Expanding into New Territory: Unity of the Great Plains and Unity of St John

Published on: January 6, 2016

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Unity Worldwide Ministries’ Rev Steve Colladay has a great job: He gets to help bring new ministries into manifestation. As Ministry Expansion Coordinator, Steve coaches spiritual leaders on vision and mission, and supports them through the extensive application process to become an official Unity ministry.

“These people have a vision and they step out on the edge of faith. They may not even have people yet. It’s a major calling and response to Spirit. It’s a God job all the way through,” he says.

After the new ministries have been approved, Steve is still there to listen and guide: “There are 128 expansion ministries right now, so we can’t help as much as we’d like to, but we do what we can. It’s truly inspiring to be part of their spiritual path.”

Two exciting new ministries approved by the UWM board on November 3, 2015, are Unity of the Great Plains in Sioux Falls, S. Dak., and Unity of St John, US Virgin Islands. Both have the distinction of being the only Unity ministries in their state (or island).

 

Unity of the Great Plains, South Dakota

The story of Unity of the Great Plains illustrates that once the New Thought seed has been planted, it will bear fruit. From the early 1990s until about 2000, the former Unity of Sioux Falls operated as a small study group. In the late 1990s, Pete Finger moved to Sioux Falls from Chicago and began his Unity journey, taking CEP (Continuing Education Program, now Spiritual Education and Enrichment (SEE)) classes at Unity Village and getting involved at the study group. For various reasons, including low attendance (10 people at a service, on average), the community folded.

Fast-forward 15 years and Unity of the Great Plains is rising from the ashes of Unity of Sioux Falls, with now-licensed Unity teacher (LUT) Pete Finger at the helm. As part of letting go of the past, Pete says, “I believe it is important to clearly state to former members that we are launching a ministry with a new vision, and we will stay true to this vision.”

What does this vision entail? The ministry’s motto is “Empowering Individuals, Celebrating Diversity, Transforming Our World.” All are welcome without exception, especially “those who have been rejected or turned off by other churches, such as gays and lesbians, those in recovery, Native Americans, immigrants, refugees, people of lower economic status, and younger folks who may have different values than traditional spiritual seekers of the past.”

“Peter Finger has long held a vision of a Unity presence in South Dakota, going back to 2001 when he became a licensed Unity teacher,” Steve Colladay reports. “In several conversations with me during his application process, Peter was clearly responding to an inner urging to go where few others have gone in South Dakota. He’s passionate about bringing Unity to Sioux Falls, stimulated by the possibilities rather than fearful of the potential challenges.”

16-Members-of-U-of-Great-Plains-Souix-Falls-SD_webIn October 2015, Unity of the Great Plains began meeting as a study group in Pete’s living room on Wednesday nights. There is room for up to 20 people, and attendance has averaged about 10, with most attendees being people new to Unity. Now that the study group is established, Pete and his leadership team have just signed a lease to rent a downtown yoga studio. They are also working on establishing a steering committee, filing nonprofit documents, and joining the Unity Identity Program.

With a metropolitan area of 250,000 and no New Thought ministries within 150 miles, Pete is hopeful that Unity of the Great Plains will achieve its goal of moving into a dedicated space for all activities in spring 2016 once the word has spread. The group is advertising on Facebook and Meetup, places weekly notices in the local paper, and has posted more than 100 flyers in local businesses.

After only six study group meetings, the leadership team is encouraged about the great start. Pete says, “We have a strong commitment among our current members to reestablish Unity in the area, and they have backed up their commitment with generous offerings. We are deeply gratified that several of our group members have already seen positive shifts in their lives. That’s what we’re here for.”

 

Unity of St John, US Virgin Islands

View from Peace Hill

View from Peace Hill

 

If you happen to be visiting the US Virgin Islands in 2016, be sure to pay a visit to Peace Hill on St John, where Unity of St John will hold weekly Unity Teachings and Sunday Sunset Prayer and Meditation gatherings. Unity of St John, which officially will launch on March 13, 2016, [revised date] will be an educational “center without walls” rather than a traditional spiritual community. This follows the Fillmores’ precedent of holding classes on Sunday afternoons so that their students could attend their own churches or “whatever feeds a person spiritually” in the mornings. In this case, “church” might be a 12-step meeting, livestreaming a Unity service—or even snorkeling!

Rock pulpit for the meditation leader

Rock pulpit for the meditation leader

The interfaith and intercultural Sunday gatherings on Peace Hill, which is adjacent to the historic Denis Bay plantation, will accommodate 100 people or more. The location features a 360-degree view, a historic sugar mill ruin, and a rock as a “pulpit.” Participants will ride a Unity bus (with positive, conscious reggae music) from the ferry dock to Peace Hill, similar to the Unity bus the Fillmores used to bring people to the Unity Inn. Participants also will be asked to bring their own portable beach chairs, bug spray, water and flashlights—surely a first for any Unity center.

For the past 20 years, spiritual coordinator Allison Smith, PhD, has been leading New Thought classes, workshops and retreats on St John, as well as publishing Many Paths newsletter and a “Don’t Forget to Breathe” column. She is also founder and director of People Moving Forward, a nonprofit organization focused on networking, spirituality, education and humanitarianism.

Steve Colladay says, “Allison’s is an inspiring story. She started her own study group that was not affiliated with Unity, and then decided to become a licensed Unity teacher. She’s been here three times now, and has met with me each time. I finally said, ‘I think you’re ready to apply with us,’ and she did it. She has a great vision, a coach, and a sponsoring ministry in Florida.”

Allison says, “Unity of St John’s emphasis is on education, prayer and publications—the essence of Unity—with the prayer and meditation gatherings on beautiful Peace Hill, classes under the palm trees on the beach or in island villas, and publications shipped by boat from Unity Village. We will serve not only St John, but also St Thomas and the British Virgin Islands, holding the intention of providing classes on all three islands by 2017.”

Allison is also excited about the prospect of welcoming other Unity leaders to participate in services and classes: “I would love to have ministers, LUTs and musicians join us at our Peace Hill gatherings, leading a meditation or singing with zeal! We will be following an all-volunteer staffing plan, so we can offer our gratitude and possibly a humble place to stay, as well as a tax deduction, for those who join us. For Phase 2, which will begin in winter 2017, there are plans to offer SEE or other classes at villas or beach pavilions with visiting ministers or LUTs teaching.”

With idyllic weather year-round and 60 percent of the island claimed by the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park, Allison says, “St John is amazingly beautiful, undeveloped and international in its tourism, with over a million visitors annually. And US citizens don’t need a passport to visit! It’s a perfect spiritual destination, combining Unity teachings, natural tropical beauty and positive energy.”

In 2017 look for Unity of St John’s “spiritual vacations,” which Allison says will offer an opportunity “to enjoy St John on an upbeat, fun-filled vacation with your friends or family and spend two hours a day in spiritual enrichment while they go hiking or to the beach. It’s the best of both worlds!”

Check their Facebook page for updates on events and dates.

Lisa Colburn
Lisa Colburn is a writer, writing workshop leader, and former editor of the Alban Institute’s Congregations magazine. She is an active member of Unity of Fairfax in Oakton, Va.

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  • Allison Smith

    Update: The Unity of St. John gatherings will start on 3/13/16, not in January. Watch our Facebook page for further updates and info. Hope lots of Unity ministers, LUT’s and seekers will join us!

  • It’s always rewarding to read about the new Unity works and the willingness of the founders to follow the guidance of Spirit. A well-written and inspiring article!