Jane Reilly has been in a long-term relationship that's had its share of bumps. So the Severna Park accountant, a former Columbia resident, plans to attend a local workshop designed to enhance relationship skills.
The workshop, sponsored by the Columbia Church of Religious Science, is just one of many - from financial advice to health programs - offered to help members and the larger community create the life they want.
"We want to continue to grow and evolve," said Reilly, who attends the Columbia church.
The programs are a natural extension of the Church of Religious Science, which is part of a global movement called New Thought Church. New Thought, which has about 2,500 churches worldwide, espouses healthy minds. "We provide programs that promote health, wealth, loving relationships, success and personal well-being," said the Rev. Nancy Stepp.
The church will sponsor "The Way of Love - Making Love Sparkle" on March 3. The workshop with therapist Michael Wall is designed to enrich relationships by helping people develop new patterns.
New Thought is based on the work of Ernest Holmes, a 19th-century New England scholar who developed the Science of Mind teaching which combines the great religions and philosophies of Eastern and Western thought.
New Thought's highest principle, Stepp said, is that because people are created in the image of God, the presence of God is within everyone.
"We need no other person, place or thing for our contact with God," Stepp said. "We believe that God, or if you prefer, a higher power, is always available and within us all. We are an expression of God. The kingdom of heaven is within."
When life seems out of control, she said, a "new thought" is needed to gain control. "And what's the most powerful new thought we can cultivate? A God thought - a thought of love, beauty, understanding, inspiration, a thought that takes me to another level of thinking that there are great possibilities," Stepp said. "Whatever you can conceive of and believe in you can create."
That process also applies to relationships. "It's not easy to love others if they've hurt you," Stepp said. "But it's about seeing that divinity in you that I see in myself."
Another tool is Spiritual Mind Treatment, or prayer. "It's like calming the mind to bring it to a state of peace and unity with God," Stepp said.
The Columbia Church of Religious Science was founded in 1981 by a handful of members who met in individuals' homes. Three years later, they moved to the Hawthorn Neighborhood Center. Stepp, the church's third minister, has served since 1995.
The church also offers a women's support group, support group for women of color, men's gathering, parents' circle and community outreach. Children are taught "life's virtues" such as love, compassion, honesty and responsibility at the church's Sunday "Funday School." Then they tell congregants what they've learned.
The church has 125 members, many of whom were on a spiritual journey before joining.
"Most who come are seekers," said Stepp, a former Methodist and Lutheran. "Like Socrates and Plato, they come with questions like 'Who am I?' 'What am I a part of?' 'What is this thing called life?' 'What is my part?' and 'How do I succeed in life?' Members can literally take what we teach and apply it to life, and see life change for the better."
She said that those who relate to science of mind teaching are drawn to the mystical, seek practical spiritual practices to live by, and relate to the works of Deepak Chopra, Neale Donald Walsch's Conversations with God, Oprah Winfrey and 12-step programs.
Though raised Presbyterian, Reilly hadn't belonged to a church for 15 years, but she took self-improvement courses with a spiritual bent. She took to the church immediately after first attending seven years ago.
"What attracted me is the universal nature of the church's teachings, so it's not so narrow a belief system that excludes blocks of people," Reilly said. "It's inclusive. Anyone can believe what they want to believe. ... So I can value other people's spiritual practices."
Holmes, the 19th-century scholar, also advocated that followers grow beyond his understanding of life's principles, Reilly said. "He's not saying you have to believe this or you're going to hell," she said. "He is laying out a teaching that is up to us to decide if it's appropriate for us and to tap into the truth within us."
Said longtime member Annette Cameron: The church stresses personal responsibility and a practical approach to living.
"The beauty is that it affects all aspects of your life," said Cameron, a Columbia airline reservations agent. "You have a great deal of control over areas in your life in choosing how you can react. My challenge is to see goodness. What we think and what we believe is what we manifest in our life."
"The Way of Love - Making Love Sparkle" workshop will be held from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. March 3 at the Hawthorn Neighborhood Center. The suggested offering is $25. Information: 410-750-8559 or visit www.ccrscolumbia.org.