Perhaps unsurprisingly in a Church founded by a woman who boldly taught that divine Spirit, God, is rightly viewed as Mother as well as Father, men and women are regarded as equals in spiritual terms and in eligibility for the highest roles.
This has been the case since the beginning of the denomination in the late 19th century when, in the wider world of politics, women still didn’t have the vote. Women as well as men serve on, and chair, the five-person Christian Science Board of Directors, who are empowered to “transact the business” of the worldwide Church, known as The Mother Church. And the hour-long Sunday services in The Mother Church and in over 1800 branch churches around the world are jointly conducted by a woman and a man, wherever possible.
These services are straightforward occasions, without elaborate ceremony or ritual. They centre around thoughtful readings from the Bible and from Mary Baker Eddy’s “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” along with a time for silent prayer and the congregation saying aloud The Lord’s Prayer. The musical component is also simple: three hymns, a solo, and music before and after the service.
On one occasion I remember feeling rather embarrassed at this low-key approach to church services, when inviting along a couple of new acquaintances from a Cape Town neighbourhood called Nyanga, in post-apartheid South Africa. Time with Chris and Xoliswa and their friends was the sheer joy of being with people who would frequently break into heartfelt, beautifully soulful, a cappella harmonies, most of them spirituals. To a music lover like me that seemed like a hard act to follow!
At the end of our service, though, Xoliswa turned to me and said with feeling, “Ah, Tony, how wonderful to be at a service which leaves you the room to think about the ideas you are hearing!” That is the heart of a Christian Science service, I realized. It gives precedence to spiritual ideas for which the seeker may be inwardly hungering. These guests gave me a new appreciation for the worship services in my own church!
You could say that spiritual ideas are the currency of Christian Science, and the gold behind them that gives them their healing value is the divine Mind, God. The experience of Chris and Xoliswa in the days before joining me for that service illustrate this. When I shared a copy of “Science and Health” with Chris in the neighbourhood of Khayelitsha – where he was voluntarily teaching thespian skills to help youngsters stay out of trouble – he took it home to Xoliswa, a lifelong Bible student. (He later explained that he doesn’t trust any book on spirituality unless she confirms it is in line with the Scriptures.)
At the time Xoliswa was temporarily bed-ridden but, as she put it, “After reading this book everything just went quiet in my body.” That was her inspiration to dig deeper into its ideas. When I met her, a week later, she went on to explain how she was used to cold-shouldering neighbours whom she held a grudge against and that she had held on to some of those grudges for over 20 years! That attitude dissolved in those first few days of reading “Science and Health.”
She talked about hating white people because of the apartheid injustices she had experienced. She said that also lifted from her in those first few days of grasping the book’s ideas on God’s nature as flawless Love and of every individual’s true nature as the loved children of that divine Love. Xoliswa described what happened to her as her liberation from hatred. “They didn’t know I hated them, it was me that was suffering from it,” she told me.
I was moved by Xoliswa’s quick appreciation of the profoundly regenerating effect of the teachings in “Science and Health.” That was why it felt very natural to invite Xoliswa to a Christian Science service in Cape Town that Sunday. That was why she and her husband Chris came. And that is what Christian Science is all about, to me. It is not so much what takes place at church, although I am grateful for that too. It is the sharing of inspired and inspiring ideas that can bring spiritual transformation to humble hearts at any moment of any day, anywhere, and the practical good which flows from that.