The Unity Center in West Linn, Oregon, has from its beginning held a vision of contributing to a consciousness of world healing. Our vision was that of healing the world, one life at a time, including our own. Our intention was to be a blessing to our community in everything we did. Little did we know what a journey that intention would inspire, or how involved we would become in our local and global communities!
Jean Houston tells the story of her mentor, Margaret Mead, who on her deathbed spoke to Houston: “Jean, forget everything I’ve been teaching you about working with governments and bureaucracies…. If we are going to grow and green our times, it’s a question of people getting together in teaching/learning communities and growing together—physically, mentally, psychologically, spiritually—and then taking on social projects and going out and making a difference.”
This is exactly what our center has done. From our community’s inception in 1990, individual members have initiated and led our congregation in the implementation of divinely inspired ideas and programs that would make a difference in people’s lives.
One of our first and consistently most popular programs has been that of serving homemade meals to more than 100 homeless men at a local shelter. For over 17 years, on the third Friday of every month, we have offered a dinner fit for honored guests. With a preplanned menu posted in our fellowship area (including recipes), community members sign up throughout the month to make or bring a designated item and/or to be servers.
Then on the designated evening we convoy to the shelter in downtown Portland with our feast. We call it the Crock-Pot® Brigade. As we leave at the end of the meal, we are met with standing ovations by those served. This program is often the first way that people new to our spiritual community become involved and connected—to each other as well as to the larger community.
One of our more recent programs, inspired by a young mother in our community, is called “25-Cent Toys for Girls and Boys.” On a weekend prior to the Christmas holiday, parents selected by local elementary school counselors are invited into our center to “shop” for gifts for their children. Donated months in advance by our members and others from our local community, all items, from a paint set to a scooter, are priced at 25 cents. This program gives parents who may be experiencing some financial difficulties the opportunity to buy their kids gifts that they would not otherwise be able to afford. Last year we served more than 100 children and teens.
Also directed at the needs of local families, our Circulation Day is offered just before school begins in the fall. Promoted through local social service agencies as well as in the local press, we call it “the ultimate recycling event.” It’s like an early fall harvest as we remove from our homes like-new items that no longer serve us, but will bless others.
Our EarthCare Team created another big success with our first ever Sustainability Festival. The purpose of the event was to educate ourselves and our local community about available resources that make sustainability easier for our homes and families. This daylong event featured a product exhibit area, tips and information from local eco-friendly businesses and organizations, and tours of our center’s professionally engineered rain garden.
Our speakers included representatives from Oregon-based Organically Grown Company, the nation’s first certified organic produce distributor; Burgerville, a local “fast food” company committed to working directly with local farmers and sustainable partners; a master recycler intent on reducing household garbage; and a member of Transitions PDX who spoke about the next step beyond sustainability.
One of the most amazing aspects of spiritual social action occurs when local and global actions meet. In 2000, I had the opportunity to attend and participate in the Millennium World Peace Day at the United Nations on our ministry’s behalf. Our teens had made a quilt that was sewn into the Cloth of Many Colors conceived and presented by James Twyman.
Upon my return to Oregon, our center coordinated a peace walk in our city. As a result of our visibility and connections, we were asked in 2001 to host and organize a 9/11 interfaith spiritual service as well as a one-year memorial commemoration in 2002. Each event drew a crowd of over 1,000.
Peace and interfaith activities have always had a significant role in our ministry, especially during the Season for Peace and Nonviolence. Such events have included a collaboration of cultures in word, song, and prayer, featuring African, Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Native American and Sufi traditions.
During three of those seasons, we had the honor to host Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, with his strong messages of nonviolence. This past year we hosted him at a local university (with profits going to a school in poorest rural India) and facilitated his speaking to a crowd of 1,100 at a local middle school.
These are just a few of our many ongoing and special events that have become the heartbeat of our ministry and have garnered us recognition in our community as peacekeepers. All are welcome here, no matter what their beliefs. We have found that many people, just like us, want to help the homeless or a child in need, but they just don’t know where to start. Our spiritual social action projects give people a platform for participation at whatever level works for them. We believe that it is our role to not only be a voice for world healing, compassion and peace, but the “hands and feet,” the actions, if you will, of creating unity in our communities.