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Christian Scientists gather in Boston at denomination’s annual meeting; ponder the relevance of church

By:  Richard Evans, Manager, Christian Science Committees on Publication

Boston, MA — When Christian Scientists convened in Boston, Massachusetts, Monday, June 6, for the annual meeting of their denomination, they faced a question that many mainline Christian churches also confront: can church be relevant today?

CS church edifice with attribution

Their perspective on this question—as on just about everything else—runs counter to the popular narrative. “There’s a universal hunger for the heartfelt experience of God’s saving power,” said Margaret Rogers, chairwoman of the five-member lay board of directors of the Church of Christ, Scientist, which has its worldwide headquarters in Boston. “The demand,” she said, is for a church “that is vibrant with unselfed love and actively engaged in authentic Christian healing for humanity.”

For most Christian Scientists, this doesn’t seem to mean better outreach or new ministries and programs. It means drilling down on the thing they feel they bring to the world: spiritual healing, based on the teachings of Christ Jesus, that is expected to be both humane in spirit and effective in results. “We pray,” explained another director, Allison W. Phinney, “because prayer aligns us with how things really work. It lets us see and feel more of the immense good and the divine Love that’s actually here for us and for humanity.”

Founded 137 years ago by religious leader Mary Baker Eddy, the Christian Science Church is a Christian denomination based on the Bible. While relatively small in numbers, the denomination has branch churches in more than 60 countries and has had an outsized impact on Christian thought by its insistence that God’s goodness brings not only salvation from sin, but healing of illness and suffering.

The group’s diversity is seen among some of the new officers announced at the meeting. The new church president is Annu Matthai of Bangalore, India. The new First Reader—who conducts Sunday worship and Wednesday testimony meetings at The Mother Church in Boston—is Louis E. Benjamin of Hillcrest, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The new Second Reader is Diane Uttley Marrapodi of Forest Hill, Maryland, USA. Many church members travelled to Boston for Monday’s proceedings, while more followed the meetings live online.

The theme of this year’s meeting—“Church: ‘healing and saving the world’”—comes from Mary Baker Eddy’s view that Christ Jesus’ original Christianity has deep relevance for the world and its future, and that church must be a practical force for good in daily lives, bringing hope and spiritual progress for humanity. One small symbol of this is the planned renewal of the Christian Science plaza in Boston’s Back Bay. The outdoor spaces surrounding The Mother Church will be updated to better benefit the community as an environmentally sustainable oasis in the midst of the city. A longer-term commitment of the denomination has been publication of The Christian Science Monitor, an international news outlet providing daily and weekly news, online and in print—news that is intended to bring light, rather than heat, to the important issues of the day.

Members at the meeting reported on activities in their regions, as well as provided examples of healing from around the world.

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Can attending church affect your health?

A guest post written by Tim Mitchinson, media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Illinois.

(©Glowimages/stock photo)
(©Glowimages/stock photo)

Recently, actor Michael J. Fox talked about his visit to the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.  He said there was “something special with these people, something special with the way they live their lives, something special about how they look at things.”

He felt this physically, as well as mentally.  He said, “Ever since I’ve been in Bhutan my symptoms [of Parkinson’s disease] have been really diminished.”  He concluded, “I don’t know whether that’s from the altitude, or whether it’s just Bhutan!”

It may just be Bhutan and its residents:  Bhutan’s Tourism Council lists “Spirituality and Wellness” as one of the country’s main activities.

I have been thinking about this a lot the last few days, and asking myself some penetrating questions.  “Does the way I live my life affect others in the ways these people affected Fox?”  “Are spirituality and wellness my main activities?” “Do people feel better after they have spent some time with me?”

These are questions I cannot answer right now, but certainly goals that I will think about even further and strive to emulate.  I recollect the words of the Psalmist, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer” (Psalm 19: 14).

Here’s another question:  Does the church I attend have the same effect on the wellness and spirituality of those who attend, as the kingdom of Bhutan and its inhabitants had on Fox?

What about the places where we worship?  Can attending church affect our health?

An article by Thomas Obisesan of Howard University, describes research he participated in that concluded, “In a national cohort of Americans, predominantly Christians, analyses demonstrated a lower risk of death independent of confounders among those reporting religious attendance at least weekly compared to never.”

It is good to see that attending church can have longevity benefits for us.  Church should be a place of spirituality and health.  Health writer, Charlene Laino, wrote for WebMD, about a survey of 37,000 men and women who regularly attended church.  She quoted Marilyn Baetz, MD of the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, “The higher the worship frequency, the lower the odds of depression, mania and panic disorders.”  Charlene also quoted Marian Butterfield of Duke University, “Going to church may be a proxy for social support.  And studies show social support is protective against both physical and mental illness.”

I haven’t come to many conclusions about this yet, except for the fact that I want my life to affect others in a way that promotes health, spirituality and wellness.  I also want those who go to church to feel blessed by their attending.  I echo these words of Mary Baker Eddy, upon the dedication of her church in Boston, “Divine presence, breathe Thou thy blessing on every heart in this house.”

My profoundest wish is that we all find our place of spirituality and wellness – if that is in church, I look forward to seeing you Sunday!

©2013 Christian Science Committee on Publication for Illinois. Used with permission.

See related story about how Bhutan measures “gross national happiness”.

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Is church relevant today?

Courtesy of nimdok

The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that in the U.S. 88% believe in God, 82% believe religion is important in one’s life, and 75% pray at least once a week, but only 39% attend a religious service at least once a week.

I’ve been asking myself, “is church relevant to me?” The answer is yes. So this leads to the more important question, “how is church relevant to me?”

Continue reading Is church relevant today?

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