Editor’s Note: This article was submitted unsolicited to Unity Worldwide Ministries from a longstanding, active minister in the field. We wanted to provide this space to have a conversation around the ideas presented here. We encourage you to use the comment section below to share your thoughts.
My ordination by Spirit that confirmed in me that I am a minister occurred several years prior to my receiving my ordination from Unity Worldwide Ministries (UWM)—Association of Unity Churches (AUC) at the time. I suppose that spiritual ordination may occur at different times and ways for different people, and as long as those individuals conduct themselves in alignment with what they speak as truth and are not immoral or criminal, it is hard to legitimately judge or question other’s spiritual ordination.
Receiving an ordination from an organization with a stated purpose, mission and principles is another matter. When an organization provides a certificate or training and/or an ordination, it is putting its stamp of approval upon that person as representing its teachings and standards in an exemplary way.
Our ordination from UWM is trusted by congregations. They take for granted that we are trained ministers of integrity and spiritual maturity. It allows us the privilege of respect from, and authority over, the Unity congregations we serve. It also grants us a platform from which to draw people to us. Unless we have pioneered a church, when we arrive at a congregation of any size, we are literally handed the assets of the congregation that have been built by the congregants and the various ministers that have previously served them. We stand on their shoulders and on the prestige and respect for “Unity,” regardless of whether people know the difference between UWM and UWH (Unity World Headquarters), and regardless of how much influence our own work may have on that congregation.
Even in pioneering, the vast majority of the assets are provided by the congregation, and those assets belong to them, and must be respected and overseen by a responsibly elected and educated board.
In Myrtle Fillmore’s Healing Letters, in the section titled “Our Methods,” she first acknowledges the spiritual ordination of consciousness. Then she writes, “To those who pass satisfactorily the examinations given on the Unity Correspondence course, we grant a certificate. Those who complete this course and who prove in other ways that they are capable of ministering from platform, classroom, healing room and who have demonstrated that they are trusting to God’s divine law of giving and receiving, the law of prosperity, for their success and support—those in whom we have faith and those who we feel to be loyal Unity workers—may be ordained by us.… Those who know the true purpose of this work are not so much concerned with titles or positions. They are intent upon expressing the Spirit of Christ.”
Clearly, the “correspondence course” has evolved into the various credentialing programs offered by UWM, and the ordaining body has evolved into UWM.
When we are ordained by UWM, we make a sacred covenant to be “loyal Unity workers” and we do that through the ethics of ministry of UWM. Those ethics state that our behavior will exemplify Unity principles. They further state that we will abide by the policies and procedures that have been very painstakingly worked out in order to protect the integrity of the organization so that our ordination from them means something in the eyes of the world.
When a Unity minister clearly violates the ministerial ethics they have agreed to uphold and shows no remorse or intent to repair their behavior; or when they depart from a congregation for any reason, and then take the assets in title, prestige, people, money—the very assets they have been entrusted with that rightfully belong to others; when they ignore their ordination covenant agreement with UWM, and use it to start a separate work, they have proved that they are out of integrity with that ordination from UWM and that ordination should be rescinded.
There is a policy and procedure for starting a new work and being part of UWM and in alignment with the ordination covenant. Many have done so.
Time to Reconsider
It is past time for us to stop assuming ordination is for life. The behavior of ministers not in integrity with their ordination covenant damages the reputation and respect of “Unity” in the communities in which they work and with the congregants they have behaved inappropriately toward. It is time we rescind ordinations from those who by their behavior have demonstrated they are no longer in integrity with UWM policies and procedures and should no longer be accorded the privileges of our association and stamp of approval.
In that same section in Myrtle Fillmore’s Healing Letters she writes, “So when you read of those who are using such titles as ‘Reverend’ or ‘Doctor’ … just know that spiritual vision will enable you to look beyond all those outer signs and to discern the real character and ability of the leader or minister.”
In working with congregations left in the wake of some painful ministerial departures, I have observed what seems to be a lack of one of the most important things we teach in Unity: empowerment of individuals to learn through the Spirit in them rather than the personality they admire. A personality cult on the part of many in the congregation seems the result of a lack of the spiritual maturity to discern the real character of that leader. Those persons may well be receiving the teachings that they can understand at the time. Many learn from them, and either stay stuck in the personality adoration or move into higher consciousness. But many simply see the failure of “Unity” through the clay feet of the personality they have admired. For our organizations long-term health, we must discern whether that person using our credential is indeed in integrity with UWM standards.