When someone says the holidays are just around the corner, it typically evokes thoughts of Christmas. In the Church of Christ, Scientist, one of the most important observances of religion and spirituality occurs on Thanksgiving.
According to beliefnet.com, “ceremonial recognition of the November holiday even eclipses that of Christ’s birth for many Christian Scientists, who don’t worship together on Christmas unless it falls on a Sunday.”
Katie Phillips of Chesterton has been a member of the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Valparaiso since 1986. She said that on Thanksgiving the congregation holds a service that includes readings common to Christian Science churches worldwide. Passages are read from the book „Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,“ written by founder Mary Baker Eddy, as well as from the King James Bible. Four sections are included on Thanksgiving, whereas a typical service comprises six. Citations provided quarterly from the Mother Church in Boston also are read.
“We don’t have designated clergy; members are elected to readership for a three-year term,” Phillips explained. “Our citations are about spiritual things rather than physical things that we have to be grateful for.”
Phillips said that the current U.S. president’s Thanksgiving Proclamation is read aloud and then church members are invited to stand up and cite what they’re thankful for. At the end of the service, families return home to take part in their traditional Thanksgiving meal.
According to christianscience.com, “the church and its healing ministry rest entirely on the affirmation from the Bible that ‘God is love.’ Those who practice it strive to live the bold, compassionate, pure, generous love that Christ Jesus embodied.
“ It explains the spiritual laws of love that enabled Jesus to heal sickness and sin … and as the word science implies, it is reliable, consistent, and provable, bringing healing to individuals and humanity through a deeper understanding of God.”
Learnreligions.com further describes Christian Science as distinct from other Christian denominations. “All is spiritual. Therefore, sin, sickness, and death, which appear to have physical causes, are instead only states of mind. Sin and sickness are treatable by spiritual means: prayer.”
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Eddy, a lifelong student of the Bible, yearned to find deeper answers to the question of human suffering. She took the first steps toward Christian Science in 1866, after experiencing a critical injury. Reading about Jesus’ healing power helped her heal, and she continued to look to the Bible for laws of God that would support her healing. She determined that understanding her own relationship to God through the Science of Christianity helped restore her health and transform her character.
According to Sharon Andrews, Christian Science media and legislative liaison for Indiana, in 1863, a few years before Eddy’s healing experience, President Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a federal holiday.
“In 1879 when, Eddy and her students founded the church, she established a special church service on Thanksgiving Day, at which the United States president’s Thanksgiving Proclamation is read, which follows selected readings from the Bible,” explained Andrews.
Andrews said Eddy put great store in the profound nature of gratitude and its benefits for Christians. As Eddy wrote in „Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,“ “Gratitude is much more than a verbal expression of thanks. Action expresses more gratitude than speech.” At the Christian Science Thanksgiving service, members of congregation share testimonies of gratitude for healing of all types.
Andrews emphasized that Christian Scientists celebrate Christmas in the same way as other Christian denominations. Many spend the day with family and celebrate with gift giving, and some may spend the day in quiet prayer and Bible reading.
“Eddy encouraged her followers to celebrate Christmas thoughtfully and quietly, but by no means discouraged family get-togethers,” Andrews said. “The primary difference is that Christian Scientists only celebrate Christmas at church if the holiday falls on a Sunday.”
Phillips added that if Christmas occurs on a Sunday, the typical service lasts an hour; if it falls on another day, the weekly lesson studied is about Jesus’ birth and Christmas stories. The church holds meetings on Wednesday evenings in which a local reader covers topics that correspond with Christmas and with issues in the community. They open the session to members to speak about their own journey and give proof what Christian Science has brought to them or how it’s changed their lives.