By Katie Connell
When the Library’s exhibit development team sat down in 2014 to brainstorm a topic for our newest temporary exhibit, a few key ideas quickly surfaced.
Earlier that year, the Library had officially become a department of The First Church of Christ, Scientist. There was no call to recognize this through our exhibits or programs, but the question continued to hover in the corner of my mind: in our new capacity, how could we best showcase our potential for contribution to this organization?
Since this exhibit was scheduled to open in 2016, it quickly became apparent that some recognition of the 150th anniversary of the discovery of Christian Science might be appropriate (Mary Baker Eddy discovered Christian Science in February 1866). We thought a subtle nod to this accomplishment would be welcome. We also polled our visitor services associates on the questions visitors ask most often—especially after they’ve seen our permanent exhibits. Most questions, they said, pertained to the Christian Science movement itself: “Is this Christianity?” “How did Mary Baker Eddy come to found a church?” “Who were important followers during the church’s formative years?” “How did Christian Science gain a following?” “How far has Christian Science spread?”
So our team started considering the discovery of Christian Science and the formation of the church. The Christian Science Board of Directors also tasked us with extending the discussion of church history right up to the present day, in order to demonstrate the ongoing relevance of Christian Science in the world.
The result was Fervent Hearts, Willing Hands: Christian Science from discovery to global movement. This title came from Eddy’s words quoted in the Preface to her Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896: “While no offering can liquidate one’s debt of gratitude to God, the fervent heart and willing hand are not unknown to nor unrewarded by Him” (p. xi).
Our exhibits team worked for over a year and a half. Bringing material from the present day into this exhibit posed the greatest challenge. Our researchers spent countless hours looking through published and unpublished materials, to tease out both the general overview of the Christian Science movement’s global activity and those more personal stories we hoped our audience could connect with. Our curator agonized over which objects would successfully tell the appropriate stories and be of most interest to visitors. Our graphic designer struggled with how best to both present the old and pull the story into the modern day, while also complementing our gallery space.
The resulting exhibit attempts to answer the most basic and frequently asked question, “What is Christian Science?” I can’t help but feel that visitors who had no prior knowledge of the movement Mary Baker Eddy founded will walk away with not only a basic answer to that question but also a feel for her accomplishments—as well as a sense of those fervent hearts and willing hands that have passed her legacy around the globe.
Katie Connell is Operations Manager at The Mary Baker Eddy Library