Prayer and the New Thought Movement in the 21st Century
Rev. Mary Ellen & Rev. Larry Swartz
A prevailing notion of human life as a tumult of chaos, suffering and absurdity confounds people seeking a spiritual way. Being cloistered in a monastery is not an option and attempts to live a balanced daily life uncorrupted by the white noise of consumer culture is impossible for people that have jobs, are parents and want to be good citizens.
The Unity Church offers a place distant from the hubbub and is actively responsible in sustaining peace and tranquility by example; straddling the dividing wall and combining the divine and the mundane. Reverend Larry Swartz notes, “I’ve learned, particularly with our board of trustees, that you’ll fail if both feet are in spirit or business.” Inclusiveness, the value of including all social, cultural, economic and belief ways along with the nuts and bolts of enterprise is a hallmark of the Unity approach.
Unity Church of Tucson began as a small group of people gathering at Lillian Cook’s home in 1954. Over the next 13 years, the young church grew under a series of newly licensed ministers until 1966, when Swartz and his wife, Mary Ellen, came to lead the young flock. Forty-nine years later, in 2015, the church thrives, like the peacock feeding on poisonous plants and snakes.
Unity Church origins goes back more than 125 years to the late 19th century, when the New Thought movement was sweeping the United States. Larry describes the Unity way as “a positive, practical, progressive approach to Christianity, based on the teachings of Jesus and the power of prayer. Unity honors the universal truths in all religions and respects each individual’s right to choose a spiritual path.”
New Thought is an eclectic mixture of pantheism, mysticism, spiritualism, inclusiveness, affirmations, Christianity and the idea that the mind can be used to influence matter. Many of those same beliefs have found their way into the New Age movement, psychology and medicine. 100 years ago, in 1915, the International New Thought Alliance was established to archive the writings, media recordings, publications and historical record, and established a congress to continually update the language of the philosophy.
Unity had its formal beginnings and established a formal church in 1889, eventually establishing its headquarters outside of Lee’s Summit, Missouri in an incorporated village called Unity. “We are part of a larger movement,” Mary Ellen explains, “There are Unity clergy looking for new territory and others ready and willing to sustain continuity of established churches.”
The congregation constructed a church building on Bellevue and Sahuara for an expanding flock in the late 60s. As the church grew, the congregation acquired land in the low foothills of the Catalina Mountains before the residential expansion that now fills the area took hold. Ensconced on 18 acres the campus of worship spaces, a school, bookstore, ramada, labyrinth and meeting rooms is similar in composition to other denominations, yet distinct in belief and message.
“We seldom seek to amplify differences, and we certainly never attempt to define another’s teachings.” notes Larry. “What we have discovered is a teaching that is a point of departure from orthodox Christianity. Unity and New Thought accepts that Jesus is the example, not the exception. We see him as a way-shower, elder brother, an example of what must happen through us as we allow the same energy of pure being to manifest and express through us.”
A way of expression at Unity is the prayer ministry. Anyone that shares faith in the power of prayer can participate. The ministry of lay people accept requests to join in prayer to prosper, adjust and heal any condition of harmony in mind, body or affairs. James Dillet Freeman, a poet and minister of the Unity Church, wrote that prayer “is a way of life as well as a way of facing life. It is an end as well as a means. It is a spiritual experience.”
The Unity principle that emphasizes prayer accepts the notion that we are all part of the same universe, part of something larger and more significant than our own unique personalities. The belief principle that every thought we think, every action we take and every word we speak affects us and the people around us in some way and on some level.
Unity of Tucson is located at 3617 N. Camino Blanco. For more information, call 520-577-3300 or visit UnityTucson.com. See ad page 32.
Dale Bruder is a regular contributor to Natural Awakenings Tucson.
Five Basic Principles of Unity
1. There is only one Presence and one Power active as the universe and as my life, God is Good.
2. Our essence is of God; therefore we are inherently good. This God essence, called the Christ was fully expressed in Jesus.
3. We are co-creators with God, creating reality through thoughts held in mind.
4. Through prayer and meditation, we align our heart-mind with God. Denials and affirmations are tools we use.
5. Through thoughts, words and actions, we live the Truth we know.