(Published in the Herald Democrat, June 4, 2016)
The article "Local Catholic churches react to idea of women deacons" posted on May 26 at HeraldDemocrat.com concluded with a list of churches that “also allow women to become ordained as ministers.” Included in the list, which was originally drawn from the Huffington Post, was the “Christian Science” Church, or the Church of Christ, Scientist, founded by Mary Baker Eddy. The denomination doesn’t have ordained ministers today, but it was one of the earliest Christian groups in this country to recognize the equality of women and men in its organizational structure.
In 1879, the Christian Science Church was formed. Two months later, Mary Baker Eddy accepted the call by the Church’s first twenty-six members to be the pastor of the Church and was ordained in 1881.
Several years later, Eddy reorganized the denomination so that Christian Science congregations were no longer led by individual pastors in the traditional sense. From then on two books, the Bible and Eddy’s work Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, served as the basis for our worship services and were considered our ordained “pastor”. It’s an unusual arrangement, but both books continue to offer pastoral-like guidance and inspiration to Christian Scientists and other readers today.
Christian Science remains strictly a church of laymen and laywomen. Two elected members, usually a man and a woman, who are referred to as Readers, conduct Sunday Church services. One of these Readers conducts Wednesday testimony services. The Readers read a Bible lesson-sermon that is comprised of selected passages from the Bible and Science and Health.
Readers are elected by the membership because of their spiritual, moral, and intellectual qualifications. And although not officially ordained as clergywomen, thousands of women are unselfishly serving the denomination by conducting weekly Sunday and Wednesday services. As the history illustrates, this equality isn’t a gesture of “political correctness,” but reflects deep spiritual convictions anchored in biblical faith.
- Keith Wommack, Christian Science Committee on Publication for Texas