The Unity Urban Ministerial School (UUMS), one of the seminaries for Unity ministers, has been mistakenly described as a school for African-American students. Some Unity leaders have even referred to it as the “Black school,” although many non-Black students are among its graduates. This misunderstanding possibly stems from the word urban in its name.

The dictionary defines urban as “relating to or characteristic of a town or city.”

Urban does not mean poor and Black,” wrote Rev. Prentiss Davis (Class of 2003) in an essay titled “The Urban Experience”: “It is an environment that is not limited to any race, age, gender, or locale. It is based on error thought messages of lack, limitation, and separation from God that leads to a consciousness of defeat.”

Those were some of the issues Rev. Dr. Ruth Mosley hoped to address when she opened the Urban School in 1979. Mosley believed Black students were not well-served by the seminary at Unity Village and proposed a second seminary in Detroit. It took years of perseverance but the Association of Unity Churches finally gave her permission, without any particular support or funding.

Rev. Karen Saunders (Class of 2013) recalled the origins of the Urban School: “I do not believe it was Rev. Ruth’s intention for the Urban School to increase the diversity in Unity as much as it was to teach students how to minister to the urban community. Rev. Ruth realized that the idyllic setting and teachings at Unity Village did not provide students with the skills necessary to address rampant unemployment, addiction, teen pregnancy, poverty, and other issues that impacted urban populations. Those social issues have expanded into suburban and rural communities. Obviously, the Urban School’s attraction for students from diverse socioeconomic, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds contributed to more African Americans in the Unity movement.”

Mosley’s divine idea was to establish a ministerial school that would reach vast ethnic groups in metropolitan areas, expand Unity teachings, and equip ministers from the inner cities with the tools to make Unity principles comprehensible for minorities.

Saunders’ mother, Helen Saunders, was in the first group of UUMS students ordained in 1983, a group nicknamed The Detroit 8. Helen and Karen Saunders together planted a Unity church in Omaha, Nebraska, and provided after-school programs, counseling, clothing, and food drives for those in need.

They patterned their ministry at Christ-Love Unity Church after the scriptural foundation Mosley had chosen for the Urban School, Isaiah 61:1: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.”

Classes unique to the Urban School curriculum, such as Urban Strategies and The History of the African-American Church, expose students to the influence of Black culture on religion and other aspects of society. Students have the opportunity to view history, diversity, equity, and inclusion through a spiritual lens.

Today Mosley’s dream has surpassed all expectations. Just as she hoped, more African Americans have graduated from the Urban School and become licensed and ordained Unity leaders throughout the Unity movement. Since 1983, when the first eight students from Detroit were ordained, 200 more have joined the ranks—people of all colors and ethnicities.

A new board member at the Urban School, curious about the meaning of the word urban in the school’s name, interviewed several members of the board, faculty, staff, and alumni, and reported: “People come to Unity Urban Ministerial School for education; they stay for community.” Some have even called it a school with heart.

Get in to Fit In

Ordained in 1966 through the predominantly white seminary at Unity Village, Mosley found herself in a wasteland where few opportunities were available for people who looked like her to become Unity leaders.

Like Rev. Dr. Johnnie Colemon before her, Mosley also experienced discriminatory practices on the Unity campus. Having grown up during the Jim Crow era, both women were all too familiar with disparate treatment because of their skin color. Yet they refused to allow such treatment to deter them from their goal to become Unity ministers. Through faith and perseverance, they prepared the way for other African Americans to follow in their footsteps.

A common expression in the Black community is “We have to get in to fit in.” Mosley emphasized to Urban School students the importance of showing up as their best selves in order to get in. Then she instilled the importance of meeting every encounter with grace and gratitude.

In a book on the history and impact of the Unity Urban Ministerial School, Rev. Carole Rose (Class of 2001) wrote, “Rev. Ruth Mosley was divinely chosen to give birth to the seed idea that was planted in her heart and soul by Spirit. Her vision, her tenacity, and her perseverance in being obedient to the Voice of God speaking within her were powerful.”

Mosley’s divine idea was to establish a ministerial school that would reach vast ethnic groups in metropolitan areas, expand Unity teachings, and equip ministers from the inner cities with the tools to make Unity principles comprehensible for minorities.

First to Go Online

In 2006, Mosley and a handful of her forward-thinking contemporaries decided the school needed to keep pace with the times. Her proposal to establish an online program was met with apprehension by Unity leaders, much like their response when she originally proposed establishing the Urban School.

Yet she and others put feet to their prayers. In 2008, the Urban School launched the first online education program in Unity, creating a pathway for anyone from any time zone throughout the world to take classes. Students and graduates in this program hail from Canada, France, the Netherlands, Nigeria, and South Africa.

In 2012, three students—Black women in Michigan, Missouri, and Nebraska—were the first to complete the entire Unity ministerial curriculum online. They were ordained by Unity Worldwide Ministries in 2013. Since then, nearly 100 more online students have done the same. This innovation ushered the Unity education program into the 21st century and brought even greater diversity to the school and the entire Unity movement. (The seminary at Unity Village, called Unity Worldwide Spiritual Institute, switched to online classes in 2016.)

Work in the World

The long list of the Urban School’s outstanding graduates and quality programs are proof of the school’s success. UUMS alumni serve as community activists, published authors, church planters, founders of alternative ministries, members of boards, faculty on various ministerial educational paths, and many other endeavors.

Here is a short list of accomplishments by UUMS graduates.

Rev. Ernestine Griffin (Class of 1995) founded the Unity On Campus ministry more than 20 years ago at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. More than 200 college students have been nurtured by Unity teachings in her program—students from all over the United States and other countries. This first and only Unity campus ministry is a beacon of hope and light for young people who are far away from home and family.

Rev. JoAnn Watson (Class of 2010) is the senior pastor of West Side Unity Church in Detroit, which was founded by Rev. Dr. Ruth Mosley in 1964. Many of her ministerial team are also UUMS alumni. Watson also serves as president of the UUMS board of directors, is a lifelong community activist, has served on numerous boards, and hosts Wake Up Detroit! on radio and television.

Rev. Sandra Campbell (Class of 2012) is executive director of the Urban School. She also founded the Unity Urban Ministerial School Alumni Association in 2017 to maintain connection within the UUMS community. It is a separate nonprofit run by the alumni.

In 2020, the Urban School established a Certificate in Advanced Metaphysics, a group of courses that offers an additional credential to ministerial students.

In 2022, the Urban School earned accreditation through the Accrediting Commission International, Inc., joining some 200 other institutions of higher education including the Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary and Emerson Institute.

Carrying the Legacy Forward

Since its inception, the Unity Urban Ministerial School has been sustained primarily by donations. Its work now is to add new additions to “the House that Ruth Built.” The intention is to continue Mosley’s legacy of bringing teachings into urban communities by reaching out to the homeless, feeding the hungry, and offering Unity teachings to those who are underserved and often overlooked.

Mosley dedicated her life to creating a path for the Unity movement to expand beyond its long-held, limiting practices. What she initially heard when she offered proposals to start the Urban School and the online program was, in certain words, “No way!” Through faith, prayer, and perseverance, she made a way out of no way.