My heart sang when I received the message from the Board of Directors of The Mother Church, focusing on spiritual healing in branch churches. I especially appreciated their suggestion to “meet together with no other agenda except to learn from each other how you became a Christian Scientist. No judgment, no expectation, just rejoicing together how Christ has brought members to the Comforter.”
Eight months earlier, I had suggested to the membership that we explore the possibility of moving our testimony meeting to the Sunday School building. I emphasized “exploring the possibility” with the vision that we would talk face-to-face without rushing to a decision. My suggestion met with limited receptivity that was quickly silenced by louder voices that felt it would clearly be a backward step and what would the community think of us then?
During this time three membership meetings were held that became contentious when this item appeared on the agenda. A special meeting was called that cancelled out any possibility of exploration; the same reasons why it was not a good idea were repeated and it was quickly voted down. Some of us were just worn out by the righteous argument from both sides. I own up to my struggle with personal sense manifested as defensiveness, anger, frustration, judgment, and impatience. My concern had become less about moving the testimony meeting and more about a question of church governance – could we respect and value our diversity? And, also, what was our real church business?
I did a good amount of reading and praying about church organization as this was going on. Mrs. Eddy’s definition of Church in part, “The structure of Truth and Love; whatever rests upon and proceeds from divine Principle…” helped me reclaim my equanimity, as did the fact that I was serving as Second Reader at the time. (S&H, p. 583) I couldn’t read the uplifting passages from the Bible without self-reflection on my complicit behavior. The most difficult part was to feel love for and reach out to those members who did not see things my way!
In addition to studying the resources suggested by The Mother Church about branch church committing to healing, I found two articles in the CS Journal that were particularly supportive: “Getting over the ‘edifice complex’” Parts 1 and 2. They are examples of two small churches arriving at different albeit positive results based on their prayerful internal deliberations about their unique situations.
After the third fractious meeting, our branch church Board requested a representative of The Mother Church to facilitate a meeting dedicated to “Moving Forward Together as a Church of Healers!” The Mother Church representative / facilitator came in early April, and the meeting surfaced many of the troubling organizational issues our church experienced in the preceding months. It was the kind of meeting I had originally envisioned and ideas came to me about how I could have behaved better. (Thank you Mother Church for providing a facilitator to ease our “distinctly democratic” branch church work!)
The final thought that fully revived my energy for church membership was a challenge from a practitioner that I could, relatively speaking, “love the hell out of them.” Which includes, of course, loving the hell out of me.