While Mary Baker Eddy did ask that one of her hymns be sung in church about every Sunday, her suggestion was specifically directed towards the services in The Mother Church. We have not located any document in which she discusses the frequency of singing her hymns in branch Churches of Christ, Scientist.
On February 28, 1903, the Christian Science Board of Directors wrote to Eddy stating: “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.”1
Prior to this, Eddy’s hymns had stopped being sung because, in Eddy’s words, “the music set to them offended certain members of the church.”2
On March 3, 1903, Eddy wrote to the Christian Science Board of Directors. The letter reads, in part:
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. One of the wealthiest and most devout members of this church has recently requested me to have my Hymns sung more frequently in the Mother Church. 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.3
“One of the wealthiest and most devout members of this church” is a reference to Mary Beecher Longyear. In a letter to Eddy dated March 1, 1903, Longyear asked, “May we not have your words and music restored to our church?”4
The Directors responded to Eddy’s letter of March 3 with a letter dated March 4 that stated: “[The Directors] 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. [William Lyman] Johnson…”5
There is not enough information in the records to determine whether Eddy intended her request to be followed permanently in services at The Mother Church in Boston. The request was made to respond to a specific situation. However, the final letter concerning this matter was from Eddy to the Directors on March 11, 1903. In it, she simply stated, “Be ye governed by your own convictions and wisdom in the use of my hymns.”6
Regarding the phrase, “read and sung,” in the March 3, 1903, letter, it seems likely that Eddy was not singling out her hymns for special treatment by asking that they be read as well as sung, since evidence in the collection suggests that all hymns in The Mother Church during that period were read in their entirety before being sung. For example, an Order of Service printed in the December 1891 issue of The Christian Science Journal includes the indication: “Pastor reads Hymn. Singing.” Another indication of her awareness of this practice is found in her article “Church and School” (republished on 313-316 of Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896).7 This is the article in which Eddy announced the new Pastor of her Church, the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. In this piece Eddy wrote that the Reader “shall open the meeting by reading the hymns ….”
On July 15, 1889, in a letter to the Church of Christ, Scientist, Boston, she wrote: “Before the sermon read one hymn, sing once.… Close with reading hymn, singing, silent prayer and the benediction.”8 By 1899, Orders of Service were published in the Christian Science Sentinel that made no reference to reading of hymns before singing them. But clearly the practice had not stopped at that point, and there is nothing in the records that indicates that Eddy ever asked that it stop. We do not know when it became customary to read only one verse of hymns not by Eddy.
- The Christian Science Board of Directors to Mary Baker Eddy, 28 February 1903, IC 2b.
- Eddy to Mary Beecher Longyear, 4 March 1903, V00372.
- Eddy to the Christian Science Board of Directors, 3 March 1903, L00326.
- Longyear to Eddy, 1 March 1903, IC 165.
- The Christian Science Board of Directors to Eddy, 4 March 1903, IC 2b.
- Eddy to the Christian Science Board of Directors, 11 March 1903, L00330.
- Mary Baker Eddy, “Church and School,” The Christian Science Journal, April 1895, http://journal.christianscience.com/shared/view/mwhy4vnwjg?s=t.
- Eddy to The First Church of Christ, Scientist, July 15, 1889, L00006.