When I think of Unity’s history, I find myself looking at the whole picture—that is, seeing it as an evolutionary process. As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, the only way to understand life is through the concept of evolution. Unity’s history, or evolution, has paralleled the history of all spiritual or religious movements and indeed of most corporations. It has gone from Myrtle and Charles Fillmore, to family, to a corporate structure. With this evolution, there follows a diminishing return in terms of total commitment to the originating ideas.
It was a golden era that saw Unity grow from its downtown facilities to the beautiful setting of Unity Village.
My wife Dorothy came to Unity School in 1938 at a time when Unity was evolving into a worldwide movement through literature and prayer work. Unity teachers and ministers were beginning to make themselves known in some communities around the world. Dorothy was hired by Charles Fillmore and she, in her vivacious and outgoing way, claimed him as her mentor and friend. She was at home in the energy shared by Charles, his two sons, and leaders such as May Rowland, the head of Silent Unity. It was a feeling of spiritual family, with a mission to transform the world with the Truth that had been so clearly demonstrated in their lives.
Dorothy says there was a spirit of joy that everyone felt who touched Unity School in some manner. The driving force was the desire to share, with only little energy given to paying for their activities. It was a core belief that as long as they joyfully affirmed their Truth and shared it with the world, their prosperity would come. It was a golden era that saw Unity grow from its downtown facilities to the beautiful setting of Unity Village. The unfoldment of Rick Fillmore’s dreams for this country campus was just another demonstration of prosperity that comes as you claim it in the spirit of service.
I arrived at Unity Village in 1956 and entered into almost the same Unity culture that Dorothy found in 1938. Almost everyone working there was a dedicated student of the Unity philosophy and there was a powerful feeling of mission. Two of the Fillmore sons, Lowell and Rick, led the school’s activities, assisted again by people who worked with Charles Fillmore or who were working to make his teachings clearer and more available for others to learn. By then Dorothy was the co-director of the Unity Training School and teaching students like Catherine Ponder, Johnnie Colemon, and Sig Paulson, who all went on to become great Unity leaders. This was a continuation of the golden era.
Those of us who went into the field ministry at that time went out in the spirit of the Fillmores. That is, we ministered on a love-offering basis. The spirit was epitomized by one minister who, when told the group she was called to serve was comprised of only about “20 old ladies,” replied, “Hell, I don’t care. I only want a place to minister the Truth.” She went on to build that work into a tremendous ministry. The field ministers were generally asked to serve in locations by the Field Department of Unity School. They were quite successful in matching ministers with developing centers of students.
As the years passed, we witnessed an evolution from the “family consciousness” to that of a “corporate consciousness.” Successful ministers like Eric Butterworth spearheaded a movement to make the field movement a corporate body of their own, and independent of Unity School. As the work at Unity School became more “high tech,” they began to hire more employees who were not Unity students. The work of sharing the Unity message went on, but not with quite the same passion generated by the lingering shadow of the early followers of the founders.
This follows the pattern of other evolving movements. The newly formed association of Unity ministers became very businesslike in seeing that ministers were protected by having contracts and retirement plans with those they served. Gone was the need to rely on the minister’s personal prosperity demonstration. Again, this is the normal pattern of evolution that tends to dilute the founder’s absolutes to more popular positions in the world.
So, what is Unity evolving to now? The Piersons believe that because Unity’s basic message is the Truth, it will not evolve to irrelevance as other movements have. There is still a powerful need for the world to recognize that Jesus’ teachings are relevant to our everyday lives and that, when properly understood, they can turn any life into a series of joyful events and happy discoveries. There is a call to live the Unity principles to the absolute and demonstrate what we believe. It can be done! The best is yet to be!