The Emerging Face of Being One: Discerning the Ecumenical Community from the Christian Science Church

By Paulson, Shirley | Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

The Emerging Face of Being One: Discerning the Ecumenical Community from the Christian Science Church


Paulson, Shirley, Journal of Ecumenical Studies


Imagine a butterfly perched on an outreached human hand; that image expresses just what I feel about the current relationship of Christian Science with the ecumenical movement. In many ways, Christian Science has emerged from a long spell in a cocoon. It has found an outreached hand and is appreciating a delicate relationship with a much bigger world. Both have something important to give to each other. It is in that spirit that I want to share this story.

In almost every conversation I have had with ecumenical leaders, lay and clergy, my conversation partner has usually said, "I really don't know very much about Christian Science," so 1 will first offer its basic history and theology, then describe the contemporary Christian Science Church in the ecumenical context, including the benefits of ecumenical engagement for the Christian Science community.

Mary Baker Eddy

A brief overview of the life of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, highlights some of the influences that affected the direction she took. Born Mary Morse Baker in 1821, she was the sixth and youngest child of an actively practicing Puritan family in Bow, New Hampshire. Family life centered on the church and the Bible. In her early life, Mary was known as the sensitive and compassionate one, caring for the farm animals and--to her mother's dismay--giving away her belongings to less fortunate children at school.

She was in her early twenties when her husband, George Washington Glover, died, only three months before her baby was born. She was a single mother in the nineteenth century when women had few legal rights, to vote or "own" their children. Her widowhood was a foreshadowing of great human sorrows and setbacks yet to come. Her beloved mother died shortly after her husband died, and due to her own poor health and inability to earn money, she had to give up her son to a foster family. Mary's grief and health issues worsened to the point where she became a near-invalid. She married again, but her second husband, Daniel Patterson, was unfaithful, and that marriage ended in divorce after twenty years. In 1877 she married Asa Gilbert Eddy; in 1882 they moved to Boston, and he died that year.

At age forty-five, the midpoint of her life, she experienced a near-fatal accident, slipping on an icy sidewalk. With almost no hope from her doctor, she turned, as always, to the Bible for consolation. After three days, friends and clergy gathered to mourn her imminent death, but, as she read one of Jesus' healing accounts, she was suddenly cured. The rapid turnaround surprised her as much as it did her friends, and it inspired her to commit her life for the next three years to a deep study of the Bible, ultimately devoting her entire life to the search for an understanding of the redeeming and healing Christ.

Her relationship with the Bible was a deeply personal and practical one. She did not have the luxury of pursuing abstract knowledge or engaging in esoteric debate, because her personal need was always so urgent. For the first half of her life, before the accident, she was the one in need. After her own healing, she became increasingly convinced that Jesus' commission to his disciples included healing as certainly as it included preaching. Her Bible study and prayer led her to the discernment of the spiritual laws that supported healing in any age, and she became convinced that she and all other Christians were expected to fulfill this role today just as earnestly as the disciples did in their own day.

Eddy arrived at her mature expression of theology and ecclesiology through personal struggles with health and gender issues and with church tradition. An example of her conflict with both church doctrines and hypocritical attitudes that surfaced in her late teen years was her difficulty with the preaching of the doctrine of predestination. She was caught between her love for her older siblings, who did not belong to the church, and the doctrinal position of the church. …

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