Worship During the Pandemic at the Christian Science Society of Northampton
In times of crisis, religious communities remain beacons of hope, stability, and connection. However, this crisis poses a new set of challenges for everyone, and churches in particular have been forced to find new ways of providing support to those most in need of it. The Church of Christian Science has always stood as a strong alternative method of addressing the plight of sickness and disease. In the era of COVID-19, Christian Science finds itself in a difficult position at the intersection of faith and the public good. Deciding how to proceed and accommodate their members and best preserve the health and safety of those around them has been a monumental task for the church.
These new conditions have created a myriad of obstacles for the Christian Science community to overcome. Most congregations have had to reconcile with a lack of in-person services, and Christian Science is no exception; however, Christian Science has faced some challenges unique to their institution. One such challenge is much of their membership is at an at-risk age for COVID-19, and due to the nature of their worship, many also have health conditions that endanger them even further. Along the lines of age demographics, online services pose an issue for many older people who may not have access to technology to stay connected to their community. The problems at the forefront of the church are those regarding how the practice of Christian Science views and handles things like contagious disease. Their emphasis on the spiritual path to healing has required them to navigate a crucial conflict between their beliefs and practices, and the regulations of the local and federal government. While denominational administrators from the Christian Science Center in Boston have acknowledged and heeded the laws put in place requiring masks and restricting gatherings, there was some support within the community for defying these orders and continuing to practice healing services in the name of religious freedom. The Mother Church in
Boston advised against this and instead aimed to promote unity between the government’s orders and the wishes of those who want to exercise their right. They have reassured their members that their faith is not contingent upon in-person practice, and they are encouraged to continue worship from home. In addition, there has also been internal conflict over the possibility of a coronavirus vaccine. Christian Science has always been divided on the practice of vaccination, and the coronavirus vaccine is already a polarizing matter across the world. The official leadership has stated that while they discourage the idea of vaccination, members should obey the legal obligation if the situation arises.
Despite the circumstances, the Christian Science community has found ways to adapt to the climate and maintain normalcy as best they can. Most prominently, they stream and record their Sunday services from the Mother Church in Boston, keeping them on their website until the next service the following week. Members from across the world who are unable to attend in-person services, like those in Northampton, are encouraged to tune in on the website or call in through the church’s phone lines. They have also increased their social media presence on Facebook and Instagram to stay connected to their followers. Along with moving services online, the Mother Church has also started to provide more amenities such as Bible lessons available through their website. See video posted on the Christian Science Facebook showing followers how to access the newly online Christian Science quarterly Bible lessons here. Finally, the church has kept its practice of weekly online newspapers and newsletters to keep anyone associated with the church up to date on their plans. The Christian Science Sentinel, specifically, is a church newspaper dedicated to promulgating CS doctrines, especially stories of healings to their followers every week. While there may be no in-person services, Christian Science is dedicated to maintaining as much communication as possible between their congregants and the leadership.
Christian Science is very much at a turning point in its history. This pandemic has been a flashbulb moment for many, turning lives upside down and leaving many in harm’s way with an uncertain future. The Christian Science community has been fighting hard to try and preserve their unique faith. The group is facing a dilemma between years of strong foundations in their practices and beliefs, and the unprecedented turmoil brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. The leadership faces an aging community adapting to a new online environment, and a critical challenge of balancing the values of the religion, the demands of its members, and the requirements of a government focused on the general public.