Outside of the Christian Science community, a Christian Science church is a vague, mysterious entity. This is not due to Christian Science itself, but to a combination of social factors.
Christian Science teaching departs from orthodox Christian theology. The difference is greater than merely variations on the nature of heaven and hell, or what kind of liturgy is used in church, or who can become a priest.
Christian Science teaches, "There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter. All is infinite Mind and its infinite manifestation, for God is All-in-all." God is not a person, and Jesus is not God. God is Mind, Life, Truth, Love, Spirit, Soul, Principle. Jesus embodied the ideal of God's expression, called the Christ.
There is so much wonderful about all this, and those who have trouble with orthodoxy find Christian Science metaphysics is what finally makes sense to them.
Want to talk to the pastor? Read the Bible and Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures. That is the pastor of all Christian Science churches.
No, you cannot literally put your head on this pastor's shoulder, but the pastor is available and can answer any question.
The Church Body
The Christian Science church is run entirely by laymen. There is no priesthood and no liturgy. There is no ecclesiastical academia, no ordination, and no personal pastor. The sermon is studied by the congregation a week in advance and read aloud by members elected to serve in that role. There are no choirs. Sunday School is usually at the same time, segregating adults and children.
The Church Service
Outside of singing hymns and meeting on Sunday morning, the Christian Science church service bears almost no resemblance to what the average person would come to expect. But it a peaceful, unpretentious, undramatic service. People come to be healed.
Why the Mystery?
All the basic facts of Christian Science are easily explained and would be attractive to many if they only knew it exists. So, why the mystery?
In part, this is because Christian Scientists tend, through their study, to lead lives that are separate from our medically-oriented society. They don't seek answers to their personal problems through psychology or popular trends. As a result, much of what society has to say would merely distract from focusing one's thoughts on knowing that God, Spirit, does not create through matter, and does not heal through matter.
Christian Scientists do not proselytize because the orthodox concept of salvation -- with death as a one-way barrier between a helpless material life and an unknown afterlife -- is not part of a selling point to persuade people into adherence. "The time for thinkers has come." Mary Baker Eddy wrote this, and knew that this is how Christian Science would find its way to the human heart.
Coming Out of the Shadows
Christian Science is learned largely through self-instruction. The Mother Church (from which all branches are founded) does not take political stances on hot topics. There is no ecclesiastical authority to be the face of the church to the public. There are few traditional routes through which individuals can know who Christian Scientists are and why Christian Science appeals to today's thinkers. As with any church or religion, the individual is reached through personal connection and word of mouth. But the church can take a different route to being well-known in its community.
An Appeal to Thinkers
If the time for thinkers has come, then we are well into an era where a rational approach to life and God is at the very bedrock of our society's ethos. It should go without saying, that people are less willing than ever merely to accept a particular doctrine -- especially one they grew up with -- without vigorous questioning and reasonable doubt.
Thinking requires both peace and patience. It exists both in solitude and in like-minded associations. Thinkers need both intense study and downtime -- they need both work and play.
The Christian Science Reading Room is institutional in that the Manual of The Mother Church requires each branch to run one in its community. The purpose of a Reading Room is to provide a place for people to buy and study Christian Science literature.
The mission of the Reading Room has not changed, but the needs of today's society requires a broader reach. Today's society is both affluent and mobile in ways perhaps never imagined a century ago. People lead more detached lives and and thus seek relationships through mobile means such as social media. This is where we need to be.
The Christian Science Church needs to have open doors to more than just Christian Science literature. It needs provide the benefits that coffee houses, hotel lobbies, and even some grocery stores and restaurants provide: a neutral environment to spend time, alone or with friends, talking or thinking.
Being a Public Forum
Christian Scientists can provide a multi-purpose facility that expresses the non-ecclesiastical, non-orthodox nature of Christian Science. There is no priesthood, no religious icons and symbols, no superstitions, no liturgy, and no proscriptive doctrine.
Our brick-and-mortar facility should express this.
Not only is it unnecessary to assume the trappings of traditional Christendom (spires, crosses, altars, etc.) it can be an impediment to meeting the mobile, questioning seekers who often have no church life-experience. Yet, dispensing with a traditional appearance should not affect the church experience of lifelong Christian Scientists.
If The Mother Church can publish an award-winning non-religious newspaper, a branch church can operate a non-religious facility for public use, and to host its own Sunday and Wednesday services. A hall designed primarily for the general need to film, record, stream over the Internet, present on stage, and so forth, can become a well-known resource both in the local community and in the surrounding areas.
Detached but Joined
It is possible to detach the Christian Science Church from traditional notions of "being a church" without forfeiting one iota of an uplifting church experience for everyone.
It is possible to reach out to a detached, mobile society and yet increase a sense of family, intimacy, and warmth by being a sought-after place, a haven without loud music where the individual can bring a laptop, an iPod, or a friend to work, eat, and converse.
We must fulfill our potential for daily interaction with seekers. If we believe there are those who would take up the study of Christian Science if they only knew about it, we must give them time to learn about us.
It is not fair to them or to us, to open our doors into a Reading Room that is cluttered with books and CDs and periodicals, and expect visitors to find relaxation in a place that is designed as a retail sales establishment.
It can also seem incongruous to announce a sermon "undivorced from Truth, unfettered by human hypotheses," and then deliver it in an older building designed to resemble traditional churches from whom we distinguish ourselves.
The time for thinkers has come, and we have a golden opportunity to bring them into our family.