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.
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.
“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.”