopened, in a letter to a trusted student in Chicago, she explained that while there was a Manual provision about each church having Reading Room, "this does not imply. ... the method of having these rooms."  L07488 . She trusted that the idea had come from God, so He would also disclose its necessary forms to those who also prayed for guidance.

Form, and all its implied opportunities, would follow function. Function was clear cut: Provide public access to Mary Baker Eddy's writings and other materials produced by The Christian Science Publishing Society. But how? The method would depend on several factors—how prayer disclosed new meaning in those few establishing words; how tastes, economies, neighborhoods, and technology might change; and how freely Christian Scientists responded to a spiritually hungry humanity.

The final By-Law

Mrs. Eddy approved the last of the three Manual By-Laws under the heading "Reading Rooms" in 1909, the year after she founded The Christian Science Monitor, and a year before she passed on. "Literature in Reading Rooms" states, "The literature sold or exhibited in the Reading Rooms of Christian Science Churches shall consist only of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy, and other writings by this author; also the literature published or sold by The Christian Science Publishing Society."  Manual, p. 64.

This provision ultimately is more about promise than restriction. It requires a definite product line—yet promises focus, consistency, and considerable freedom in how those products are promoted and sold. Reading Rooms have latitude in adapting their methods to particular markets and cultures.

Great good, hesitancy to innovate

How could the immense good—the positive effects on people's lives that Reading Rooms have produced over their first century—ever be measured? Over the years, the Journal has consistently published representative samples in "reports from the field." But uncounted thousands have entered Reading Rooms in one state of mind—depressed, homeless, sick, fearful, questioning—and have left bettered in some way. They've gone on their way comforted, hopeful, clearer, whole, and in many cases, feeling well again. Many have left with a copy of Science and Health and other writings by Mary Baker Eddy.

Over the decades after 1910, though, while Christian Science gained respectability as a more established denomination, Reading Rooms began to follow institutionalized patterns, rather than continuing to innovate based on the Manual's lean and simple function model. Some slowly shifted from a public orientation to primarily serving church members—and from the sidewalk, they began to look more like private libraries than bookstores with a reading area. Reading Rooms tended to be promoted exclusively as "quiet places to read and study," a phrase never uttered by Mrs. Eddy. They have been so quiet, in fact, that they barely registered on the public awareness sonar.

"Lively retail place" and "quiet thinking space" can happily coexist. Today's bookstores and Internet cafes prove the point. The important point is, there was, still is, a public hungry—perhaps hungrier than ever today—for the transforming ideas in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.

Looking forward

Stars in a constellation

In a way, Christian Science Reading Rooms are stars in a constellation—a constellation that circles the planet with the unlimited light that radiates from Mary Baker Eddy's book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. The light from this book banishes fear and remakes lives. It heals. It can guide anyone on their mission of spiritual discovery. In this celestial, yet down-to-earth, constellation every Reading Room is essential.

Again, the requirements outlined in Mary Baker Eddy's Church Manual are simple. Reading Rooms are to be "well located," and "the literature sold or exhibited. ... shall consist only of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy, and other writings by this author; also the literature published or sold by The Christian Science Publishing Society."  ibid., pp. 63-64. In the case of The Mother Church Reading Rooms, the librarian is given permission to "take charge."

The possibilities? Wide open.

The primary purpose of the Reading Room

The approximately 2,000 Christian Science Reading Rooms worldwide constitute the major channel in a matrix of 6,000 retail bookstore distribution and communication points for Science and Health, which is available in 17 languages. More than simply a place that a Church of Christ, Scientist, or Christian Science Society maintains for its own constituency, Reading Rooms are part of a larger network for The Mother Church and its branches worldwide to make Science and Health available to the public. Specifically, they partner with The Writings of Mary Baker Eddy, the publisher of Science and Health, to sell her books. And, of course, selling and exhibiting Science and Health, Mary Baker Eddy's primary text, is a Reading Room's primary purpose.

Supporting purposes

The Writings of Mary Baker Eddy publishes other writings by Mrs. Eddy, as well as the recently released Inspiration for Life's Relationships and Moments of Gratitude, books of quotations from her books and letters. These are carried by Reading Rooms, in accordance with the Church Manual. The Writings of Mary Baker Eddy also provides free, reader-friendly access to Science and Health through its Internet site (click on Science and Health).

And Reading Rooms are also vital to the distribution of the five periodicals that Mrs. Eddy established under the auspices of The Christian Science Publishing Society—the Christian Science Quarterly, The Christian Science Journal, Christian Science Sentinel, The Herald of Christian Science in various languages, and The Christian Science Monitor. The magazines and the Monitor, a Pulitzer Prize-winning daily paper, along with other study tools produced by the Publishing Society alert readers to the countless ways that people have applied what they have learned, both to their own lives and in response to the pressing demands of the modern world.

Location, location, location

Branch church congregations worldwide are looking for fresh and effective ways for the Reading Rooms to fulfill their Manual-based charge. Many are discovering that the old line about buying a house—What are the three most important things? "Location, location, location"—may just apply to Reading Rooms. For how can a Reading Room sell and exhibit Science and Health successfully unless it is located—in space as well as time (e.g., hours of operation)—where and when people can visit it?

Many congregations are considering that "well located" has figurative meanings, too. It might include, for example, where a Reading Room registers on the civic "spirit meter." Does the Reading Room mentally embrace a bold, outward-looking spirit of service? Is it community-centered? "Yes," say Reading Rooms that sponsor special activities and neighborhood events for children and adults such as Science and Health discussion groups and lecture workshops. How can a Reading Room be "... ready, furnished," L00247 . and prepared to stretch beyond its bricks-and-mortar boundaries in bringing the unique, universal message of Science and Health to its community? Some Reading Rooms exhibit in local shopping malls, and many participate in national and local conferences, fairs, and expos.

More than one model

The focus today is on store-based Reading Room venues that have a homey, bookstore/cafe-like atmosphere—convivial places for people of every generation to browse, read, and study, "click" (online to, and purchase Science and Health, as well as other books, periodicals, audio CDs, videotapes, and Bible study materials. Reading Rooms today are becoming a crossroads—a natural and vibrant intersection between an individual's spiritual quest and their rendezvous with Science and Health. But this crossroads can assume many forms. In a culturally pluralistic world, there is no limit to the various ways that Reading Rooms can keep Science and Health on the frontlines of their communities.

Know your community

Take Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Two metal shipping containers (with windows) are being transformed into Reading Rooms. These "container Reading Rooms" are not completely ready yet (there is still some furniture missing), but the congregation of Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, Kinshasa, already exhibits and sells Science and Health in them, and the public likes them. Other Christian Science congregations in Africa have picked up the idea and are also working on container Reading Rooms.

"The identity of each Reading Room is as unique as the community it dwells in," says Carol Hohle, Executive Manager for The Mary Baker Eddy Collection and former Librarian of the Christian Science Reading Rooms sponsored by The Mother Church in Boston. "The key is knowing the community and finding the special expression that's right for it." Successful Reading Rooms, no less than any other successful public enterprise or business, must listen to know how to respond to their customers. "What's good for Paris, France, might not be good for Paris, Texas," as Ms. Hohle puts it. (By the way, it is very common in Africa to have shops in containers.)

Know your community. Think about how you can actively help them. Then everything clicks into place. The shape and form of a Reading Room—its location, hours, design, amenities, events, and community-centered actions—will begin to go from fuzzy to focus. From community disconnect to community connect. A Reading Room's unique spirit and identity, its capacity to fulfill its primary responsibility—to make Science and Health available to a hungering spiritual public—will spring to life.

Here are a few of the many examples.

Boston: Redefining hospitality—a home for college students

Six years ago, Carol Hohle was the librarian in charge of reshaping the Massachusetts Avenue Reading Room maintained by The Mother Church. "Six out of ten people who walk by are college students," she recounts. "For many, attending college is their first time away from home. So we asked ourselves, 'How can the Reading Room be totally supportive for them—like a safe, loving home? We redesigned around the simple quality: Unconditional love.'

"So if they worked on their college paper in our Reading Room, then we wanted to provide an atmosphere that would help them get an A. If they needed a refuge, or a even spot where they could check e-mails, we wanted them to feel welcome. We decided to stay open until 10:00 at night, on weekend evenings as well, to be there for the students. We removed the study carrels. Students study informally today, on sofas, with their legs curled up. We installed computer terminals, with appropriate filters and log-on procedures, for Internet access to,, and cyberspace. We provided a setting where study groups can meet and talk. There are two music schools nearby—Berklee College of Music and New England Conservatory of Music. So we made Friday nights music night, when students could have an open mike and play and talk. We invited creative people in the arts to give talks about how Mary Baker Eddy's writings and life had inspired them."

The results were impressive. Many college students brought copies of Science and Health. The Reading Room has redefined hospitality for others in the neighborhood, too (see sidebar, p. 25). Says Hohle, "We provide bottled water to our customers. If people bring in their lunch, they're more than welcome."

"It was a big shift," agrees Jeff Sinatra, current Librarian of the Christian Science Reading Rooms sponsored by The Mother Church in Boston and Manager of Christian Science Reading Room Activities. "It used to be that someone would come in and then be given a tour of the study room. Now it's more about letting everyone choose how to interact with the space in the way that's best for them."

Hohle sums it up: "The Manual [By-Law about Reading Rooms] talks about selling and exhibiting Science and Health. We thought, 'Exhibiting means more than a window display. It means experiencing the heart-to-heart 'Christ-spirit' that Mrs. Eddy writes about in Science and Health. See Science and Health, p. 138 . It means feeling unconditional love. It means feeling blessed and uplifted. If students or anyone else who visits the Reading Room experience that, they'll connect the dots."

Seattle, Washington: The Spanish connection

"There's a big influx of Spanish-speaking workers into Seattle every spring associated with the Alaska fishing industry," explains Mary Shank, who recently served as librarian for the Seattle Jointly-Maintained Downtown Reading Room. "Our Reading Room is a mile from the docks, and that makes it easy for many workers to come in. They'll say, 'A friend of mine has a copy of this book [Science and Health]. Could I get a copy?' "

There has been a Reading Room in downtown Seattle since 1900. "But this is the first time that it's been a large, street-level location," says interim librarian Jessica Brown." It is also the first time that it has responded to the needs of the Latino community.

Connecting with Seattle's growing Spanish-speaking population was not on the agenda when the Reading Room moved in 1994 from a basement location to a street-level space in the heart of the downtown area. That came later. Then-librarian Joan Pedersen remembers that the move came about by the Seattle churches "making it a priority in thought and desire to respond to the community needs for spiritual answers." They realized "how important it is to make Science and Health available to the world" and genuinely desired to honor Mrs. Eddy's simple call in the Church Manual for Reading Rooms to be 'well located.'

"We found a lovely new location across the street from the largest business building in downtown and a half-block from the Seattle Art Museum. Just a few months after we opened, a vacant lot diagonally opposite the Reading Room was chosen as the new site for the Seattle Symphony. This was a decision that no one could have foreseen, but by placing our trust in God to center us we were guided to choose the right location." No one foresaw the Spanish connection either. But plant an acorn, get an oak.

Ms. Shank thinks of Jorge Malpartida, a migrant worker who came to Seattle from Peru via San Francisco. "Jorge came into the Reading Room a couple years ago to buy a Spanish translation of Science and Health," Shank explains. "He's been reading it for about a year, and he's had healings."

Mr. Malpartida takes the bus to Seattle from his home 30 miles away in Tacoma, Washington, to attend the Reading Room's informal Spanish discussion group that meets monthly on Saturday afternoons. Shank: "We serve refreshments, read the weekly Bible Lesson out loud in Spanish, and then talk about it afterward. The meetings support the new reader of Science and Health in the Latino community."

Ms. Brown says, "We had been praying for well over a year about how we could better meet the needs of the many Spanish speakers who were coming into the Reading Room who we couldn't communicate with. Now visitors to the Reading Room can read the Christian Science Quarterly weekly Bible Lesson in Spanish. They can also pick up a bilingual brochure about Ciencia y Salud [the Spanish translation of Science and Health], El Heraldo [the Spanish-language edition of The Herald of Christian Science] magazine and radio program, and the Spanish discussion group. Participants in this discussion group take these bilingual brochures out to Casa Latina, the Latino day-workers' center a few blocks from the Reading Room. It's growing into a wonderful community connection." (See sidebar, p. 26)

North Yorkshire, England: Rethinking the "Reading Room in the Church" concept

Half a world away in a town by the North Sea, a young man walked into a Christian Science Reading Room last year searching for answers. At first he found it difficult to articulate his questions and concerns. But it turned out he was interested in how science and Christianity could be reconciled. The Reading Room salespeople spoke to him about Christian Science and Science and Health, and he bought a copy.

Daniel Scott, the Reading Room's librarian, feels this is one example of how their new Reading Room location in Scarborough, in North Yorkshire, England, is serving the community—and bringing the book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures within reach.

"We knew the interest in spirituality was out there," recalls Mr. Scott, "and we wanted to offer the community a Reading Room they could really connect with. It soon became apparent that our existing building [which housed the church and Reading Room] was no longer suitable for our growing aspirations." Many Reading Rooms serve their community better when they are located outside of a church. But the Scarborough Society decided to stay with the "Reading Room in the church" concept because they saw an opportunity for the concept to work when, at the end of 2002, they moved to a better location.

"In terms of the Reading Room, what we have now is at the opposite end of the spectrum. We're in a wonderful building that was formerly a grammar school. It features two 15-foot windows in the front that beautifully showcase Reading Room displays to attract people inside. The Reading Room space is bigger than the auditorium space at the back that we use for church services. It's a big open plan. We've got sofas. We've got a bank of three computers with broadband Internet access. There's also a study area with all the bound volumes [an archive of the Christian Science religious periodicals] and reference books. There's also a sales area at the front the store. And there's a kid's area near the front, too. We wanted to make it as user-friendly and welcoming as possible."

Yet it wasn't enough to have a good location, says Scott. "We had to be open. We expanded our hours from 8 to 26 hours weekly. In this day and age it's difficult to keep the Reading Room open with just volunteers. People are working. So we think it's appropriate to employ a salaried librarian to manage the Reading Room. And that's something we're looking forward to doing."

Scott is quick to point out that even with a good location and more visitor-friendly hours, "It is only the beginning. Now we have to carry through and use the facilities we have. There's lot more activity here in our new location. We're more visible, and there's much greater potential. We have the space to do things. We're wired [to the Internet]. We're well located, and we have the tools now to really connect with the public in significant ways.

El Bolson, Argentina: Putting the Reading Room first

The Reading Room is also top priority for the Christian Science Society in El Bolson, a small town tucked away in the Andes Mountains in Argentina. "We knew that the Reading Room was a lighthouse that attracted people," says congregation member Maria Barrionuevo de Sosa. So the society focused on establishing and maintaining a Reading Room rather than a permanent building for church services. Thanks to the generosity of a local school, the society uses several classrooms to hold Wednesday evening meetings, Sunday services, and Sunday School. It is a setup that has been embraced enthusiastically by the congregation and visitors.

Meanwhile the Reading Room has a high-profile home in a brand-new shopping gallery, where shoppers regularly check out its window displays or take the time to step inside and browse.

"Today, the Reading Room is an accepted and recognized place in the community," Ms. Barrionuevo de Sosa's husband, Amilcar, relates. "People know where it is and something about what's there."

Hamburg, Germany: Modern, welcoming, professional

"We have had people come in just because they see Science and Health or the biography Mary Baker Eddy: Christian Healer in the window," says Christina Zedlach, a member of Third Church of Christ, Scientist, Hamburg. Reading Room librarian Ingrid Krueger points out, "The new store is on an access street to a busy shopping area, and a lot of people walk in the middle of the day. The large modern windows invite people in."

"The first floor is the bookstore-type part of the Reading Room," explains Ms. Zedlach. "The idea is that when you enter, you can browse through or buy books or magazines you are interested in, and then feel free to leave or discuss a product with a staff member. If you want to read or study in more detail, you can go upstairs where we have two sofas and a comfy chair. People can click on to the websites of The Mother Church through Internet access. There is also small library-type room."

The Reading Room staff wants to be "professional," says Zedlach. "We have to have quick ideas about what makes Mary Baker Eddy special and what makes Science and Health or another product of special value to customers. People here expect that."

Modern design and professionalism go hand-in-hand with hospitality: "To visitors who want to stay longer, we enjoy offering something to drink so they feel welcomed and appreciated."

Bombay, India: Value the book

"It comes from valuing the book," says Indu Malhotra, librarian for the Reading Room sponsored by First Church, Bombay. Everything a church needs to do to make their Reading Room an active presence in their community starts with "really valuing Science and Health."

Ms. Malhotra saw this clearly after attending 2002 Annual Meeting & Conference of The Mother Church. She returned home with a newfound desire "to help the world get this book. The word rouse kept coming to thought." She felt that as part of Mary Baker Eddy's design for her Church, the Reading Room would naturally play a role in rousing the thought of the community by making the spiritual answers contained in Science and Health more widely accessible and available.

"When I came back to India, there was this opportunity out of the blue to participate in an international book fair in October. But we, as a branch church, really didn't have a lot of experience going out and sharing Science and Health. We'd been sharing it individually, but not as a whole church together. So the entire congregation reread it as if we were first-time readers—looked at it with new eyes. Our whole concept of the book was rejuvenated. It was new once again!

"But there was this shyness about going out and talking to people concerning Science and Health. So we had to overcome that. We met every two weeks before the exhibition to pray about it, and to really understand what we were going to do there. We asked ourselves, 'How would we present Science and Health as meeting every need?' We wanted to be able to give answers to people from the book. So we practiced with each other, learning how to address typical questions that people have about help and healing by turning to Science and Health for answers."

By the time of the book fair they were ready. And it was a huge success: Fairgoers purchased 110 copies of Science and Health—either as a result of visiting the Reading Room booth or of attending one of three Science and Health lecture workshops at the book fair.

"That was the take off. We found that by doing that first book fair we had gotten ourselves onto the list for these book publishers and fairs, and were invited to attend others. Since then, we've had at least half a dozen exhibitions all over the city."

Sales have gone up, reports Malhotra, but Reading Room attendance is low, even though it's in the heart of the city. It makes her realize even more clearly, "If we just sit within our church walls and comfortable Reading Room, no one knows we exist. So we've learned that we have to go out, have to be where the action is, where the people are."

Malhotra muses, "It's just my little dream, but I think we could have a little van filled with our literature and books, and park near an office building at noon, and then move around to different parts of the city and just let ourselves be known. We could have 'Christian Science Reading Room' painted on the outside of the van. I just feel we need to go out."

Wide-open possibilities

"There's no cookie-cutter model for Christian Science Reading Rooms," says Jeff Sinatra. "There really is no 'one way.' Every community can have its own unique way of expressing a Reading Room according to the Church Manual By-Laws. And that's the beauty of those Manual By-Laws. They are so flexible. They enable a Reading Room to respond in a little African community one way and in Bombay another way. They are designed with such flexibility that Reading Rooms can meet anyone's need for Science and Health, no matter where they are."

In a sense, says Carol Hohle, "Reading Rooms can look like anything and be anything that sells and exhibits Science and Health, the other writings of Mary Baker Eddy, and the publications of The Christian Science Publishing Society that help readers in their study of Science and Health. It could be a shared counter space with a Science and Health display at a food store in Barbados, or Reading Room cafe in Indonesia featuring Science and Health for sale in one of the corners. We have reports of Science and Health being sold at a flea market, travel agency, hotel, ecumenical church service, language school, at a beauty parlor, at an airport, and after a university history class. The Mother Church sponsors a 'traveling' Reading Room in the Prudential Center in Boston—a portable cart right in the busy flow of people's everyday lives."

Rekindling the flame

Reading Rooms are a major piece of Mary Baker Eddy's Church design. They are fundamental to Mrs. Eddy's original vision for making Science and Health available to the general public. She established them on the basis of a sound, even visionary, business model—a business model that depends for its profitable operation on Reading Rooms, individually and collectively, being located where communities most need them. In summary, many congregations are seeking inspired, innovative, and active ways to stay true to Mrs. Eddy's original vision. They are:

Exploring the purpose of the Reading Room and its relevance to spiritual seekers today;

Valuing that Reading Rooms are unique places for spiritual discovery, encouragement, and healing;

Taking a fresh look at what it means to be well located in their community;

Stretching their concept of Reading Room to embrace more than an architectural place—to embrace the many possible expressions of responding to and meeting their community's needs;

Asking themselves how they can turn their Reading Rooms into revenue producers for their church—profitability is a healthy sign that the public's need for Science and Health is being met.

They are rekindling the flame. They are asking how the starlight of their Reading Rooms can radiate farther—how the Reading Room can do more to sustain a unique constellation of community outposts charged with helping to bring the world the transforming light of Mary Baker Eddy's unique book.

Next month: The Bible Lesson and the Christian Science Quarterly.

Historical photographs and images, except those credited otherwise, are used courtesy of The Mary Baker Eddy Collection and The Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity.

To locate a Christian Science Reading Room near you, please check the directory at the back of the Journal or visit: Click on "Locate a Reading Room" and then click on "Finding Churches, Societies and Reading Rooms" to reach the search form.

All the historical documents mentioned in this article are available for viewing and reading in The Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity.

More in this issue / June 2004


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