Biography of Peter V. Ross
Peter V. Ross was a prominent and much loved Christian Scientist, who served the movement faithfully for many years, had a large active practice, and was a teacher of Christian Science. Also, he was renowned for his service as a lecturer, where his ability to connect with the listening audiences was quite apparent. In his time, lecturing was a prevalent means to get the good word out to the people. With a tenure of lectureship spanning twenty years, he had over three thousand appearances and spoke to over three million people all over the world. He was reputed as being responsible for attracting many thousands of people to Christian Science.
Obviously, he took this service very seriously. From the beginning and throughout his years of lecturing, he engaged coaching in oratory expression. Mr. Ross tells that a woman wrote the Board of Directors stating that he would never do as a suitable lecturer. As an illustration of his humility and sincerity, he used this incident as an impetus to improve his skill as a speaker. Mr. Ross said, “So it was that the struggle for self-improvement became a fixed habit and continued to the night of my last lecture twenty years afterward.” Mr. Ross had also described how sensitive he was with regard to his dress and appearance. His motivation for this was so that the audience would have a respect for, and receptivity to, his message. He evidently had a great love for Christian Science and would do anything for its prosperity. It was well known that there were healings resulting from his lectures. A small fraction of them were reported to him; however, that fraction “would fill a sizeable volume.”
I have to share an experience that my grandmother shared with me years ago. She had been led to Christian Science in the 1930s, when she was in a time of need, and joined a church in a small rural community. It was shortly thereafter that it was advertised that a large church in the nearest large city was hosting a lecture to be delivered by Mr. Ross. There was no question that she and her friends wanted to hear him speak. They all got in a car and drove the hour and a half to the church hosting the event, but found they could not get in. The church was already filled to capacity. In anticipation of this, the hosts put loud speakers on the lawns surrounding the church property for the benefit of those who could not get inside. My grandmother and her friends sat in the car and listened, gratefully satisfied with having heard the inspiring lecture.
As has been repeated all too often in human history, the inferior human mind tries to exercise control over whatever is inspired. Mr. Ross stated, “In the earlier days lecturers were permitted a degree of liberty which made their work a joy. Naturally the reaction on the public was highly beneficial. But as time went on restriction after restriction was imposed.” He went on further regarding the imposed requirement of committing lectures to memory and reciting them verbatim: “a speech cannot be delivered effectively that way. It must be done extemporaneously. Then the words are charged with thought. And thinking is the essence of discourse. There must be not simply the intake of ideas, but the clothing of them with suitable words. This bold effort grips the audience and enlists their cooperation.” He spoke from experience, and it is easy to see how there was a great demand for his lectures. Regarding his audiences, he observed that, “People no longer went to sleep, crying babies became obsolete, invitations multiplied, and overflows were the rule, not the exception.”
There is no doubt that his popularity did not sit well with the directors and the lecture board; remember, he was Peter V. Ross much loved. At a time when the directors were concerned about a decline in interest for lectures generally, Mr. Ross wrote the directors a letter telling of the enthusiastic attendance at his lectures. I am sure they must have known already how well attended they were. His letter went on to describe helpful ways to make an effective presentation of a lecture.
At another time, Mr. Ross prepared a paper about promoting lectures, with hopes that it would appear in the Sentinel where it would be readily available for the benefit of the churches in preparing for lectures. However, it did not meet with approval from the Board of Lectureship nor from the Board of Directors, so it was not published.
For our benefit today, Mr. Ross had assembled and published a selection of his letters to his patients in a book entitled LEAVES OF HEALING. This book is offered for sale by Plainfield Church. There are also transcripts of his lectures for our study. Many have found healing and instruction in these works, his legacy left for our benefit. His love for God, Christian Science, and mankind pervades all his works.