The History of New Thought
The history of the Unity spiritual movement began in the late 1800s based on prayer and the power of mind over body.
Charles married Myrtle in Clinton, Missouri, on March 29, 1881, and the newlyweds moved to Pueblo, Colorado, where Charles established a real estate business with the brother-in-law of Nona Lovell Brooks, who was later to found the Church of Divine Science.
After the births of their first two sons, Lowell Page and Waldo Rickert Fillmore, the family moved to Kansas City, Missouri. Two years later, in 1886, Charles and Myrtle attended New Thought classes held by Dr. E. B. Weeks. Myrtle subsequently recovered from chronic tuberculosis and attributed her recovery to her use of prayer and other methods learned in Weeks' classes.
Subsequently Charles began to heal from his childhood accident, a development that he, too, attributed to following this philosophy. Charles Fillmore became a devoted student of philosophy and religion.
The History of a Growing Movement
In 1889, Charles left his business to focus entirely on publishing a new periodical, Modern Thought. In 1890 they organized a prayer group that would later be called "Silent Unity" and in the following year, the Fillmore's Unity magazine was first published. On December 7, 1892, Charles and Myrtle penned their Dedication and Covenant.
We, Charles Fillmore and Myrtle Fillmore, husband and wife, hereby dedicate ourselves, our time, our money, all we have and all we expect to have, to the Spirit of Truth, and through it, to the Society of Silent Unity.
It being understood and agreed that the said Spirit of Truth shall render unto us an equivalent for this dedication, in peace of mind, health of body, wisdom, understanding, love, life and an abundant supply of all things necessary to meet every want without our making any of these things the object of our existence.
In the presence of the Conscious Mind of Christ Jesus, this 7th day of December A.D. 1892.
Dr. H. Emilie Cady published a series titled Lessons in Truth in the new magazine. This material later was compiled and published in a book by the same name, which served as a seminal work of the Unity movement. Although Charles had no intention of making Unity into a denomination, his students wanted a more organized group. He and his wife were among the first ordained Unity ministers in 1906.
Charles and Myrtle Fillmore first operated the Unity organization from a campus near downtown Kansas City. Unity began a formal program for training ministers in 1931.
Myrtle Fillmore died in 1931. Charles remarried in 1933 to Cora G. Dedrick who was a collaborator on his later writings. Charles Fillmore made his transition in 1948.
The History of Unity Centers and Unity School
Unity founders Charles and Myrtle Fillmore were convinced that their teachings would be so profound when launching the Unity movement that religious denominations would come to acknowledge the importance of their instruction. When this did not happen, Unity followers eventually migrated into groups that became known as “Unity Centers.”
Becoming a proper instructor of the Unity beliefs required a certification process that eventually led to ordination. The first such Unity ordinations were conferred by the Unity Society of Practical Christianity on August 31, 1906. Charles and Myrtle were among the first ordained Unity ministers that year.
The Society diligently embraced its mission to “… send forth representatives trained in the work,” according to the book, The Unity Movement: Its Evolution and Spiritual Teachings by Neal Vahle.
In 1914, Unity School of Christianity (Unity School) was incorporated. Unity ministerial training in Kansas City took one to two years to complete. The formal program for training ministers began in 1931.
Vahle wrote that the Field Department was created “to encourage cooperation, harmony, and constructive methods in the advancement of Truth.”
The department consisted of Unity students who completed a curriculum of correspondence courses and attended classes in Kansas City, Missouri, said Glenn R. Mosley and Rebekah A. Dunlap in Association of Unity Churches International: Its Beginning, Its Evolution, Its Vision for Worldwide Service.
In 1964, the Board of Directors expanded their Association of Unity Churches to include the leadership of the Unity ministers and the Association, and the Unity School Field Department. The group reorganized as the Association of Unity Ministers and became effective on July 22, 1966.
Until July 1966, ministries in the field functioned under the Unity School Field Department and as the Unity Ministers Association. However, on December 14, 1965, Charles R. Fillmore, executive vice president of Unity School of Christianity, recommended a transfer of responsibilities to Unity ministers in the field. The responsibilities included ministerial licensing, collecting and preserving personnel and center records, field discipline and ethics, ordinations and placement of ministers, Sunday school instruction, and youth activities.
The History of the Association of Unity Churches
On the recommendation, Unity School of Christianity created a self-governing, 21-member Board of Directors to administer the Association of Unity Churches. In March 1966, Robert P. Sikking became the executive director of the Association of Unity Churches and would go on to serve for 11 years.
In a short time, more than 200 churches were recognized in the Association of Unity Churches.
Such an expansive reorganization was met with some resistance. Glenn Mosley, former president and chief operating officer of the Association, recalled the opposition.
“The school’s decision created a lot of shock and controversy, and not all of the responses were of a positive nature,” Mosley said.
In the late 1970s, the potential for a split in the movement was ever present, with tension regarding issues such as adequate funding, rent payments, the differences in size and assets, and the costs of office space and storage.
Fortunately, differences were resolved and as Mosley remembered, “Thank God, through the sincere and dedicated efforts of several of our Unity movement’s advocates, a conflict that could have resulted in a split in the Unity movement was resolved.”
Rapid growth characterized the Association of Unity Churches’ ministries. In 1976, the program totaled 250 ministries and by the end of 1986 had grown to 483 ministries. The Association anticipated doubling again by 1995.
“Day by day, month by month, year by year, the number of our ministries grow,” Mosley wrote in The Association of Unity Churches, Institutional Report.
Also by the 1990s, the Association had expanded its services to include chaplain services, retreat activities for renewal, enhanced national radio services, further ministerial training, and national publicity programs.
The Association would continue their efforts to be in the forefront of a spiritual revolution started some 111 years earlier by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, according to the Association of Unity Churches International: Its Beginning, Its Evolution, Its Vision for Worldwide Service.
The History of Unity Worldwide Ministries
“Unity teachings were being communicated from pulpits, corporate training lecterns, and literature from religious expressions throughout Christianity. This was just as the Fillmores had hoped,” Mosley and Dunlap wrote.
Today, the ministers’ organization is called Unity Worldwide Ministries, which states as its vision: “A world powerfully transformed through the growing movement of shared spiritual awakening.”
Timeline of Unity History
1876 - Charles met Myrtle
1881 - Charles and Myrtle married
1884 - Fillmores moved to Kansas City, MO
1886 - Myrtle and Charles attended many health lectures to find a way to heal Myrtle's chronic tuberculosis. She was inspired by a New Thought lecture by metaphysician Dr. E.B. Weeks who stated "I am a child of God, therefore I do not inherit sickness." Myrtle incorporated prayer and other methods learned from Weeks into her daily life.
1888 - Myrtle was completely healed.
1889 - Unity Movement began. First issue of Modern Thought was published by the Fillmores.
1890- The 24/7 prayer ministry SIlent Unity was formed.
1891 - Charles Fillmore named their organization "Unity". Unity Magazine began.
1892 - The Fillmore Covenant was signed.
1893 - Wee Wisdom Magazine was published.
1894 - First "Lesson in Truth" by Emily Cady appeared in Unity Magazine.
1909 - Unity Correspondence School was established.
1910 - The Prosperity Faith Bank plan began.
1914 - Unity School of Christianity was incorporated.
1920 - Unity Farm of 58 acres was purchased.
1922 - First Unity radio talk was broadcast over station WOQ in Kansas City, MO
1924 - Radio station WOQ was purchased by Unity. First issue of the Daily Word was published.
1931 - Myrtle Fillmore made her transition. Unity Metaphysical Bible Dictionary was published. Unity Training School began.
1934 - Unity Minister's Association began.
1948 - Charles Fillmore made his transition.
1951 - First spiritual retreat held at Unity Farm.
1953 - Unity Farm became Unity Village.
1966 - Association of Unity Churches and Unity Ministerial School began.
1994 - Unity's First World Day of Prayer