The Fillmore Festival, an annual gathering of premier Unity scholars first held in California in 1967, has played a critical role in the Unity movement and its history. So has Rev. Joyce Kramer, a formidable Unity trailblazer who’s led the festival for the past 25 years.
This year marks a 50th anniversary and a pivotal year for the festival as Kramer hands over the reins to Unity World Headquarters (UWH), which will start hosting the annual event at Unity Village.
Kramer first took over the festival 25 years ago from Sue Sikking, who organized the first one in April 1967 in Santa Monica, California.
That was the same year Kramer started a Unity congregation in Norfolk, Virginia, a ministry she still leads. The congregation, however, is bigger and under a new name, Unity Church of Tidewater.
“That Joyce planted a woman-led, theologically-unorthodox, racially-diverse church in a southern, evangelical region and that she was accepted as a community leader is a great story,” writes archivist Mark Hicks on his site, truthunity.net.
Unity of Tidewater in Virginia Beach is the site of the 2017 Fillmore Festival, a one-day event led by Kramer and UWH CEO Jim Blake on September 22.
Hicks calls Kramer’s work fundamental to the development of the Unity movement across the country, likening her influence to those of Ella Pomeroy, Alma Morse, Louise Beaty, and Mary Wessel, whose founding ministries contributed to the proliferation of Unity centers.
“These women and dozens of their colleagues established centers that replicated and scaled, delivering religious benefits without being noticed or challenged by the orthodox leaders,” Hicks said. “They provided those benefits without demanding substantial money, organizational control, or social status.”
Hicks continued, “Like the Methodist circuit riders 100 years before them, they brought a new, simpler spiritual message to the masses that had been unserved by the stale message and formalism of orthodox churches.”
In an interview with Hicks in December 2013, Kramer talks about her early life in Virginia, including her call to the Unity ministry, being ordained by Lowell Fillmore in 1968, and the Africa Radio ministry she founded. Read more about Kramer and see video excerpts of the Q&A here.