Did Eddy ask that one of her hymns be sung weekly?

February 11, 2020

Questions about singing Mary Baker Eddy’s hymns in church services first arose in the summer of 1895. Eddy had received a complaint that her hymns were not being sung often enough at The Mother Church, and she referred the matter to the Christian Science Board of Directors.1 

Eddy wrote to her adopted son, Ebenezer J. Foster-Eddy, who attended The Mother Church in Boston:

What is right is this. The church should hear the music and words it desires most, and mental means must not govern it in any way. They must not leave this matter in my hands for I shall not direct it.”2 

Septimus J. Hanna, the First Reader of The Mother Church, heard rumors about the situation and wrote to Eddy explaining his process in selecting her music for church services. He explained he chose one of her three hymns “as often as it seems proper,—I think it is safe to say an average of every other Sunday.”3 Eddy assured Hanna that his decisions were “all right,” and that she felt she should not have listened to the initial complaint, calling it a “foolish stir.”4 

On July 9 Eddy asked Foster-Eddy to drop the topic, stating that she did not have “the slightest feeling on the subject” and that she only wrote to the Directors because of others’ concerns. She closed: “My hymns of course are not to be sung all the time.”5

Several years later she made another statement about the singing of her hymns in church services that has occasionally appeared in the Christian Science periodicals.6 That oft-quoted statement is part of a 1903 letter she wrote to the Directors:

It would be a good thing to have one of my hymns read and sung about every Sunday. It would spiritualize the thought of your audience, and this is more needed in the church than aught else can be.7 

Research has revealed that this letter does not primarily address the singing of congregational hymns, as has often been assumed, but refers to her hymns being sung as solos at the services of The Mother Church. 

The full context of the letter relates to a disagreement over two solo settings of her poems, written by William Lyman Johnson.8 At that time Johnson’s music was not included in the Christian Science Hymnal. But his solo settings of Eddy’s “Communion Hymn” and “Mother’s Evening Prayer” were published by The Christian Science Publishing Society and advertised in the Christian Science periodicals.9 Because of the disputes over them, Eddy asked that Johnson’s two solos be dropped from the solo repertoire.10 

In February 1903 the Directors asked Eddy if the solo settings by Johnson could again be used in church services: “We would like to hear the words of your beautiful poems, The Mother’s Evening Prayer and The Communion Hymn sung in our Church again and we think many of our congregation would appreciate the privilege.”11 Another student of Christian Science made a similar request: “May we not have your words and music restored to our church?”12

On March 3, 1903, Eddy replied to the Directors. “Your request to have my Hymns that are set to music by Mr. Johnson again sung in the Mother Church cheers my advancing years,” she wrote. “That tunes liked or disliked should rule in or out of our church words like those in my Hymns has been a sad experience for me and I rejoice that the Christian spirit is calling these words back to remembrance.” After mentioning the letter from the other student, she added the above statement that has since been quoted frequently. 

Although Eddy says “Hymns,” she appears to be using the term broadly, to refer to her poems set to music, either in congregational hymns or solos. This seems to be confirmed by the Directors’ response on March 3:

They are in full accord with your thought that your hymns should be read, and sung in the Mother Church every Sunday, and are deeply grateful to you for your permission to use them in our Church with the music written by Mr. Johnson and they will at once make the necessary arrangements. They feel that one of your hymns should be sung as a solo oftener than once a month as has been the custom heretofore.13 

Although there are ambiguities in Eddy’s letter, many of them appear to have been resolved by a statement she sent to the Directors a week later: 

Beloved Students
Be ye governed by your own convictions and wisdom in the use of my hymns.
With love
M B Eddy14

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  1. Eddy’s letter to the Board of Directors is not extant; Eddy to Septimus J. Hanna, 6 July 1895, L05088.
  2. Eddy to Ebenezer J. Foster-Eddy, 4 July 1895, L01958.
  3. Hanna to Eddy, 5 July 1895, L09733; in 1895 the Christian Science Hymnal contained three hymns by Eddy.
  4. Eddy to Hanna, 6 July 1895, L05088.
  5. Eddy to Foster-Eddy, 9 July 1895, L01961.
  6. Examples: “Our Leader’s Hymns,” Christian Science Sentinel, 29 August 1914, 1030; The Christian Science Board of Directors, “Our Leader’s Hymns,” Sentinel, 18 April 1931, 650; The Christian Science Board of Directors, “From the Directors: Our Leader’s Hymns,” The Christian Science Journal, April 1985, 231.
  7. Eddy to Christian Science Board of Directors, 3 March 1903, L00326.
  8. The disputes likely took place around 1901 (William B. Johnson to Eddy, 5 November 1904, IC001eP2a.02.057); William Lyman Johnson had composed solos for two of Eddy’s poems: “Communion Hymn” (1897) and “Mother’s Evening Prayer” (1899).
  9. In 1903 three of Eddy’s poems were set to the music of other composers in the Hymnal:  “Christ my Refuge,” “Communion Hymn,” and “‘Feed my Sheep.’” In late 1903 “Christmas Morn” entered the Hymnal. No setting of “Mother’s Evening Prayer” was included until 1910.
  10. No documentation of Eddy’s request is extant. On March 4, 1903, she wrote to Mary Beecher Longyear: “…I stopped the singing of my two Hymns because the music set to them offen[d]ed certain members of the church” (L05372).
  11. Board of Directors to Eddy, 28 February 1903, IC002bP1.02.016.; Board of Directors to Eddy, 4 March 1903, IC002bP1.02.017.
  12. Longyear to Eddy, 1 March 1903, IC165a.28.009.
  13. Board of Directors to Eddy, 4 March 1903, IC002bP1.02.017.
  14. Eddy to Board of Directors, 11 March 1903, L00330.