For Many Christian Scientists, Thanksgiving Bigger Than Christmas
BY: Jan Ferris Heenan
Christian Scientists are best known for their rejection of medical care, the sect's founder Mary Baker Eddy, and the Church's seemingly omnipresent Reading Rooms.
But few outsiders know that The Church of Christ, Scientist, is the only denomination in the United States that observes Thanksgiving as a religious holiday, one marked by church services, specially published Bible lessons, and personal healing testimonials.
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.
It was Eddy who established the tradition of Christian Science Thanksgiving services. Her emphasis on gratitude began with a harrowing tumble on the ice back in 1866, in which she sustained life-threatening internal injuries. She drifted in and out of consciousness for three days and--according to Christian Science teachings--was cured only after turning to New Testament accounts of Jesus Christ's healings.
The woman who had long experimented with various yet ultimately wanting forms of alternative medicine finally discovered what she believed to be missing elsewhere: God.
That epiphany and her own recovery, coupled with Eddy's New England roots, explain why Thanksgiving resonated so profoundly with her, according to Virginia S. Harris, the elected leader of the First Church of Christ, Scientist.
"The Bible was very, very important to Mary Baker Eddy and, obviously, gratitude and thanksgiving are important threads throughout," said Harris, interviewed by phone recently from the Mother Church, as the denomination's Boston headquarters are known. "[They are] an important way for us to connect with the divine. It opens our expressions, our thoughts, away from self-centeredness."
Eddy emphasized prayer as "an acknowledgment of what God is" rather than simply an appeal for blessings and favors, says Stephen Gottschalk, author of "The Emergence of Christian Science in American Religious Life."
Nowhere is that focus clearer than in the first chapter of "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," the fundamental teachings of the church published by Eddy in 1875.
"Are we really grateful for the good already received?" Eddy asks. "Then we shall avail ourselves of the blessings we have, and thus be fitted to receive more. If we are ungrateful for Life, Truth, and Love, and yet return thanks to God for all blessings, we are insincere and incur the sharp censure our Master pronounces on hypocrites."