Editor’s Note: Rev Myra McFadden’s perspective is one that comes professionally from being a senior minister of a Unity congregation, and from prior experience as a psychotherapist who has worked with chemically dependent individuals. On a personal level, Myra has had multiple experiences with individuals who have struggled with chemical dependency.
On the other hand, Rev Lonnie Vanderslice’s perspective comes from her personal experience as a person in long-term recovery. As mentioned in the “Thrice Blessed” article previously published, Rev Lonnie’s alternative ministry Unity of Spirit is focused on bringing the Unity teachings, tools and principles to a specific population—people in recovery who were ready to augment their 12-step experience with the additional spiritual development offered by Unity principles.
The Vision: by Rev Myra McFadden
About a year ago, an idea for a church service that would serve the needs of the 12-step recovery community emerged. There are many people in recovery that find their way to Unity, and yet there are so many more who are not aware that Unity exists. Our Sunday evening service at Unity of Kansas City North (UKCN), Mo., called “Living Serenity: A Spiritual Experience” has begun to bridge the gap.
Living Serenity first evolved from a meditative experience I had one morning late last fall. I was filled with tremendous gratitude for all the support a family member had received in recovery, and in the midst of my joy I felt God calling me to give back, to do something for these individuals and their loved ones. It dawned on me that I was being called to create a service, a spiritual experience, that would open up healing and peace for others in the way recovery had opened the door for my loved one.
With enthusiastic support from my board of trustees, I then enlisted the assistance of two seminary students, who had self-identified as in recovery. (Both have since graduated from Unity Institute.) They were wonderfully excited about the possibilities represented by this new ministry, and together we began an extensive collaboration that created an honest and authentic bridge between the teachings and philosophies of 12-step recovery and Unity’s theology and beliefs. To our delight, we discovered that there is significant overlap—and a natural fit—between both. We created Living Serenity to blend and enhance the common ground between both spiritual paths.
At the present time, Rev Lonnie Vanderslice (one of the original collaborators) and Dan Beckett (a Unity ministerial student, self-identified with 12-step recovery) and I share the speaking rotation, and we collaborate with our music director regarding our guest musician/singer and song choices. Chaplains, ushers and other volunteers participate as well. We all work together to bring about a reflective, healing and uplifting service that specifically empowers 12-step individuals and their loved ones. Before and after each service are opportunities for prayer, and spiritual guidance is always available for anyone who comes. Our order of service includes a Daily Word reading that fits the evening’s theme, the Serenity Prayer and Community Prayer (an opportunity to ask for prayers for others.) Rev Lonnie diligently maintains the Living Serenity Facebook page, and there are audio recordings of the talks and meditations available on our spiritual community’s website.
It has been a great journey so far. We have received many accolades since our first service on February 22, 2015, and we are extremely grateful for the ways this service has been a blessing to those it has served. Living Serenity has been a safe space that has provided a sacred, healing and nurturing experience for people in recovery and their loved ones—no matter where they are in their process. Individuals who would otherwise never set foot in a church have begun attending. Some have chosen to learn more about Unity and have integrated themselves into our larger spiritual community by attending Sunday services, events and classes. In fact, one person recently became an enthusiastic member!
Unexpectedly, some church members attend both Sunday morning services and Living Serenity—even on the same day. Others come to Living Serenity when they can’t make it to Sunday morning services, even though they are not in recovery themselves. In fact, a woman I met at our last service told me that she wasn’t in recovery, but then added with tears in her eyes, “Actually, I think we’re all in recovery of some kind. It might be a divorce or a loss—who knows? This service was really good for me. It was just what I needed.” She then went on to explain that she was driving by the church and saw the banner outside for the first time. Intrigued, she felt compelled to pull into the parking lot and then walked into the service which had already begun.
Currently, there are approximately 20–30 people who attend Living Serenity regularly. We have managed to be self-sustaining, and we hold the vision of this service becoming a complete ministry—with its own chaplains, special events and activities. I hold the vision of doubling the number of people that attend in a very short time, and I see us expanding the much-needed marketing to increase our exposure to those who would benefit. Certainly, we have a long way to go, and I am deeply humbled and grateful for the great good that has already transpired.
In addition, Unity Worldwide Ministries’ Expansion department has a webinar recorded on 8/27/15 that is directly related to the work done with Living Serenity that may be helpful. In addition, I would strongly recommend listening to some of our Living Serenity talks on the UKCN website to see the themes we’ve worked with, and to hear how we’ve integrated 12-step recovery beliefs and Unity theology together.
Consider These Things: by Rev Lonnie Vanderslice
I wanted to see a service that would speak to the needs of those who were “stuck” in their recovery, as I had once been. To that end, I was thrilled when Rev Myra McFadden asked if I would be willing to collaborate on the proposed service Living Serenity.
Through a series of discussions over many weeks, we identified several areas that needed particular attention as we examined the overlap of Unity principles and 12-step teachings. We wanted to be true to the philosophies of each community while exploring the overlaps.
The following are areas to pay particular attention to when developing such a service for the recovering community:
1. Anonymity: Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of 12-step recovery and must be well guarded. The right to break someone’s anonymity rests with that individual alone. This means that the ministry must not inadvertently identify anyone as being in recovery without their explicit permission. There are several aspects to consider.
a. Make sure people are able to avail themselves of opportunities for pastoral care in a manner that guards their anonymity. They are the only ones that should be in a position to break their anonymity with other congregants.
b. To that end, recordings should be audio only, and only of the talk/meditation.
c. The speaker should not identify themselves as a member of a particular program (although they may identify as a recovering person). Identification by both name and program violates Tradition Eleven, which demands maintenance of personal anonymity “at the level of press, radio and films.”
2. Ritual: Unity rituals are foreign to 12-steppers, but there are elements, such as the Serenity Prayer, that can be incorporated into the flow of the service. Having a general order of service that is bookended with predictable elements helps with comfort level.
3. Theology: Care must be taken with the approach to communicating the “I Am” aspect. Twelve Step theology acknowledges that “deep within every man, woman and child is the fundamental idea of God,” yet many 12-steppers will balk at claiming their own indwelling Divinity for fear of triggering the self-centered EGO.
4. Language: It is helpful to avoid “Unity-speak” and clearly religious terms. Concepts such “consciousness,” co-creation, denial and affirmation, should be clearly explained, and when possible, mapped to 12-step or recovery language. It is helpful to draw parallels between Unity concepts and recovery concepts.
5. Worldview: The general worldview taught in 12-step programs is that of Powerlessness over the addiction. Unfortunately, it can be misapplied as relating to the person’s entire life—as in powerless over everything. Therefore Powerlessness is a concept that is in direct opposition to claiming our own Power, as we do in Unity. This needs careful deconstruction and then reconstruction to ensure understanding without triggering disbelief or rebellion in long-time recovering people.
6. Approach: Individual personal stories are the crux of the 12-step learning model. The messages must have “depth and weight.” They must be relevant and credible. It seems to be best received when illustrations are from one’s own experience with recovery. In those stories, each can see themselves and learn through another’s experience. To this end, storytelling is useful. Particularly when a story describes a belief system in terms of “what my belief was like back then, what happened, and what I believe now.”
7. Topics: Because 12-step programs came into existence around the same time as the burgeoning New Thought movement (1935-1939), there is much overlap in concept. In fact, the writings of Emmet Fox, a Religious Science minister, were required reading for people in recovery before any recovery literature was written. Topics that center on practical application are well-received.
8. Recovery Programs: There are dozens of 12-step recovery programs in existence today, each with a variety of nuances that address a particular addiction. It is not practical nor useful to try to speak to the surface details of an individual’s addiction. Rather, the topics need to speak to the nature of the human condition/addiction/solution and be broad enough that attendees can identify themselves therein. Centering on a specific addiction (alcohol, sex, drugs, gambling, etc.) tends to distance those who don’t identify with that particular behavior. Centering on a particular belief system (separation from God, for example) is more useful.
9. Service: Chances are good that there are recovering people in your current congregations that would be happy to assist in developing such a service—be sure to make use of their perspectives! The speaker should not identify themselves as a member of a particular program (although they may identify as a recovering person). Identification by both name and program violates Tradition Eleven, which demands maintenance of personal anonymity “at the level of press, radio and films.”