“The sermon was beautiful

May 12, 2023

See caption for description

Ernest L. Fisk to Winslow C. Fisk, July 15, 1888, 449.53.003. Ernest L. Fisk by Leonard of Topeka, Kansas, P00671. Winslow C. Fisk from Topeka Daily Capital – September 28, 1919, P00672. Order of Services, July 15, 1888, A10647.

In its work of digitally publishing Mary Baker Eddy’s correspondence, manuscripts, and sermons, the Mary Baker Eddy Papers team has processed several documents related to her sermons given in Boston’s Chickering Hall.1 2 These include programs, preparatory notes, and sermon texts, and they are available to read on the Mary Baker Eddy Papers website. Such items enable us to learn the substance of her sermons and the context in which they were presented. 

The Mary Baker Eddy Collection also contains letters from some of the people who heard Eddy’s sermons. Occasionally these give us glimpses into who the attendees were, what they gleaned, and how they shared the ideas Eddy presented with others, extending the reach of her sermons far beyond Chickering Hall. 

The Papers team recently encountered a letter that offers a particularly insightful view into what it was like to hear one of Eddy’s Chickering Hall sermons from a unique perspective: that of Ernest L. Fisk, an 11-year-old boy. He was the son of Winslow C. Fisk and Frances B. Fisk, both students of Eddy. The Fisk family had lived in Boston until 1887, when they moved to Topeka, Kansas, where Winslow and Frances were both practitioners of Christian Science. Winslow was also a teacher of the religion. 

In July 1888 Winslow was at home in Topeka, while Frances and Ernest visited Boston and attended a church service in Chickering Hall. At that time the Sunday School was for adults as well as children,3 and children also attended the church services. Thus on Sunday, July 15, 1888, Ernest found himself in the congregation and heard Eddy deliver a sermon titled “Our Ideals.”4 That same day, he wrote an account of the sermon in a letter to his father.5 

Although he was only 11, Ernest’s letter shows that he followed the sermon, recalled many useful ideas from it, and was deeply inspired:

We have just been to hear our dear leader Mrs Eddy. Oh! how many times I wished I could remember all that she said, & carry them with me every where I go. How much more happy we are when we are having spiritual happiness than we are when we are having material happiness. The sermon was beautiful.”6

He also offered a sense of the atmosphere of the hall and what it was like to see and hear Eddy in person: “When Mrs Eddy came out on the platforn [sic] she looked so motherly & calm & when she came in it was as still as could be untill [sic] it was through with.7 

The sermon focused on a scriptural text from Luke: “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (12:32).8 In his letter to his father, Ernest recounted some of the ideas that stood out most to him:

Mrs Eddy said that God giveth his care as a shepherd, & that He watches over us so the enemy the error can not creep in & take us out of Light into darkness … that He is our watch tower by night & holdeth up the Light which shows us the way, which is good. The hour of sickness seems unbearable and then comes the Light & the understanding & when we are striving & working for Truth & when we get weary He, whick [sic] is spirit, Good, takes us & carries us into the fold where there is no decay & where there is Love and Eternal Life & out of the belief of error. We can not call Him Father unless we know that he has adopted us. To be counted as one of Gods children we have to pass under his rod before entering into the fold of Truth.9 

When read in conjunction with what appears to be a draft of this sermon, we see that Ernest’s letter fairly captures the essence of what Eddy likely said on this subject. The draft says in part:

The Great Sheperd [sic] rears [a] God crowned tower for His flock…. From this reffuge [sic] and and [sic] strong tower the foe is seen at a distance and in advance of danger. If a watch is kept he never gets nearer The Great shepherd leadeth forth His flocks in the morning in the bright hours when the light of faith bursts upon the understanding and affections…. The dawn Truth melts the shadows and darkness and leadeth forth the captive thought into freedom and relief. At night the Great Shepard [sic] takes back His flock into the fold…. If one of His flock strayeth the Great Shepard [sic] is not unmindful of His wanderer. His love searcheth after him and leadeth him back forcibly or gently if he is unwilling to return to the fold.10 

Although the venues were usually full beyond capacity whenever and wherever Eddy preached,11 correspondence in the Papers collection, such as Ernest’s, shows that the ideas and inspiration in Eddy’s sermons reached even larger and wider audiences through the written accounts of attendees who shared them. On July 21, 1888, Winslow Fisk wrote to Eddy, enclosing Ernest’s letter:

Thinking it might please you to know how children appreciate and conprehend [sic] your preaching I enclose an account of your last sundays sermon sent me by my little boy Ernest. He had no help from any one. Mrs Fisk sent me a more full account of it. and I have read it to many of my patients and in the Farlow family. so you see the wealth of thought contained in your sermon was not confined to Chickering hall-12 

The program for the service that took place on July 15, 1888, shows the closing hymn that the congregation sang that day. The final stanza reads: 

Then forth to life, O child of earth!

Be worthy of thy heavenly birth!

For noble service thou art here;

Thy brothers help, thy God revere!13 

Perhaps one can imagine young Ernest Fisk feeling bolstered by the words of this hymn—and taking them to heart as he shared in his letter the inspiration he had gleaned from Mary Baker Eddy’s sermon.

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  1. From the founding of the Church of Christ (Scientist) in August 1879, to the time when the first service was held in the original edifice of the Mother Church on December 30, 1894, Christian Scientists rented several different venues to accommodate burgeoning attendance. The church held its services in Chickering Hall for the majority of this period prior to the establishment of a permanent home of its own. Eddy first preached there on October 25,1885, which also marked the date and venue of the first Christian Science Sunday School class.
  2. See “From the Papers: Sermon at Chickering Hall,” 18 April 2019, See also “Church service program: Rev. Mary Baker G. Eddy, Pastor,” 1 July 2011, https://www.marybakereddylibrary.org/research/church-service-program-rev-mary-baker-g-eddy-pastor/
  3. See “What are the origins of Christian Science Sunday School,” 15 May 2011.
  4. Mary Baker Eddy, “Our Ideals” Sermon Program, 15 July 1888, A10647.
  5. Ernest L. Fisk to Winslow C. Fisk, 15 July 1888, IC449.53.003.
  6. Ernest L. Fisk to Winslow C. Fisk, 15 July 1888, IC449.53.003.
  7. Ernest L. Fisk to Winslow C. Fisk, 15 July 1888, IC449.53.003.
  8. Mary Baker Eddy, “Our Ideals (Fear not Little Flock)” Sermon Notes, 15 July 1888, A10726A.
  9. Ernest L. Fisk to Winslow C. Fisk, 15 July 1888, IC449.53.003.
  10. Mary Baker Eddy, “Our Ideals” Sermon Draft, 15 July 1888, A10726B.
  11. “Epitome of the Records of the Church of Christ (Scientist) in Boston from August 6, 1879 to December 2, 1889,” 7 December 1885, EOR 13.
  12. Winslow C. Fisk to Mary Baker Eddy, 21 July 1888, IC449.53.002.
  13. Mary Baker Eddy, “Our Ideals” Sermon Program, 15 July 1888, A10647. Hymn adapted from a poem by Samuel Longfellow, “Go Forth to Life,” Hymnary.org, https://hymnary.org/text/go_forth_to_life_o_child_of_earth.