When I entered Unity Institute and Seminary, I had a vision for ministry. The vision had developed over a long period of time, and it was precipitated by my own personal healing experiences. Nonetheless, my vision was not for church ministry. Though I found metaphysical teachings to be the major piece I was missing in my spiritual path, my vision was to work with others, who like myself, found their primary spiritual path “outside the walls” of an organized religious community.
This caused some consternation. In fact, I was asked more than once, “If you found what you needed in church, why not take a church and give it back?” My response? I could have found these teachings earlier in my struggle had there been a way to learn them without stepping inside a church. The teachings, after all, are universal and not exclusive to Unity.
I was already tightly integrated into a non-traditional spiritual community—a community of people in 12 Step Recovery. I found that I needed more. When I found the metaphysical teachings of Unity, my desire became to help others who, like myself, felt stuck. This would necessarily have to happen outside the walls of any church, as 12-steppers are typically agnostic and church-phobic at the beginning of their spiritual journey. My vision was for an alternative ministry—a ministry without walls.
Upon graduation I launched an alternative ministry, Unity of Spirit, and set about the unfoldment of my vision. However, it soon became apparent that things were not going according to my plan! Non-existent funding for programs quickly became an issue—and when a funding request was finally denied, programmatic development came to a halt. Without an established community (church) providing regular income, I realized, reluctantly, that I would need to both “keep my day job” and get creative to bring services to the population I wanted to serve.
Meanwhile, the small business my wife and I founded ten years ago was growing and gaining publicity for the employment opportunities we provided to the marginalized and recovering communities in the urban core. We wanted to intentionally and consciously teach the spiritually-based business culture we had adopted—a culture of guidance, oneness, kindness, support and living the truth we know. So we found ourselves testing each business decision against one or more of the five basic Unity principles and re-writing the rulebook for business operations.
We got busier and busier—and my “day job” took more and more of my time. I yearned to follow my dream and do ministry the way I had envisioned. But it was not to be. Our business continued to grow—and garnered even more publicity—for we were doing the “business of the heart” while engaging in traditional commerce. Word was getting out about our business and how lives were changed as part of our mission. In January 2016, we were named one of the “Top 25 Small Businesses under 25 Employees” in Kansas City, Mo., and a few weeks later, the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce named us to the “Top Ten Small Businesses in Kansas City.”
In the course of completing the endless paperwork, we learned that today’s term for our business model is social enterprise—a for-profit business that uses the proceeds and profits to “do good” in the world. In the business world, we are not a “ministry”—we are a “social enterprise.”
Our employees are highly motivated, and highly engaged in all aspects of their lives. The single moms in recovery have multiple challenges to overcome. We support their life-goals with flexible scheduling—allowing them to achieve a measure of work-school-life balance as these single moms care for their kids, work part-time, and pursue their college education. This seems to be a novel idea in the business world.
As publicity for our social entrepreneurship gained momentum, we continued our focus on our employees and “doing the next right thing.” With lunch-and-learn sessions covering topics such as nonviolent communication, listening skills, conflict resolution, and HeartMath®, we shaped our corporate culture one crucial conversation at a time. I was teaching, in a non-academic way, the skills I had been taught in seminary. We have a distinctive non-mainstream culture in our organization, and we all work hard to stay on track.
We deepened our relationship with the jobs program from which some of our employees come. I serve our business as the jobs program liaison (official capacity) as well as continue my volunteer work at that facility—volunteer work that began as a seminary internship—and provide counseling services and small group facilitation for their residents. I participate as a member of the Graduate Aftercare Program planning team, whose charge is to keep individuals connected and in community after graduation from the 2-year recovery program.
Be the Change
The Second Principle: All human beings have the presence of God within—and we are one in Spirit. If we truly believe this premise, why do we continue making generalizations, using separatist language and develop ministry to and for people, rather than with people? We in Unity espouse “oneness” and then we all too often talk and practice “other-ness.” We talk about the poor and disenfranchised and talk about what we can do for them. And we continue to say them and they—the “other.”
How do we show up differently? By practicing the fifth principle—living the Truth we know—in a way in which we: don’t cause separation, ignore, tolerate, co-exist, acknowledge. Instead we accept, embrace and celebrate all individuals. How do we serve? We talk about “love”—mostly the affectional and attractional qualities—and not so much about the harmonizing aspects of love. How do we bring the harmonizing power of Love into play?
Lives change because someone cares and shares, and in doing so, “practices the Presence.” We do so by affirming:
- I see you.
- I believe in you.
- I care about you.
- You belong here.
We share who we are and the results that we experience. Pretty soon, someone says, “Teach me how to do that.” We share how our lives work and the spiritual tools and practices that make our lives work. We give of ourselves. We not only tithe time, treasure and talent, we share our social capital.
Sharing social capital (also called network capital) is a major factor into bringing our second and fifth principles out of the ethers and into actual practice. It is the way that we call one another into a higher way of being. People that are disenfranchised and marginalized often have less, or different, social capital. Sharing social capital in the course of living, working and playing with individuals in these communities is a major factor in effecting positive changes in people’s lives.
This is what it means to me to “be the change” that Gandhi spoke of. Show up and share.
Today, I just keep showing up, practicing our principles, and doing whatever is unfolding next. As an unsalaried Unity minister, in the past year I have participated as a guest speaker on a regular basis, performed weddings, provided spiritual counseling, and facilitated small groups. As a salaried co-owner of a social enterprise, I bring all my ministerial training to bear, as we celebrate and support one another in all of life’s journeys, from celebrating GED graduations and sobriety dates, to Celebrations of Life.
As we learn and grow together, we continue to practice and share the spiritual principles that make our lives work. This is not a formalized ministry. It is a life-ministry. We each grow spiritually as we embrace the new way of life that these principles and practices bring to our lives.
We are launching a new nonprofit this summer that will focus on imparting jobs training skills to prepare individuals for employment in sewing-related industries. This nonprofit is called “The Sewing Labs” and will serve as a training and resource center for the urban Kansas City community. We are in partnership with area businesses, nonprofits and public organizations to coordinate our efforts to train dis-enfranchised and marginalized individuals, primarily single parents with children, in the trades that require sewing skills. We plan a soft-launch early this summer (2016), with a full curriculum by late fall. I will serve as the executive director of this organization, which will continue to minister “outside the walls.”
I can’t wait to see where it will be a year from now! I no longer have the same illusions about alternative ministry that I once had. Divine Mind has infinite expressions, and apparently, so does alternative ministry. My concepts are merely a starting point.
Go forth. Be the change.