A "grave guardian": Mary Baker Eddy addresses the 1899 Annual Meeting of The Mother Church

By
  • Kelly Byquist
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The June 1899 Communion season at The Mother Church was much anticipated. That year, Sunday’s Communion service would be followed two days later by a business meeting—also known as the Annual Meeting.1

“Ten thousand Christian Scientists are in Boston,” the Boston Globe reported, as visitors from across the United States, Canada, and England flocked to the city to attend the first-ever back-to-back events.2

This print of Mary Baker Eddy by H. P. Moore was copyrighted in 1899 and published by J.C. Derby & Co. in Concord, New Hampshire, with Mrs. Eddy’s approval.3 Photograph, P0070, Longyear Museum collection.

Boston was abuzz with activity in the days leading up to the Sunday Communion service, as the train station awaited the hordes of arrivals and Back Bay hotels prepared for the throngs of out-of-towners. A Boston Globe reporter who visited the Christian Science Publishing Society on Saturday morning found the doorway blocked and the rooms mobbed. Visitors were busy buying books and pamphlets, exploring the offices where the Christian Science periodicals were published, and registering their names and addresses so that other visiting Christian Scientists might be able to locate them over the next few days.

“The overflow spread out upon the sidewalk for some distance up and down the street,” the reporter observed. He overheard a mother, clasping the hand of her son, exclaiming: “Guess we will have to get around to the church by 7 o’clock tomorrow morning in order to get in.”4

On Sunday, June 4, in order to accommodate the overflowing congregation, four Communion services were held in the Original Edifice of The Mother Church,5 whose interior “was prettily decorated for the occasion,” according to the Boston Post. “The reading desks and platform were embowered in a wealth of floral adornment, lilies, hydrangeas, ferns, palms and roses predominated in the details.”6

An illustrator from the Boston Post sketched “some of the leading personages at the services,” including First Reader Judge Septimus Hanna, Second Reader Eldora Gragg, soloist Marcia Craft, and Lady Mildred Murray and Lord Fincastle of England.

The services were led by First Reader Judge Septimus Hanna and Second Reader Eldora Gragg. John Reeder, the First Reader of First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Roxbury, Massachusetts, delivered Mary Baker Eddy’s annual Communion message to her Church, which read in part:

“The fruition of friendship, the world’s arms outstretched to us, heart meeting heart across continents and oceans, bloodless sieges and tearless triumphs, the ‘well done’ already yours, and the undone waiting only your swift hands, — these are enough to make this hour glad. . . . Brethren, our annual meeting is a grave guardian. It requires you to report progress, to refresh memory, to rejuvenate the branches and to vivify the buds, to bend upward the tendrils and to incline the vine towards the parent trunk. You come from feeding your flocks, big with promise; and you come with the sling of Israel’s chosen one to meet the Goliaths.” 7

Captain Joseph Eastaman and his wife, Mary Eastaman, attended the Communion service at The Mother Church on June 4, 1899, and were greatly moved by Mrs. Eddy’s address. Portrait, AW0363, Longyear Museum collection.

Joseph Eastaman, a Christian Science practitioner and teacher from Somerville, Massachusetts, and one of Mrs. Eddy’s faithful students, was in the congregation that day. He found Mrs. Eddy’s message helpful, instructive, encouraging, and deeply moving.

“Will you please accept my thanks for having written that letter to The Mother Church which has done me oh, so much Good,” he wrote to her the next day. “Listening to the reading of it, I again rededicated myself to God and to the work of C[hristian] S[cience] and with big tears of love and gratitude rolling down my cheeks, I thanked God again and again for giving the world such a Leader as you are. . . . There too I prayed to God for grace and wisdom each day to know and do that which will make me worthy to be recognized as one of Mrs. Eddy’s followers.”8

Mary Brookins, who had traveled to Boston from her home in Minneapolis, Minnesota, also wrote her teacher about the Communion message:

“It seems to me that outside of our precious textbook this is the strongest and most beautiful of all your messages of love to your children,” she told Mrs. Eddy. “In it is embodied the wisdom of the teacher, the courage and power of the great commander, the clear, far-seeing vision of the prophet, and the tenderness and loving solicitude of the Mother, all combined in such a marvelous way, that I only long for leisure and experience to have it unfolded to me in all its fullness of Love and power.”9

After Mrs. Eddy’s message to the congregation was read aloud, something unexpected occurred. Judge Hanna announced that those wishing to visit Pleasant View, Mrs. Eddy’s home in Concord, New Hampshire, should defer their plans until after Wednesday.10 Was this a hint, perhaps, that Mrs. Eddy might visit Boston for the Annual Meeting on Tuesday?

By 1899, Mrs. Eddy’s home at 385 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston was designated as the First Reader’s residence. Photograph, P3886, Longyear Museum collection.

It was indeed. The following day, Monday, June 5, accompanied by several members of her household, Mrs. Eddy boarded a private car on the 2:20 p.m. train to Boston from Concord.11 When she arrived at the depot, a carriage was awaiting to whisk her and her traveling companions to her townhouse at 385 Commonwealth Avenue, where Judge Hanna and his wife, Camilla, lived.12

Tuesday found scores of Christian Scientists, journalists, and others headed to Boston’s Tremont Temple, as the Original Edifice of The Mother Church wasn’t large enough to accommodate the crowd for the business meeting, which turned out to be the largest meeting in the history of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, to that date.13

Tremont Temple (center, with flag on roof), circa 1900. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Tremont Temple was familiar to Christian Scientists, as well as to Boston’s forward-thinking religious leaders of the day. It was organized in 1839 by Timothy Gilbert, who left the Second Baptist Church of Boston after being criticized for sharing his pew with his African-American servants. With Reverend Nathan Colver serving as pastor and 82 members, Mr. Gilbert organized a Baptist Church where all races, colors, and creeds were welcome. Over the years, Tremont Temple gained in numbers and recognition, moving locations several times.14

Some Christian Scientists would recall meeting in Tremont Temple a decade earlier for the 1887 annual meeting of the National Christian Science Association.15 Some would recall that it was at Tremont Temple in 1885 where Mary Baker Eddy was given just ten minutes to rebut Reverend Joseph Cook’s infamous attack against Christian Science.16 At that gathering, Mrs. Eddy addressed a crowd of more than 2,000, whose thoughts, wrote one biographer, “ranged from benignly curious to highly skeptical to openly hostile.”17 Irving Tomlinson recalled Mrs. Eddy turning to Rev. Cook and asking, “’I can hardly explain Christian Science in ten minutes. May I have a few moments more?” to which the Reverend replied, “No, Madame, and if you take one moment longer you will be forcibly stopped.”18

But that edifice was no longer standing. It had been destroyed by a fire in 1893. By the time the 1899 Annual Meeting of The Mother Church took place, the latest iteration of Tremont Temple, which was completed in 1896, was just three years old.

By 10:00 on Tuesday morning, June 6, the vestibule was already crammed with those awaiting the 2 p.m. meeting. The doors weren’t scheduled to open until 1 p.m.

“Many came with their lunches and took up stations ready to get in as soon as the doors were swung back,” reported the Boston Journal. “The throng became so great that it was absolutely necessary to throw back the doors before the time set, and almost as quick as a flash the great audience room, the floor of the hall, was filled.”19

As they took their seats, visitors observed that the church had been tastefully adorned for the occasion.

“The decorations were beautiful in the extreme,” the Boston Globe reported. “Fresh bunting festooned the sides of the galleries and long streamers were attached to the great chandelier and fastened on either side. The platform was a bank of ferns, palms and potted plants, and around the circular front was arranged a decoration of pinks and the green fronds of tiny ferns.”20

The “Order of Exercises” for the 1899 Annual Meeting included readings, silent prayer, reports, a solo, general announcements from the field, an address by the president, and the singing of hymns. Program, LMDB-8171, Longyear Museum collection.

The meeting began promptly at 2 p.m. as planned. The congregation sang hymns, the treasurer of the Church gave his report, and selections from the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy were read aloud, followed by silent prayer. Then, as William McKenzie, the newly elected President, was giving his address, there was a ripple of movement in the audience.21

Front and rear views of the auditorium at Tremont Temple, circa 1896.22

“There was the sound of hundreds of people turning in their seats and watching eagerly for the coming of Mrs. Eddy,” reported a journalist who was in the crowd.23 Escorted by Judge Hanna, Mrs. Eddy made her way up the platform steps. She wore a becoming gray hat, an elegant gown of gray satin covered with black lace, and a black veil. The audience stood in respectful silence until Mrs. Eddy was seated, then began to applaud “with something deeper than noisy enthusiasm,” as one journalist noted. “Mrs. Eddy allowed the hand-clapping to echo for the briefest space and then with a faint smile on her face arose and bowed.”24

Judge Hanna told the gathered crowd, “Whatever the disappointment we may have felt because of the absence of our Leader and Mother from our Communion service is more than compensated for by the fact that she is now here. You all know her and you all love her. She knows you all and loves you all. . . .”25

This 1899 illustration from the Boston Herald depicts Mrs. Eddy addressing the congregation in Tremont Temple on June 6, 1899.

After his introduction, Mrs. Eddy again rose to her feet. Her remarks were brief but memorable. Her message began:

“My Beloved Brethren: — I hope I shall not be found disorderly, but I wish to say briefly that this meeting is very joyous to me. Where God is we can meet, and where God is we can never part. There is something suggestive to me in this hour of the latter days of the nineteenth century, fulfilling much of the divine law and the gospel. . . . There is with us at this hour this great, great blessing; and may I say with the consciousness of Mind that the fulfilment of divine Love in our lives is the demand of this hour — the special demand.”26

“Beautiful! Beautiful!” exclaimed a woman under her breath as Mrs. Eddy’s finished speaking, though loud enough for a nearby reporter to catch her words.27 Irving Tomlinson noted, “There were tears of joy in many eyes as she concluded with the words: ‘So shall all earth’s children at last come to acknowledge God, and be one; inhabit His holy hill, the God-crowned summit of divine Science; the church militant rise to the church triumphant, and Zion be glorified.’”28

At the conclusion of Mrs. Eddy’s remarks, the congregation sang the Doxology—the first hymn in the Christian Science Hymnal. Mrs. Eddy left the auditorium, heading next door to Boston’s famous Parker House hotel, where she took a suite and met with the Christian Science Board of Directors, as well as a few friends, before returning to Pleasant View on the 5:00 p.m. train.29

Boston’s Parker House hotel (circa 1910), on the corner of Tremont and School Streets, adjacent to Tremont Temple.31

Rev. Tomlinson, who accompanied Mrs. Eddy throughout the entire trip, couldn’t help but be struck by the vast difference between this visit to Tremont Temple and the one in 1885, when Mrs. Eddy had delivered her rebuttal.

“Those of her students who remembered those cruel days could not but note the contrast,” he would write. “Mrs. Eddy’s name was now known and honored throughout the world; her churches engirdled the earth. Formerly a hostile audience, now every seat was occupied by devoted followers; then division and contumely, but now honor and reverence. As Mrs. Eddy looked out upon the vast sea of faces, each of whom had been blessed by her message; as she saw and felt the love which welled up from each heart, what wonder that tears of joy dimmed her eyes.”30

Notes

  1. “Church Rule,” Christian Science Sentinel 1 (September 1, 1898): 7. Since its organization in September 1892, The Mother Church had held Annual Meetings regularly in Boston. Christian Scientists traveled from far and wide to attend Communion seasons at The Mother Church. The services generally included a message prepared by Mary Baker Eddy, perchance a visit by her, and often an invitation to travel to Concord, New Hampshire, on the following day to her Pleasant View home. By 1899, The Mother Church would hold Communion on the first Sunday in June, and branch churches on the second Sundays in June and December. In 1903, Mrs. Eddy changed the dates of branch church Communion to the second Sunday in January and July. With this change, “Sacrament” moved to its current position near the beginning of the Lesson-Sermon cycle. The Mother Church Communion services continued to be held in June until their abolishment in 1908. Click here to learn more about Communion seasons in The Mother Church.
  2. “Ten Thousand Strong: Christian Scientists from All Parts of the United States and from Canada Come to Boston,” Boston Globe, June 4, 1899.
  3. “A New Picture of Mrs. Eddy,” The Christian Science Journal 16 (November 1898): 522. The Journal called this picture “perfect in every detail,” and noted that it was created “with the full consent and recommendation of Mrs. Eddy, and has her endorsement.”
  4. “By Thousands Christian Scientists are Gathering in Boston for the Annual Communion Service Tomorrow,” Boston Globe, June 3, 1899.
  5. The services were held at 10 a.m., noon, 3 p.m., and 7:30 p.m., and every seat was filled (including standing room). “At the communion no wine and no bread will be used,” the Boston Globe explained. “The participants will simply sit, silently praying and inwardly examine themselves to see whether or not they have done all they could to possess a mind like the mind of Christ.” Ibid.
  6. “Thousands Bow at Christian Science Shrine,” Boston Post, June 5, 1899.
  7. First Church of Christ, Scientist and Miscellany, 124. The address was originally printed in the Christian Science Sentinel. “Message of the Pastor Emeritus, Mary Baker Eddy, To the Mother Church, Boston, Mass., on Communion Day, June 4, 1899,” Christian Science Sentinel 1 (June 8, 1899): 1.
  8. Joseph S. Eastaman to Mary Baker Eddy, June 5, 1899, 202b.33.001, The Mary Baker Eddy Collection, The Mary Baker Eddy Library, Boston, Massachusetts, hereafter referenced as MBEL.
  9. Mary Brookins to Mary Baker Eddy, June 5, 1899, 100.21.009, MBEL.
  10. “The Annual Church Meeting,” Christian Science Sentinel 1 (June 8, 1899): 6-9. It was typical for visiting Christian Scientists to journey to Pleasant View on the day after the Sunday Communion service. Click here to learn about the visit to Pleasant View during the 1897 Communion season or Part I and Part II of the 1996/1997 Longyear Quarterly News to read about three different large gatherings in Concord, New Hampshire.
  11. Calvin A. Frye diaries, June 5, 1899, MBEL. Calvin Frye and Irving Tomlinson traveled with Mrs. Eddy to Boston, along with Clara Shannon.
  12. “The Annual Church Meeting,” Christian Science Sentinel, June 8, 1899. Clara Shannon notes, “Our Leader was most hospitably entertained, and Mrs. Hanna’s loving attention she very much appreciated. Her remarks to me about Judge Hanna were, ‘what a fine man he is! He is morally statuesque!’” Clara Shannon, “Golden Memories,” 36, Longyear Museum collection.
  13. “The Annual Church Meeting,” Christian Science Sentinel, June 8, 1899.
  14. Tremont Temple was destroyed by fire in 1852, 1879, and 1893. The building completed in 1896 is the edifice that still stands today on Tremont Street in downtown Boston. Edgar C. Lane, Senior Deacon, “A Brief History of Tremont Temple, 1839 to 1944” (1944). See also Tremont Temple Baptist Church, “Historical Sketch Book: From a Small Wooden Schoolhouse and a Rented Hall to a Famous Church Known and Revered the World Over” (1953).
  15. See “National Christian Science Association,” The Christian Science Journal 5 (May 1887): 101-102.
  16. At one of his popular Monday lectures at Tremont Temple, Joseph Cook read aloud Rev. A. J. Gordon’s open letter condemning Mrs. Eddy’s teaching and accusing her of being “a mesmerist, a medium, a pantheist, and prayerless.” William L. Johnson, History of the Christian Science Movement Vol. II (Boston: The Zion Research Foundation, 1926), 306-307. It was to this letter that Mrs. Eddy replied in her rebuttal on March 16, 1885 (see Miscellaneous Writings, 95-98, for a transcript of her remarks). She also wrote an article in response to the allegations: Mary Baker Eddy, “Defence of Christian Science,” The Christian Science Journal 2 (March 1885): 1. Her article would eventually be revised and published in 1887 as Christian Science: No and Yes, later titled simply No and Yes. To learn more about both clergymen’s ardent opposition to, and condemnation of, Christian Science, see Robert Peel, Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Trial (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971), 155-158.
  17. Yvonne Cache von Fettweis and Robert Townsend Warneck, Mary Baker Eddy: Christian Healer Amplified Edition (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 2009), 133. See also Stephen Gottschalk, Rolling Away the Stone (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2006), 93-94.
  18. Irving Tomlinson, “Reminiscences of Rev. Irving C. Tomlinson, C.S.B.,” 192, MBEL. Mrs. Eddy’s ten-minute rebuttal was transcribed in full by a shorthand reporter, and can be found in Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896, 95-98.
  19. “Mrs. Eddy Spoke to Christian Scientists at Service in Tremont Temple Yesterday,” Boston Journal, June 7, 1899. The Journal continues: “It was not long before the galleries were filled, so that to one on the floor the whole place at 1 o’clock seemed to be crowded to the doors. . . . At 2 o’clock two or three hundred people were standing up in the hall wherever they could find space.” Tremont Temple’s seating capacity was 2,500. Given the standing-room-only crowd, an estimate of close to 3,000 in attendance seems fair. Boston Globe, Jun 7, 1899.
  20. “As a Prophetess, So Her Hearers Listened to Mrs. Eddy,” Boston Globe, June 7, 1899. The Boston Journal also reported on the decorations that day: “The flags in the windows over the end of the upper gallery, the streamers depending from the ceiling and radiating to the sides of the hall, the tri-color covering the balcony fronts, and the festoons under the windows, made the hall radiant with vivid color and life. The platform in front was a solid mass of pink and white carnations, and along the sides was bunched with hydrangeas and palms. The handsome costumes of the ladies sprinkled plentifully through the audience gave an additional bit of variety to the scene.” Boston Journal, June 7, 1899. One of Mrs. Eddy’s helpful students, James Neal may have been responsible for much of the set-up that day. At the very least, he helped arrange the flowers on the platform. See Mary Baker Eddy to James A. Neal, June 7, 1899, L03551, MBEL.
  21. Mrs. Eddy highly approved of McKenzie’s appointment, writing to him after the Annual Meeting: “You dear one have just the ring for the chairman of our Church. I knew you were the one for it. I thank God for his gift to me of you.” Mary Baker Eddy to William P. McKenzie, June 7, 1899, L13049, MBEL.
  22. Image from Tremont Temple Sketchbook (Boston: St. Botolph Press, 1896).
  23. Boston Journal, June 7, 1899. The Globe also reported on the moment Mrs. Eddy appeared: “The newly elected president of the First church, Rev. W. P. McKenzie of Cambridge, was in the middle of his address when someone behind him on the platform touched his arm. Those in the audience saw the signal and they knew just as surely as though it had been announced in so many words that Mrs. Eddy was then upon the platform and was making her way to the front.” Boston Globe, June 7, 1899.
  24. Ibid. “She walked with as sprightly a step as a girl, and only by her white hair showed signs of age,” the Boston Journal reported. “Her eyes were very bright, and her face showed no mark of the rough hand of time. . . . Mrs. Eddy sat beside Judge Hanna, to whom she occasionally turned and spoke, and as she did so her face lighted up with a smile.” Boston Journal, June 7, 1899. See also Rev. Irving C. Tomlinson, Twelve Years with Mary Baker Eddy Amplified Edition (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1994), 180.
  25. After Hanna’s introduction, the congregation sang two hymns, both poems of Mrs. Eddy’s that had been set to music: “Feed My Sheep,” and “Saw Ye My Savior,” the Communion hymn. The Treasurer gave his report, and then Mr. McKenzie said that Mrs. Eddy would “interrupt” the service and speak. “The interruptions in our order of business are a perfect delight to us,” he told the gathered crowd. “I have to announce another interruption, that is, it means that the real order of business will be taken up, and our beloved Leader will speak a few words to her children.” Christian Science Sentinel, June 8, 1899. The Globe’s recounting of the event are also noteworthy: “Mrs. Eddy allowed the hand-clapping to echo for the briefest space and then with a faint smile on her face arose and bowed. While Judge Hanna was making an explanatory address, Mrs. Eddy leaned back in the stuffed chair in which she was sitting, waving her fan to and fro and smiling now and then at the words of the speaker. . . . She looked as she sat there the ideal of a gentle, kindly old lady, who had led an uneventful life, and who was enjoying the peace and quiet of a conscience-clear old age. Before she arose to speak she took off her veil, and as she proceeded the lassitude of advanced age gave way to a certain extent to the fire and energy of one who had an important message to deliver.” Boston Globe, June 7, 1899.
  26. First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, 131. The address was originally published in the Christian Science Sentinel, June 8, 1899. The Globe reported: “She spoke directly and earnestly. Her eyes lightened with purpose as she epigrammatically expounded the principles of the faith. She showed little hesitancy in choosing her words, and her facility of utterance was truly remarkable.” Boston Globe, June 7, 1899.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Tomlinson, Twelve Years, 181.
  29. Irving Tomlinson and his sister, Mary, along with James Neal and Calvin Frye, were among those who accompanied Mrs. Eddy to the hotel. Tomlinson reminiscences, 194, MBEL. See also Tomlinson, Twelve Years, 181. Another in attendance at the meeting that day recalled, “We went into the Parker House for an ice, and seeing Mr. Neal and one or two other gentlemen, they said if we went to the window we would see Mrs. Eddy. She was in a carriage with Miss [Clara] Shannon, and looked up and threw us kisses.” Eleanor Winslow, “Statement by Miss Eleanor Winslow,” 6, MBEL.
  30. Tomlinson reminiscences, 190-193, MBEL. Mrs. Eddy appreciated the irony as well. The next day, she wrote a letter to James Neal, admitting that she had originally desired to go to the Communion service and not the Annual Meeting. “But now [I] see it was God’s dear purpose to connect me more intimately with my dear church and to have me address such a full number of communicants in the very hall where I was introduced by Joseph Cook to an audience of the so-called Christian Scientists and allowed ten minutes in which to speak on this Infinite topic. The hall in which I was so abused was destroyed by fire and the honor of yesterday conferred in a new hall.” Mary Baker Eddy to James A. Neal, June 7, 1899, L03551, MBEL.
  31. Image from About the Farm (Boston: J. R. Whipple Company, 1910).