What church can do
I “heart” church. And yeah, I’m not ashamed to admit that I love it, because I’ve seen what church can do. I’ve seen what it’s done for me.
I’ve been a member of a branch Church of Christ, Scientist, for a while now, and I’ve started to notice a pattern. Whenever there’s a fellow member who isn’t my favorite person, I’m given an opportunity to heal that misperception. We end up on the same committee, or we teach Sunday School together, or I find myself sitting next to him or her during a service. And as I pray to love that individual in the way they deserve to be loved, Christ, the power of Truth that reveals who each of us is as God’s child, moves my heart. My perspective shifts. I’m blessed with a new and reformed view of the person. Where before there was only irritation, irresistible love sort of … takes over.
Like with one of my fellow Sunday School teachers. She kind of made me nuts. I was nice. Perfectly civil. Mostly I attempted to cope by avoiding her, but that didn’t really work. So did I pray about it? Honestly, not really. Because why should I? We were just too different to ever be friends.
Then one day before Sunday School, I was preparing a lesson for my second graders on the seven synonyms for God, which Mary Baker Eddy explains in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. As I looked at “Love,” I felt myself squirm. Was I really going to talk to my students about God as ever-present, all-powerful Love, the Love that binds us all together, when I couldn’t even love my fellow Sunday School teacher?
The power of Christ, which church helps us experience, changed me in that moment.
I got really humble in that moment. I asked God to please show me how to love this woman—to love her in some small way as He loved her. And then something happened. I saw the practical and profound effects of being part of church. In Science and Health, Mrs. Eddy defines Church in part as “that institution, which affords proof of its utility and is found elevating the race, rousing the dormant understanding from material beliefs to the apprehension of spiritual ideas …” (p. 583).
My understanding was definitely roused! In that moment, I glimpsed something about this woman that I’d never seen before. It went beyond just seeing her good qualities or having more of an appreciation for her. I felt like I saw something of her true being as the beloved daughter of God. Gone was the grating personality that had rubbed me the wrong way. She was made new before my eyes.
The power of Christ, which church helps us experience, changed me in that moment. Not her. Me. I saw that this was who she’d always been; I’d just been too blind to see it. But not anymore. I loved her after that, easily and genuinely. And you know the most amazing part? We became friends. Now when I look at her, I can only shake my head. Because I honestly don’t have a clue what I thought was so wrong with her before.
Sure, the church experience can help bring out the best in our fellow members, or bring us together with those we previously disliked. But the really powerful effect of being part of church is that it brings us together to be witnesses to God. And this witnessing destroys the materialism—the sense of personality, the limitations, the hard-heartedness—that would keep us from healing. That healing may start with us and expand to our fellow members, but being a part of church takes us even beyond that—lifting us up and turning us outward so that we can bless our neighborhoods, our communities, and the world.