Any history is a tale of challenges and triumphs, shifts and evolution, and the history of Unity Worldwide Ministries is no different. Fifty years ago in 1966, the Association of Unity Churches was born as an international organization operating independently from Unity School of Christianity at Unity Village, Mo. If you’d like to think of it as the corporate side, consider that the Latin root of the word “corporate” is corporare, meaning “to embody.” So it might make metaphorical sense to liken the birth of UWM to a baby being born—a huge amount of development occurs within, and then there is pressure, pain, and a separation, as the new life becomes a distinct entity with its own life path, though carrying the same DNA.
Before taking on a life of its own, UWM started as Unity’s Field Department in 1915. By the end of World War I in 1918, the Field Department was sending teachers out to lead study groups and establish centers. In 1925, the first Unity Annual Conference was established, a gathering that continues today. 1936 saw the first Youth of Unity Conference, establishing the focus on educating young people in Unity principles. In 1946, the Annual Conference was renamed the Unity Ministers Association, but carrying on the same work, still as an extension of the Unity School, until 1966.
1966 marks the birthday of the Association of Unity Churches. Rev Tom Thorpe explained the cutting of the umbilical cord this way in his Contact magazine article (Dec 2011-Feb 2012 issue), “Late in 1965, when the number of Unity centers had grown beyond 200 and the task of supporting the centers was increasing in complexity, Charles R. Fillmore, grandson of Unity’s founders and then executive vice-president … outlined a plan for transferring authority and responsibility for overseeing the functions of field ministries, including the licensing of ministers and teachers and the ordination and placement of ministers.”
Still with offices on campus at Unity Village, the Association went forth with their mission, consisting mainly of conducting the ministerial training program from 1968–1982. Other projects included the creation of The Ambassador Program in 1969 to help forge international bonds. The name of the Annual Minister’s Conference became the Unity People’s Convention in 1970, as it is known today.
The Seventies saw a major focus on Youth Education. From 1968–1972, Dan Perin, as director of Youth Education, visited the YOU (Youth of Unity) rallies in each region, and then helped the teens plan their conference. A full curriculum was developed for all age groups, and he traveled to train youth educators, too. In 1970 he was invited to the White House Conference on Children and Youth, which brought together ten thousand people from around the world to develop programs to meet the needs of young people. And in 1971 the first international foreign exchange student was brought to Unity Village from Trinidad for the Youth of Unity Conference.
Other highlights were the creation of the Wings of Song songbook in 1975 and in 1979, the beginning of the Unity Urban School in Detroit, Michigan, which today still offers an alternative path to attaining Unity ministry.
The end of the 70s also brought about a shift in the process of education and licensing. Rev Glenn Mosley describes it as an “Organizational Controversy” in his book Association of Unity Churches International: Its Beginning, Its Evolution, Its Vision for Worldwide Service. Returning to our metaphor of a baby, this might aptly be described as the teen years, when a renegotiation of roles and agreements between a parent and child has to take place in order for the child to become all he or she can become, yet still maintain a family.
1980 saw the establishment of the Unity School for Religious Studies. And by 1982, the process that has been in place for decades was created, wherein training ministers became a joint venture between the Unity School and the Association.
In 1986, the Unity People’s Convention (as the Unity Annual Conference was renamed) was held off Unity grounds for the first time in ten years in San Diego, California. Since then, the location alternates between the Kansas City area and a different location within the country. Sometimes a cruise is held as part of the convention. By the end of the decade there were 550 ministries and 275 study groups.
Along with a new decade, it was also the beginning of the second century of the Unity movement, with 100 years being completed in 1989. Anniversaries tend to inspire both individuals and organizations to re-evaluate their direction. In 1990 the Association was granted a plot of land on campus to build their own office space, but the need for space was too urgent to wait for something to be designed and built. So in 1991, the Association moved into the building that currently houses UWM. It is in next-door Lee’s Summit, Mo., just four miles from Unity Village. In terms of our “corporare” metaphor, the child was old enough to move out on his or her own.
The 90s were another great decade of focus on youth education, with the Children on the Quest curriculum developed, and the conference theme, “The Year of the Child.” In 1997, International Youth of Unity officers were chosen to speak at the United Nations building during the “A Season for Nonviolence” event, thanks to efforts of the Association for Global New Thought. And in 1999 the first Children’s Consultant Conference was held. That was later followed by Regional Education Consultants conferences for consultants serving all ages.
Other highlights included some innovative work in the field of conflict management that began in 1993 with Rev Gary Simmons and the Alban Institute. In 1994, the office building we moved into only three years before was paid off with a matching grant from Catherine Ponder. The mortgage was burned at the convention in Alexandria, Va. The Love Notes quarterly music program originated that year, and in 1997 the June Convention Cruise set sail. And in 1999, Future Search, a visioning group of 160 people, met in Kansas City to create a vision of what Unity would look like in 2010.
New Millennium to Today
The Year 2000 brought a sense of new possibility to the world. September 11, 2001, brought a crisis that impacted not only the World Trade Center in New York, but the world as we knew it. It is said that the Chinese characters that form the word “crisis” are a combination of “danger” and “opportunity,” and our Association embraced the opportunity to pray and find new ways to bring a greater experience of peace to the world. In 2004, the Association and Unity School presented a joint program at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona, Spain. The program was entitled, “Affirmative Prayer as Common Ground: the Path of Personal Transformation and Spiritual Harmony.”
In 2005, Rev James Trapp succeeded Glenn Mosley as President/CEO of the Association of Unity Churches International. And also in 2005, the first “Sound Connections” music conference was held at Unity Village, featuring workshops on New Thought music resources, technology and creating a music ministry.
From 2009-2012, the Transformation Experience, including the Enlightened Leaders Program, was active, providing leadership development and testing best practices for thriving ministry. The best practices were then shared with all Unity leaders and ministries through free downloadable Leadership & Development Ministry Resource Guides.
In 2010, the Unity Identity Program, also known as branding, began and the Association became Unity Worldwide Ministries (UWM). Rev Donna Johnson was named President/CEO in 2011, and the exciting process of rolling out the new branding was underway.
As of 2014, UWM supported 573 ministries in the US, 233 outside of the US, 14 schools, and 11 associations around the world.
Unity Worldwide Ministries’ vision is: “A world powerfully transformed through the growing movement of shared spiritual awakening.” Our mission is: “Advancing the movement of spiritual awakening and transformation through Unity, a positive path for spiritual living.” Read more about why Unity Worldwide Ministries exists.
Today, Unity Worldwide Ministries assists ministers and ministries with a variety of tools to provide guidance and information to support them. As of August 2016, UWM will be providing educational programming and ordination/credentialing for leaders. UWM assists, as it always has, with placement and transition support, as well as the tools leaders need to start a new ministry or step into an existing one from business and administration to inspiration and curriculum, to branded printed materials. They help with websites and social media (including this Unity Leaders Journal), and music and material for your music ministry. UWM also hosts national events that encourage sharing, training and networking, and maintains a listing of ministries online.
As UWM begins the next era, we can all move forward with faith, knowing that it will unfold in a way that serves our evolution. It’s certainly an exciting time to be a part of the Unity movement!