Overview of the Unity Movement

By James Dillet Freeman

Many people have little idea about what Unity is. They may have read Daily Word or called or written to Silent Unity for prayer, but they do not know what Unity is. They do not go to Unity churches; they may not even know that such churches exist. They are members of other churches or of no church. But they find that Unity ideas help them meet their problems and live more effective lives.

Unity is a religious movement that began over a century ago. I suppose it has to be defined as a church, though it is a very different kind of church. It is a teaching rather than a creed, and this teaching crosses denominational lines. It does not require students to become members or subscribe to a fixed set of beliefs. Those who become interested usually refer to themselves as Unity students or Truth students.

In the 1880s Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, co-founders of Unity, began to work with some new ideas about life that they had found. Charles had a withered leg; Myrtle had tuberculosis. But in a short time, she was healed, and his health was so much improved that other people, seeing the changes in them, were drawn to them to find out how they, too, could change.

The Fillmores had no thought of starting a new religion; they just wanted to help themselves and others who turned to them for help. In 1889 they began to publish a little magazine called Modern Thought, which a few years later they renamed Unity. In this magazine, they presented the ideas that had helped them heal themselves and find peace and strength. These ideas are simple. They are centered around two basic propositions:

One, God is good.

Two, God is available; in fact, God is in you.

If God is good, God's will is good. It is impossible to believe that a good God - a God who is love and intelligence - could have made you in any other way except to be healthy, happy, prosperous, loved and loving, courageous and strong. If you are not healthy and happy, it can only be because you have separated yourself in mind from God - the only place you can sparate yourself from God and God's good. You have only to reunite in mind with God and your life is certain to be full and fulfilling. You do this best by getting still and realizing your oneness with God. Every thought, negative or positive, comes one at a time to the door of your conscious mind; there you let it in or turn it away. To have a good life, you have to learn to say no to the negative thoughts that deny your oneness with God's good and say yes to the positive thoughts that affirm your oneness with God's good.

Perhaps this is an oversimplification of the Unity teaching, but these are essential elements.

Unity feels that its teaching is a return to the religious ideas that Jesus Christ had, and at one time the movement called itself primitive Christianity. Today it is more likely to refer to itself as practical Christianity. However, Unity shuts no one out; many who are not Christians read our literature, join us in prayer, and even attend Unity churches.

Unity has grown almost entirely because individuals who have been helped by its ideas have told others needing help about it, sent them a subscription to Daily Word (more people have been introduced through a gift of Daily Word than any other way), or suggested that they call Silent Unity.

Unity is not a proselytizing religion. We are happy to have you call yourself a Unity student and join a Unity group. But we are happy when we can help you be a better Methodist, a better Catholic, a better whatever you are.

Twenty years after Charles Fillmore started his magazine, he wrote a book outlining his beliefs. When some of his students insisted that he give them a statement of faith, he did so, then added an afterword stating that he might change his mind tomorrow on some of the points and, if he did, he would feel free to make a new statement.

Unity began as an open-ended religion, and I pray it always will be. May we always be seekers after Truth rather than people who feel that they have found all the Truth and must form a little exclusive circle to preserve it.

Unity sets as its official beginning the publication of the magazine Modern Thought in 1889. This is probably why Unity is such a different kind of religion. From its beginning, it has spread its ideas and influence not through churches, missionaries, and preachers, but through the literature published by Unity School of Christianity. For more than one hundred years, Unity magazines, books, booklets, and pamphlets have poured out from Unity School. And this literature for all these years has been accompanied by the prayer help of Silent Unity, offered to everyone without thought as to what religion those who pray with us may have.

Unity is the religion of the written word, and Unity School of Christianity is the organization that has carried that written word around the world.

Unity School of Christianity is located in Unity Village, Missouri, an incorporated municipality located approximately fifteen miles southeast of downtown Kansas City, Missouri. Unity Village maintains its own post office, security and fire departments, and water system. Here on 1400 acres, many of its workers and students live in houses, apartments, and cottages on Unity grounds. For lodging there is the Unity Village Hotel and Conference Center and Unity Village Motel, a large cafeteria, and there are many recreational facilities. Thousands of people come to Unity School every year for retreats and for study.

Those who visit here often declare that they find Unity Village a tranquil haven. They comment that when they come through the gates - which are never shut - they immediately feel a sense of peace.

Kansas City has always called itself "the heart of America," and Charles Fillmore thought that Jackson County, Missouri, had a special spiritual quality, a deep-core tranquility which marked it as a center from which a great religious work would be done.

Unity has been an interesting religious phenomenon, a religion that has spread throughout the world with no missionaries except magazines and other literature, cassettes, and the letters from Silent Unity. Today Unity has ministers and teachers in many cities and many countries. They are there because people in those cities and countries read the literature and became so interested and excited about it that they insisted on forming groups to study Unity and sending individuals to Unity School to prepare themselves to return and teach the principles.

For instance, we now have Nigerian ministers. But until recently, no Unity teacher - only the literature from Unity School - had ever been in Nigeria. Yet years ago a traveler in that country wrote to us of how he had come upon a group of people sitting in a circle in a clearing of their jungle village, all holding little booklets in their hands. What were these booklets? Daily Word. Through the years, thousands of letters have come from Nigerian villages and cities that we in Silent Unity have never visited.

Years ago a government official in Jamaica suggested that we send someone there to represent Unity because we were a major influence on the island. Today we have ministers in Jamaica and in a number of other places in the Caribbean and in South America. But it has been our literature that has spread our teaching here and throughout the world.

I remember a woman in Turkey who wrote and told us that she first found Unity magazines used as packaging around goods that had been shipped to her. By such chancy means and by more planned methods, Unity School has sent its literature everywhere.

Daily Word is translated into several languages, and there are few places on earth where our magazines, books, pamphlets, cassettes, and Silent Unity letters do not go. We hear from people on lonely islands and in remote Indian villages in the Arctic. We send our literature into prisons, hospitals, army camps, and nursing homes.

La Palabra Diaria, our Spanish edition of Daily Word, has nearly 100,000 subscribers.

Unity School does not pressure people for money, ask people to join, or in any way push itself or its ideas on anyone who does not want them. Occasionally, husbands or wives write to us, asking what they can do to get their spouses interested in Unity. We tell them to bless their spouses in prayer and to so live by the Unity principles that their spouses will be impressed.

A powerful agent in spreading the Unity ideas has been Silent Unity, the prayer ministry of Unity School. It began in 1890 and is probably the largest group of people united in prayer in the world. Daily Word is Silent Unity's magazine; it originated in the mind of a Silent Unity worker. Its editor has always served in Silent Unity, and almost all its lessons have been written by Silent Unity workers.

About a year after the Fillmores started the magazine Modern Thought, they had the inspiration that if God is what they thought - the principle of love and intelligence, the source of all good - God is wherever needed. It was not necessary for people to be in the same room with them in order for them to unite in thought and prayer. So they announced in their magazine that if anyone wanted to join them in prayer, they would be sitting "in silent soul communion" every night at 10 p.m. with any "who sincerely desire the help of the good Father." All anyone had to do to be with them was to "sit in a quiet, retired place, if possible, at the hour of 10 o'clock every night, and hold in silent thought, for not less than fifteen minutes, the words that shall be given each month by the editor."

This is how Silent Unity began. A month later the Fillmores changed the time to 9 p.m. because they had complaints - 10 p.m. was too late to stay up in 1890.

The circle of prayer grew rapidly. People from everywhere wrote to the editors saying they wanted to join in prayer. They are still writing. Long ago the 9 p.m. prayer meeting became the around-the-clock vigil of faith. Today there is no time of the day or night when someone in Silent Unity is not in prayer, just as there is no part of the globe where there is not someone who is praying with Silent Unity. And people join in "silent soul communion" at whatever time is convenient to them. They know that in Silent Unity someone is praying with them.

Silent Unity occupies a beautiful building in Unity Village. It is a large building because a staff of approximately 250 workers is needed to answer all the letters and calls we receive.

The communication between Silent Unity and those who are praying with us is still, as with all that Unity School does, largely a matter of the written word. Over one million letters will pour into the Silent Unity building this year. But more and more the work of Silent Unity has also become a matter of telephone communication. This year Silent Unity will answer over one million calls for help in prayer. Still, our reliance on the written word has not lessened. Though we talk with those who call and pray with them immediately, we also write them. More than two million letters, carrying the assurance of faith, of love, of God's abiding help, will go out this year in response from Silent Unity to those who write or call.

Silent Unity embodies the principles on which Unity is based. We pray with everyone, we pray about any need, we do not ask anyone what his or her religion is or is not, and we do not put a price on our prayers. We seek to get those who call us for help to apply the Unity principles in their lives. We ask them to deny and eliminate the mental and emotional factors that separate them from their good, and to affirm and develop the mental and emotional factors that unite them with their good. And we never lose sight of the fact that this is a ministry. Unity has always been a warm and loving way of life, sensitive to people's needs, God-centered but human-hearted.

This is Unity.

Today there are Unity churches, some large, some small - mostly in the Unity States, but in more and more countries.

Still, Unity is the religion of the written world. From Unity School of Christianity at Unity Village the word goes out in Daily Word, Unity Magazine, books, booklets, pamphlets, and on cards, audiocassettes, compact discs, and videocassettes [and DVD's**]. And perhaps most meaningful of all, the letters and prayers go out from Silent Unity, where night and day a band of faithful workers keeps a vigil of faith and sends to all who write or call, all who open their hearts and ask for prayer, the never-failing assurance that "God is your help in every need."

 

**This was written prior to 2000.