I woke up the other day thinking about Mary Baker Eddy’s definition of “church” from her seminal work Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Part of the definition includes that church is “the structure of Truth and Love”. I was thinking about how there’s not an inch of materiality in this concept. What a cool way to think about church! In my circle of friends and acquaintances, I hear a lot of folks describe themselves as spiritual, but not religious. It seems that for many, “church” is synonymous with “religion” and carries a limited and restrictive sense of spirituality. So how liberating it was to think about church as a spiritual concept itself.
I’ve been a church builder for a long time. In fact, I think we are all church builders – if we apply Eddy’s definition. It doesn’t matter what religion, faith or creed we align with. We all subscribe to loving good and loving love itself – these are native attributes of each human being. So you could reason that all of humanity are church builders in that we each cultivate and express goodness and love in our lives.
Recently I made a decision in my expression of church building. I’ve been a member of the Christian Science church for over 30 years – taking up membership in its branch churches in the cities where I’ve lived at the time. However, I’ve decided to withdraw my membership in a Christian Science branch church in the city where I live and have taken up membership in the Christian Science Society in Dixon Illinois which is about 1,500 miles away from my home in Austin Texas. And no, I don’t plan on moving. I will be a remote member and participate in every aspect except where being present physically is required.
The Dixon church is where my grandmother belonged to for 50 plus years and raised her children and many grandchildren in its Sunday School. However last year it was torn down because of toxicity in the underground due to contamination that happened a hundred years ago. Although it was a very busy church in years past with many members, today there are less than a handful of people that have taken on the decision to rebuild. They were immediately receptive to my offer to join them remotely and agreed to incorporate teleconferencing and broadcasting into the church services and operational meetings so that I can fully participate. It’s a rebirth really. Where other diminished churches around the country are faced with making decisions on whether to disband, sell their building, join with another church, etc. – this little group has decided to resurrect.
I find it ironic to be building a physical church edifice while at the same time broadening the church tent to include physically absent members and participants. But I also reflect on Eddy’s definition of church and feel that less reliance on physicality is moving in a spiritually progressive direction. I feel drawn to support their effort, to help do some of the heavy lifting and to continue growing the gift that my grandmother was part of. The gift is Christian Science and its healing certainty.