First Church of Christ, Scientist, 7 Burlington Ave.
Service, 10:30 a.m., Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014
Length of service: 56 minutes. Length of sermon: 27 minutes.
At the First Church of Christ, Scientist, it was hard not to be won over by the beautiful setting.
The church, a block north of the Moss Mansion, is a gorgeous, spacious building. The very coat room is a thing of unusual beauty, and near it is a little nook or alcove with a reading chair and three shelves of books by or about Mary Baker Eddy, the sect’s founder.
The sanctuary is on the second floor, a big, airy, light-suffused room of spotless white set off by a few touches of dark wood. In the middle of the room, written in gold-gilt gothic letters above the two-person lectern (there was no altar, as such) were the words “God Is Love.”
There were maybe 16 or 17 people present, most of them apparently older than I, most of them alone. I happened to know three people, which was a bit awkward, but they seemed to accept me as another seeker, even as I took notes.
The two officiants, a man and a woman whose names I never learned, both seemed to be looking at me rather obviously, beaming all the while. I think it’s because they cherished a new face, especially one belonging to a fellow who might be able to bring the average age down just a notch or two.
The service was quite simple. It consisted solely of a few hymns, a few moments of silence, and a series of readings from the Bible, supplemented or augmented by readings from “Science and Health,” Ms. Eddy’s principal work of Bible interpretation.
The hymns were all good, accompanied by an organist. A woman who led the songs also sang a solo, the best thing I had heard thus far in my researches. The whole thing—the music, the elegant setting, the calm, measured voices of the officiants—was distinctly civilized and cerebral.
What is this series about?
To read the essay that introduced this series click here.
I would not have known the sermon was a sermon if it had not been labeled as such in the Christian Science Quarterly Bible Lessons, a booklet handed out at the door.
In the sermon, the male officiant read 22 passages from the Old and New Testaments. After a group of such readings, say four or five Bible passages, his female counterpart would read explanatory passages, 30 in all, from “Science and Health.”
Some of it was quite interesting and thought-provoking, but at times, I admit, my attention wandered. Many of the congregants listened to the sermon with their eyes closed, but I dared not, since I am a snorer.
Even the parts that seemed interesting at the time, under the influence of that lovely church and the dignified proceedings, didn’t quite hold up when I got home and read Ms. Baker’s explanatory verses to myself.
To give one example: The male officiant read from Genesis 9:20-23, wherein Noah gets drunk and passes out naked. Ham sees his father in this shameful state, after which two of Ham’s brothers enter Noah’s tent backward, so as not to witness what Ham saw, and cover their father with a garment.
Then the officiant read from Galatians 6:1, where Paul writes, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.”
So far so good. But the woman then read a passage from “Science and Health,” which at the time struck me as quite good, if not profound. But at home I read the words—“Spirit duly feeds and clothes every object, as it appears in the line of spiritual creation, thus tenderly expressing the fatherhood and motherhood of God”—and I was not impressed. It seemed like high-falutin’ mumbo-jumbo.
All I really knew about the church before my visit was that it was founded by Eddy, that it favored prayer over medicine in dealing with sickness and that it published a good newspaper, the Christian Science Monitor. I was also aware that Eddy preached an idealistic form of Christianity that was dismissed by the smart set, around the turn of the 20th century, as Uplift.
And that, I’m afraid, is what it still sounds like, though I suppose now we could call it New Age Uplift.
Worst of all was when we recited The Lord’s Prayer. When I visited the Missouri Synod Lutherans, I mentioned how little I enjoyed singing that great prayer. Still less did I enjoy reciting it line by line and hearing Eddy’s explication of each line.
Her contributions were either unnecessary or hopelessly vague, with one exception. Her take on “Give us this day our daily bread” was, “Give us grace for to-day; feed the famished affections.”
I loved that last clause. And despite my disappointment with most of what I saw of her writings, I could see myself visiting the church again. Such is the power of a beautiful, welcoming church stocked with good people.
Previously: Chapter 1, St. Patrick Co-Cathedral.
Chapter 2, Mount Olive Lutheran Church.
Chapter 3: Full Gospel Revival Tabernacle.
Next week: First Baptist Church.