What did Eddy say about reading the words to her hymns?

March 9, 2020

We are often asked if Mary Baker Eddy asked that all the verses of her poems, set to music as hymns, be read in church services before the congregations sang them.

During the earliest Christian Science services, before readers replaced pastors in the church, it is possible that pastors read each hymn in its entirety before it was sung. When Eddy gave the first public “Order of Services” in 1889 for the Church of Christ (Scientist) in Boston (The Mother Church), she asked the church to “read” the hymns—evidently referring to all the hymns used in a service—before singing them.1 In 1891 she updated and expanded these instructions to include all Churches of Christ (Scientist).2

Late in 1894 Eddy ordained the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures as Pastor of The Mother Church, revised its order of services, and referred to those conducting the services as “Readers.” Although the new order did not give any specific directions about reading hymns, she afterward asked the meeting be opened “by reading the hymns.”3

We don’t have a great deal of information about how other denominations conducted hymn reading at that time. According to John W. Etter, a nineteenth-century preacher and author on the subject of preaching, it was considered a good practice to read all the verses of hymns, helping “the hearer get the right sentiment of the words before entering into the song.”4

A 1902 healing, published in The Christian Science Journal, referred to the testifier’s entering a branch church around 1898 and hearing the Reader read the verses of Eddy’s “Communion Hymn.”5 In 1903 Eddy told the Christian Science Board of Directors, “It would be a good thing to have one of my Hymns read and sung about every Sunday.”6 For more background on this letter, read the article “Did Eddy ask that one of her hymns be sung weekly?”

In 1910 Eddy passed on. Five years later Archibald McLellan, editor of the Christian Science periodicals and a member of the Christian Science Board of Directors, wrote this in the Christian Science Sentinel:

In The Mother Church the customary form of announcement is, “The words of this hymn (or solo) were written by our revered Leader, Mary Baker Eddy,” and the entire hymn is read, thus giving it a further distinction from hymns by other authors, as only the first stanza of these is read.7

By that time, Eddy’s hymns were read in The Mother Church as McClellan described. We have been unable to determine how that practice developed.

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  1. Mary B. G. Eddy, “Order of Church Service,” The Christian Science Journal, August 1889, 210, https://journal.christianscience.com/shared/view/b34tabddis?s=t.
  2. Mary B. G. Eddy, “Notice,” Journal, December 1891, 365, https://journal.christianscience.com/shared/view/puu7rugz1o?s=t.
  3. “Notice,” Journal, February 1895, 474, https://journal.christianscience.com/shared/view/nvy1i1qnmg?s=t; Mary Baker Eddy, “Church and School,” Journal, April 1895, 1-3, https://journal.christianscience.com/shared/view/mwhy4vnwjg?s=t.
  4. John W. Etter, The Preacher and His Sermon: A Treatise on Homiletics (Dayton, Ohio: United Brethren Publishing House, 1883), 529-531.
  5. E.W., “About four years ago I entered a Christian Science…,” Journal, February 1902, 712-713, https://journal.christianscience.com/shared/view/f0x7o2eh0s?s=t.
  6. Mary Baker Eddy to Christian Science Board of Directors, 3 March 1903, L00326.
  7. Archibald McLellan, “‘Honor to whom honor is due,’” Christian Science Sentinel, 13 November 1915, 210, https://sentinel.christianscience.com/shared/view/98j2lnc8ye?s=t.