Mary Wessel founded and served four churches in Montana—Bozeman, Butte, Billings and Livingston.
But what we need to know about Mary Wessel is that she served them at the same time—riding the train at night to "be on deck" to counsel people from 7:30 in the morning until 9am. Classes followed throughout the day, and "services" were held in the evening. Then she caught the train for the next city in her weekly circuit.
When she retired 43 years later, Unity had to place five ministers in Montana to take over her ministry.
How she started out is hard to imagine. In the 1920s she found herself tending to a family of five children and challenged with early stages of tuberculosis. She came across a Unity magazine. She began self-study of the Unity Correspondence course a few years later, reading each evening from 10pm, when the kids went to bed, until 2am, when she went to sleep. She began a prayer group in Bozeman and, for three years in the late 1920s she went to Unity Farm for one month of training.
After founding three Unity churches in the 1920s, she was in the first group of new ministers ordained by Unity in 1933. One year later on December 24, 1934, she became a single mother, with three kids remaining at home. Despite her divorce and the economic depression, her ministry continued. The fourth church—in Billings—was built in the Depression years—and paid for in cash. She never took a salary in her 43 years of ministry. She retired comfortably in 1968.
She lived to be 107 years old.
One could make the case that Mary Wessel is the first and foremost field minister ever produced by Unity School of Christianity.
As you can see in this 1933 ordination photo, she is the central and tallest person in the first class of ministers ordained in 1933. When she asked Charles Fillmore to send a minister to the frontier state of Montana, he said "Go home and be it. You are." May Rowland was captured on tape praising Mary Wessel for her ability to heal herself and others. Joel Baehr, longtime Unity minister in Arizona, declared that she was "the most sacred Unity woman I have known."
We are fortunate that when Mary was 100 years old, the Montana Historical Society conducted a 90 minute interview of her. You can listen to Mary describe how she was able to accomplish her work and you can read a transcript of the interview as you are listening.
Mary's story will help us gain a better understanding of how Unity grew in its first 50 years from being a Kansas City based prayer and publishing group to disrupting the American religious landscape with a new and simpler message of hope, health and prosperity. I hope her story inspires you as much as it has inspired me.
The audio portion of this page was conducted by the Montana Historial Society on January 5, 1982 as part of the repository's Montanans at Work Oral History Project. Topics include her marriage to Louie Wessel; her husband's job mapping the Belt and Castle mountains for the U.S. Forest Service; and her organization of Unity Church ministries in Butte, Bozeman, Billings, and Livingston.
The audio is copyrighted by the Montana Historical Society. They have permitted us as a nonprofit to incorporate the audio into this profile for educational and noncommercial use (you must get their permission for anything other than personal use). The transcript was produced by TruthUnity. It is offered as a Creative Commons, Share and Share Alike copyright (you can use the transcript, but you must acknowledge your source and you must also share your materials with others).
If you have been blessed by this audio, why not make a donation to the Montana Historical Society Research Center?
Interviewer: This is an interview with Reverend Mary Wessel for the Montanans at Work Oral History Project for the Montana Historical Society. The subjects discussed in this interview are Reverend Wessel's ministering work in Bozeman, Butte, Livingston and Billings, and some other Montana towns.
The date is January 5, 1982. The location interview is in Reverend Wessel's home in Bozeman, Montana. The interviewer is Mary Melchor.
Where were you born, Mrs. Wessel?
Mary Wessel: I was born in Amity, New York, 60 miles from New York City.
Interviewer: And what year were you born?
Mary Wessel: I was born September 6, 1882.
Interviewer: Were there a lot of brothers and sisters in your family?
Mary Wessel: The what?
Interviewer: Did you have any brothers and sisters?
Mary Wessel: Yes. I had two brothers and two sisters.
Interviewer: What did your father do and what was his name?
Mary Wessel: My father was William T. Sly, and he started out being a farmer but found out he wasn't one.
Mary Wessel: And he became ... He went to New York, environs of New York, to make houses for the immigrants that were coming in. He loved to build.
Interviewer: What was your mother's name?
Mary Wessel: Mother's name was Josephine Drew Sly.
Interviewer: So you moved with your father and mother and brothers and sisters to around New York, where he built houses?
Mary Wessel: Yes.
Interviewer: Did you go to school in New York?
Mary Wessel: All my schooling was in New York City schools.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Mary Wessel: I was a graduate of high school at Jamaica, then the Jamaica Normal School.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Did you have any special experiences when you were a child?
Mary Wessel: Mostly illness. I took many an examination in bed. There were weeks and months I had to stay in bed just to get strength enough to go on again. They didn't know what was the matter, but later on concluded that it was tuberculosis in it's beginnings, and then increasing until I fainted in school one day, my first year of teaching. Then I spent a year out of doors in the Catskill Mountains and gained strength to arrest the trouble. And I went to California to teach, in Los Angeles schools.
Interviewer: Was your first teaching job in New York?
Mary Wessel: Yes, first year.
Interviewer: When you were how old?
Mary Wessel: Nineteen.
Interviewer: You had just gotten out of Normal School and ...
Mary Wessel: Yeah. I had skipped grades, and therefore I finished earlier than most children did, you see.
Interviewer: Okay. So you then went to California for your health or for a teaching job? Which was it?
Mary Wessel: That was one of the questions they asked me at the Board of Education. They asked me in Los Angeles if I had come for my health. I said, "Do I look it?" I was brown as a berry, I'd been outdoors all this time, you know. I didn't want to say I came for my health when I didn't. I did, at first. I came to keep well. I was well. But I came to keep well.
Interviewer: And you did after that? Did you stay well?
Mary Wessel: Yeah. I would discipline myself though. I'd come home ... I taught four hours. I'd come home and go to bed or lie on the couch until dinnertime, and then I didn't go out evenings very often either. Just get a good night's sleep, much rest, and in that way I never lost a day. The first year's teaching was ended, and that's the first year of my life that I had not lost days in bed. So I was very proud of myself.
Interviewer: How did you travel to California?
Mary Wessel: On the train, and it took four days and four nights, on a Pullman train.
Interviewer: By yourself?
Mary Wessel: No, my aunt went with me. She was a registered nurse and she was the one who had the idea for me to go to California, and she would go with me.
Interviewer: She was single?
Mary Wessel: Yeah. She was 20 years older than I. She was full of life and full of fun, and the boys all liked her. She was my chaperone.
Interviewer: Well [crosstalk 00:05:07]
Mary Wessel: In those days girls had chaperones.
Interviewer: When did you first see Montana?
Mary Wessel: When we ... The first year, let's see. The first year we went back home for the summer and I was going to teach again in California, but I went back home for the summer months. We came through here, through Montana and went into Yellowstone Park on the way home. So I saw some of it, liked it, I liked the mountains here.
On that trip, through the park, I met a man that was eventually my husband. Then he came down to UCLA to school. He was in the Forest Service and he was taking further training in forestry. And so he came down, took his subjects at UCLA so that he could be near me. His version of the story was that I was to be his future wife, he knew it the first time he saw me.
Interviewer: And you weren't so sure about that, huh?
Mary Wessel: No, he took three years to convince me. I sometimes thought I said yes in order to get rid of him, I thought ... His asking me, anyway!
Interviewer: Okay. So did you teach in California a few more years?
Mary Wessel: Yes. I taught seven years in California. I was married there in California.
Interviewer: You married ... What was his name?
Mary Wessel: His name was ... Louie ... Wessel, that's my name!
Interviewer: Of course, Louie [crosstalk 00:07:08]
Mary Wessel: I don't even know my own name today.
Interviewer: Okay. So you married Louie and moved to Neihart, is that right?
Mary Wessel: No, we came up to Great Falls, got things together to go to live eventually in a new home that the government was building for us that summer. But that first year we lived in a tent and rode horseback 500 miles that summer. His work that summer was to map the boundaries of the Little Belts and the Castle Mountains, so that the government in Washington would have some idea where the grazing land was and the homesteading and the lumbering. They didn't know anything about these mountains out here.
Interviewer: Did he work for the U.S. Forest Service?
Mary Wessel: Yes.
Interviewer: Well, that was quite a change for you, I guess.
Mary Wessel: Oh! A city girl, never been out, you know.
Interviewer: That must have been wonderful. Did you like it?
Mary Wessel: The fire would go out in the midst of baking bread because I'd forget to put the wood in. Yes, I enjoyed it in many, many ways, oh wonderfully, but I was so inadequate for the life.
Interviewer: You had to learn so much.
Mary Wessel: I shed many tears.
Interviewer: Did your husband know how to cook over [crosstalk 00:08:52]
Mary Wessel: Oh yes, he was a good cook. I never carried a pail of water and I never brought in a stick of wood. He was very, very thoughtful of me. He was just wonderful.
Interviewer: Did you see wild animals?
Mary Wessel: Yes. It was so plentiful that we had grouse for dinner. We'd have deer. You know, there was no laws at all I guess. Anyway, we were out in the country, 18 miles from a grocery store. When we needed to replenish food he was very careful. He loved the animals. He loved the trees. He loved everything out in nature. He wouldn't destroy, he would only use it for food if we needed it. But we did use the animals for food. He was a good hunter and a good fisherman.
Interviewer: Did you ever have any close calls where a storm would come in and you were out in the open or anything like that?
Mary Wessel: No. I had a very hard night one night. He had ... The telephone line had gone out and that must be fixed, he must be in contact with the other members of the Forest. So he told me it might be nine o'clock before he got back, but nine o'clock came and he wasn't there. It was way below zero and deep snow. He had his horse. The others knew what happened and he had spoken to them, and they kept calling me every little while, "Never mind, keep the fires burning, keep his food hot, he'll need it." But I suffered agony, you know.
Interviewer: [crosstalk 00:11:09] all that.
Mary Wessel: It was 11 o'clock before he got back. It was just ... The snow was so deep and it was such bad going and he had to go farther than he thought he would.
Interviewer: Where were you living then?
Mary Wessel: In our new home at the foot of King's Hill on this side. The little village was called Woolsey.
Interviewer: Is that near Monarch?
Mary Wessel: No. It's across the mountain from Neihart on this side. There's a corduroy road over the mountain that was just bumpy and all, very bumpy all the time, no good road. Then we were 18 miles from White Sulphur Springs, so that was our nearest place to go for shopping.
Interviewer: What year did you marry?
Mary Wessel: I was married in 1809.
Mary Wessel: 1909, yeah.
Interviewer: You mean 19?
Interviewer: Okay. We'll just talk briefly about your whole life from then on, and then you'll go back to the beginning of your marriage and what your work was like.
Mary Wessel: Yeah.
Interviewer: Okay, so you married in 1909 and then you had five children.
Mary Wessel: Yeah.
Interviewer: In the next ...
Mary Wessel: The first one is 1910, and then my last one was 1921.
Interviewer: Then around 1921, is that when you began your ministering work?
Mary Wessel: Well, my daughter was born in 1919, and that's when I had my first magazine. First touch of Unity, you see. And I began pondering and thinking and gaining so much from it that I ... They had a correspondence course and I enrolled in the correspondence course. I think it was about 1921 that I enrolled in the course, with five years working on that.
Interviewer: In one correspondence course?
Mary Wessel: Yeah.
Interviewer: In between taking care of your children?
Mary Wessel: Yeah. Ten o'clock I'd begin to study, from 10 till two. Then up at 6:30 again. So you see, I had gained a lot in strength and vitality in all of this.
Interviewer: You must have been healthy when you were mapping the area with your husband. When you were traveling by horseback?
Mary Wessel: Yes. That was very good for me. In 1909, it was a very dry summer and we lived ... The reason we had to live in a tent, we were moving all the time; we stayed on the move. And mountain cabins were all one room, they'd put up the bed on the wall in the daytime. So there was no room for us to sleep at night and we slept in their yard. We could buy meals off them in all these, wherever we needed to be. But we couldn't ... We had to use our own tent for sleeping, and it was so dry and good for me to be outdoors like this with no responsibilities.
Mary Wessel: So it was really a wonderful summer for me.
Interviewer: That was for one summer?
Mary Wessel: For one summer. Then in October we moved into our ... First of October we moved into our cabin. It was a four room cabin.
Interviewer: Who had built the cabin?
Mary Wessel: The government.
Interviewer: The government did?
Mary Wessel: Yeah. You see, this was a new locality. It was just being opened up to the Forestry.
Mary Wessel: And the Forestry were very new, still under (Gifford) Pinchot, the first supervisor. And they didn't know very much about it themselves in Washington, it was all feeling the way. And that's why we were mapping these boundaries in the forest, so they'd know how to do business with the people in the localities.
Interviewer: They didn't know much about Montana, either.
Mary Wessel: No, no. Oh, I had many lovely experiences with these people. One sheep ranch we stopped at, the woman at that ranch had not seen another woman for 10 months, and she literally fell on my neck and oh! Wanted me to stay, you know. She was just so delighted to see a woman.
Interviewer: Oh, wow. That was that summer when you were traveling.
Mary Wessel: Yes, from that summer. And many other nice experiences we had and lovely people we met. Then we moved into the cabin, and about a week later I heard the commotion and looked outside and I saw wagons coming from every direction. And I said, "What's going on here? What's this? They're coming here!" My husband looked out, he said, "I don't know." And here they had dropped food and gunny sacks of vegetables and canned goods and jellies and jams, you know.
Interviewer: Geez, how nice.
Mary Wessel: Things for a new wedded couple starting out. The upper floor of our cabin was all one floor. They hadn't divided the rooms. Someone brought the fiddle and they danced up there and they had a good time! We had the supper.
Interviewer: They brought all the food there to cook?
Mary Wessel: Yes, they brought the supper already. It was a housewarming, you know. I had never seen anything like that before. Living in New York City you didn't know your next door neighbor even.
Interviewer: But out there, people were so few that they had to welcome everyone.
Mary Wessel: Yeah. Then, this was interesting too. I was a schoolteacher, you know. They knew I'd been a California schoolteacher. They had ... There were two children in that district, only two children, and they couldn't afford a teacher. But if they moved the school to my house they thought I would take on two children for two months in the fall and two months in the spring. And they gave me $50 a month. They could do ... They could make that much. That little community was called Woolsey; it isn't now, there nothing left. It had only nine people in it, nine families. But they had a post office, and their mark was that big ... And New York City's mark is that big!
Interviewer: [crosstalk 00:18:48] What [crosstalk 00:18:49]
Mary Wessel: They didn't have time at the ranches to take care of these nine people. And I was going to teach school and I was going to be there, why wouldn't I be the post mistress too? So they moved the post office to my home.
Interviewer: You were [crosstalk 00:19:05]
Mary Wessel: And I got another $50 from the government for nine people! You see, why they closed the little offices?
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Mary Wessel: It was such a silly thing to have.
Interviewer: So they gave you some work there too?
Mary Wessel: Yes, I got $100 a month. That was as much as I got teaching school in Los Angeles, you know, in that day. You got $100 a month.
Interviewer: How long did you keep up with those jobs? How long did you keep those jobs?
Mary Wessel: Let's see. After the baby was born in May ... We lived there all that summer till October, but I could not ... I could not stay there in the winter. I could not be that far ... Atkinson was president here and he was the Food Administrator.
Mary Wessel: And he and Mr. Wessel had done some work in using flour, not using white flour, but using the other kinds of flour and making good bread. And also with the candies, using the other products instead of sugar.
Mary Wessel: And he asked him to come over then and take charge of the sugar for the state here, and that's how we got to Bozeman.
Interviewer: Oh, you moved to Bozeman from Great Falls?
Mary Wessel: Yeah.
Interviewer: So did your husband feel that there was a lot of anti-German discrimination at that time?
Mary Wessel: It was ... The German ... It was quite strong, quite strong, the feeling was. They didn't do anything, but he was real patriotic. I mean, he loved America and he was real patriotic and he wanted to show it. And I know after the war I had a hard time getting a passport to go abroad.
Interviewer: After World War I?
Mary Wessel: I didn't have, what do you call it, your number, you know.
Interviewer: Social Security number?
Mary Wessel: No.
Interviewer: Birth certificate?
Mary Wessel: Yeah, birth certificate. I couldn't locate anything that they would accept. It took me two months, and finally we wrote to Albany and told them our trouble. They said, "We happen to have a record here." And they gave me a photostatic copy of the record of my birth.
Interviewer: Did they think you were from Germany, or?
Mary Wessel: We thought the Wessel name may have had something to do with it. But they were much more strict in those days than they are now you know, too.
Interviewer: Did you experience any discrimination because you [crosstalk 00:22:24]
Mary Wessel: No, no.
Interviewer: No. Did you think that people were generally in favor of going into World War I, of the U.S. fighting in the war?
Mary Wessel: Well, more so than more recent wars, I think. They were, I think ... Well, there was a great deal more patriotism in those days than there is now.
Interviewer: Okay. What was your work like as a housewife?
Mary Wessel: It was a lot of work.
Interviewer: You didn't have ... Did you wash on the boards?
Mary Wessel: Yes. I kept that ... I don't remember who got it, but oh boy, somebody was awful glad to get it as a souvenir, an heirloom or something. A relic.
Interviewer: What was another big job besides washing?
Mary Wessel: Of course, cooking was always a chore. I could clean better than I cooked, I thought. But I did learn to cook well enough so a United States senator was a guest in my home and he could tell me a year later what I served.
Mary Wessel: He remembered it was so good.
Interviewer: In Great Falls, do you remember how the people from the different ethnic groups got along? Did people get along pretty well?
Mary Wessel: In Great Falls?
Mary Wessel: I don't remember any outstanding discord of any kind. There were, of course, people of different nationalities there quite a good bit. I tutored children all my life in order to have somebody in the home to do the heavy work.
Interviewer: You would tutor them and then they would work ...
Mary Wessel: Yeah.
Mary Wessel: No, I would hire a woman, and what I got for tutoring would pay for her, you see.
Mary Wessel: There was a prominent man in Great Falls whose two children had been abroad for a year, and they got behind and they wouldn't accept the grades from abroad; so they had to be a year behind and the children didn't like that. So I tutored them, brought them up to regular grade and that was my start. Then other work came to me through the schools, would be sent to me. So I could tutor in my home, you know, with the children.
Interviewer: Did your kids visit with children of other ethnic groups? Did they ever go to Black Eagle or the different sections of the town where people lived?
Mary Wessel: No. My children didn't go to other children's homes very much. They came to our home. People came to our home. I don't remember that we ever ... Of course, there was nothing in us, in my nature, to see a difference, you know. A child, no matter where he was born or what he was born in, he was a child and I would let my children play with them. I didn't ... There was nothing against other children.
Interviewer: So you moved to Bozeman in about 1918, 1919?
Mary Wessel: Let me see. When did we ... Oh, on Armistice Day we came here, 1918.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Mary Wessel: November 11th. We had rented a house furnished and we couldn't get anybody to turn on the lights, to turn on the heat, and we had to go to a hotel and stay overnight. They were dancing in the streets and making merry and nobody wanted to do any work, so we had to go ... When we left Great Falls we didn't know the war was ended. We got to Helena before we heard of it.
Interviewer: That must have been something.
Mary Wessel: Yes. We never dreamed it would be like this, that everybody just dropped everything. And they were dancing in the streets when we got there in the afternoon.
Interviewer: Good for you. So he didn't have to take the job that he had come here for, because there was no more rationing, right?
Mary Wessel: It lasted way into March before they wound up everything.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Mary Wessel: And then he had an option on a Bon-Ton here, and I said, "No, no, no." He took an option anyway. But that type of ...
Interviewer: On a bakery and a restaurant?
Mary Wessel: Yeah, and a restaurant. And because he put in such long hours the children didn't see him much. And I felt he ought to be able to go on a picnic with us, you know, and they'd see more of him. So he went into business for himself then. He started a little wholesale candy business. It made a very good living for two years, but he went in when prices were high, and we sold our home in Great Falls and put our savings into this business. Then when the Depression stayed on and people weren't paying cash for things and taking notes ... He was taking notes and they weren't paying the notes very fast.
Interviewer: Would this have been in the twenties too?
Mary Wessel: Yeah. So he saw he was going to run into a great debt. He didn't like debt, so he closed out his business. Then he found out that the boys were coming back ... They were preferring the boys who had been in the service, giving the jobs to them, and the older men were not hired so readily with a job. And so he almost had a nervous breakdown with a wife and five children with no future ahead. Then too, he had the German idea of being pretty old at 45. I had none of that.
[TruthUnity note: According to Mary's listing on Ancestry, she was divorced from Louis Wessel on December 24, 1934. Louis died in 1942, aged 62. Mary and Louis had lost at least one of their children, Donald, in 1926. By 1934, two of her children were likely out of the house, but her youngest son, David, was 14 years old. She had spent at least one month each year for three years in Kansas City prior to her ordination in August 1933. These things and what we can learn from the recollections given in this clip and the next clip may explain the difficulty Mary and Louis had with their marriage.]
And that's when the children and I prayed and prayed and prayed. A telegram came from northern California from a firm who ... They had a lumbering and scaling of lumber and he could do that. We got it together, all the money we could get to send him out there to see about that job. I thought if he lived outdoors a while it would be very good for him. So he went and took ... They never sent the telegram, they said. We never found out where the telegram came from. The job was there and they gave it to him because he could fill the bill. Isn't that interesting?
Interviewer: But they said they hadn't sent the telegram?
Mary Wessel: They didn't. They didn't know how he got that telegram. God does things in wonderful ways.
Interviewer: Loudspeaker—"The mail is here, the mail is here." So, the agricultural depression of the twenties, you felt that here in Bozeman?
Mary Wessel: Yeah, we knew it very much. We were taken care of. I was beginning to have classes and I was quite along in my study too.
Interviewer: Were you teaching classes or you were ...
Mary Wessel: I was teaching some classes besides the prayer group. They were quite popular. They were eager students because they'd seen and heard of so many healings. Dear old Dr. Blair, who founded the hospital here, a beloved doctor, said, "I take off my hat to a power that's higher than I." He saw healing take place that he couldn't account for, wasn't medical. And he'd come and talk to me, and ministers came and talked to me too about the healing work. I didn't do it, of course, because only God heals; but we can be instruments of God's work.
Interviewer: So you began healing during that time, during the early twenties?
Mary Wessel: Yeah. They were more outstanding than later on when I got into teaching work. Jesus' healing work was first, then his teaching work. And you don't hear so much about the healings. Of course they had them; where ever Jesus was He was healing, because he was just an open channel for God to do his work, and God heals where ever He can get a channel to work through it.
I saw healings too, many healings. All the way through my ministry, all the way through. But the teaching work was more prominent then; I mean, we could put more stress on.
One teacher said to me one time, "Yes, I said to him I would like to go through the world and heal everybody. And he said, "I'd like to go through the world and teach everybody to heal themselves." Right away that opened a new door for me. Of course that would be better. So then I stressed the teaching more; to help them heal themselves.
Interviewer: You would set up a little class, prayer meetings rooms in your home?
Mary Wessel: Yeah.
Interviewer: And you were taking the correspondence course from the Unity church?
Mary Wessel: And then we ... I had visited Unity too, the headquarters, and I came back and told them of the things, the inspiration I'd received. And this little group said, "Let's have an evening meeting and invite people to come and hear it, and you tell them this too."
See, I believe people ... Quite a number of people beginning to read Unity, maybe undercover, maybe they wouldn't want others to know it yet; because it was so new and it was so unusual, but they didn't want to hurt their husband's business.
Interviewer: They might have ... [crosstalk 00:35:02]
Mary Wessel: You know, in those days "you ought to go to the right church."
Mary Wessel: To help his business. I heard that more than once.
Interviewer: What was the right church?
Mary Wessel: It happened to be the Presbyterian, it was the largest one there.
Interviewer: So you had to do it undercover a little bit?
Mary Wessel: Yeah, "don't tell anyone that you came to see me. Don't tell anyone I'm reading."
Mary Wessel: Uh huh.
Interviewer: And did you mainly start to talk to women about this then? Was it women at first?
Mary Wessel: Yeah. Well, some men came to the meeting too. And it wasn't very long before they wanted to ... They wanted from the first night, they would like to meet every week. So we had evening meetings then and I gave lessons. They were simple ones, you know, because I wasn't very advanced myself.
Interviewer: What might you say in one of those lessons?
Mary Wessel: I would tell them what I knew about God, what God is. And I tell them what we are in relationship to God. It gave them a new viewpoint, and it sounded more sensible to men than much of the religion that they'd know up to then. A logical mind can see this more clearly and more naturally than one who just takes it on blind faith.
Mary Wessel: So we had quite a number of men, and prominent men came eventually. Doctors and judges.
Interviewer: Eventually the opinion was turned around?
Mary Wessel: Yeah.
Interviewer: If you [crosstalk 00:36:58]
Mary Wessel: We had very high regard here for Unity.
Interviewer: After how many years?
Mary Wessel: After ten or twelve years.
Mary Wessel: We became established and I was a member of the Ministerial Association. You have to be invited to be in that. It was just that steady faith and a willing to share, wanting to share. Wanting to help others to see what I ... Have the transformed bodies that I had. Wanting to gather the world in every way.
Interviewer: Did you work in the community?
Mary Wessel: Yeah.
Interviewer: Did people from your church help with charitable organizations or track ... Work for people's bodies too?
Mary Wessel: Yes. They did work at the hospital and they did work ... We stressed more the prayer work to do that outer thing than the bodily help to it. When the occasion came we always were right there for it. But we didn't go out of our way to do it as the churches do. We felt the prayer work was so much more effective, reached many more people. It was built ... Oh, I'm sure that Unity worked, has done a great deal to break down a lot of the barriers in the churches.
I know a time when two young ministers in Iowa, a Baptist and a Lutheran, decided that they'd change pulpits, not let the congregations know. They did that and they were both put out of the church. Both!
Interviewer: Anything [crosstalk 00:39:26]
Mary Wessel: There was a time if you were a Methodist you wouldn't go in a Baptist church, you wouldn't go.
Interviewer: How did the Unity church break that down?
Mary Wessel: By the fact that this is all one God and one Presence and one Power. The only one Presence in all of us. It's the same spirit in all.
Interviewer: And people started to believe that?
Mary Wessel: Yes. They gave up these limited notions they had and the proselytizing that went on, trying to get them from one church into the other. You can feel the bond of fellowship now there among the churches. Unity sent us literature, to all the ministers, and said, "We send it to you freely. Use it, use the ideas." And some of them with closed minds of course wouldn't do it at all.
Mary Wessel: But there are thousands of ministers that take our literature now, incorporate it. The ideas, they believe in the ideas and use it in their sermons and so on. It's been a mellowing process.
Interviewer: You took a correspondence course. Did you also travel to get training?
Mary Wessel: I had to go to school down there, finally, for the ending. I had to attend classes.
Interviewer: Where did you go?
Mary Wessel: To Kansas City where the headquarters was, and they had a school. When I first started they didn't have a school then. This has only been since 1889. Unity started in 1889. It's been evolving too. It's a worldwide movement now, big movement in many countries. They have very good workers in those other countries.
Interviewer: How long did you stay in Kansas City for your training?
Mary Wessel: I would stay only a month at a time because of my family. A student would come stay in my home and take care of the children while I was gone for the month.
Interviewer: How old were your kids?
Mary Wessel: Then over a period of three years I'd go a month at a time and I finished all the outward work that I had to do. Then we had to prove ourselves for three years, prove a successful ministry for three years before we're ordained. Then we're invited to be ordained. I was ordained in 1933.
Interviewer: How do you prove that your ministry's successful?
Mary Wessel: You were conducting a successful ministry. That is, it was a going thing and proving ... New people coming in for it. Well, everything working smoothly, perfectly and financially. We never, never had a pledge of any kind. I never had a salary. In all the 43 years of my ministry I never had a salary, yet I never wanted anything, never was in need of anything. I could pay my bills on time, all of them. And my five children had their college education.
Interviewer: People really contributed.
Mary Wessel: There was a great ... They learned to be appreciative to God. They gave to God, not to a church. There's a great difference. A lot of people are working their heads off for a church and they give their money to the church. We didn't do that. We gave everything to God and God gave to us. He gives liberally. He gives wonderfully to those who know Him and serve Him.
Interviewer: Were contributions lower during the Depression when people were having a hard time?
Mary Wessel: During the Depression my supply increased. You see, people who had lost money and who had little began to appreciate what they had, and they found out it came to them from God and they hadn't been appreciative to God before. I don't remember in early days that I went to God, only when I wanted something. That isn't a very good friendship, is it? It wasn't love.
They awakened to the fact that God had given them life. He had given them everything that they had and yet they hadn't acknowledged Him as the source, and they hadn't shown appreciation to Him. So they were trying to make up for it, you see.
So they began to tithe. I didn't tell them to tithe. I would give a lesson on tithing sometimes as the Bible tells it. But I'd be perfectly impersonal about it. Use it or not. I never told them you have to do this thing or that thing. You don't. You have your free will and God wants it that way. He wants you to choose Him because you believe in Him and choose Him because you love Him. He's always loved us, He's always loved us. But now, when awakened to love for Him, we want to give to Him, you see.
Mary Wessel: So we had no trouble with having supply for everything we needed.
We built a church in Billings and it was paid for in two years. We built one in Livingston and it was paid for when we moved in, and that night the night papers said, "Unity Church All Paid For." That was the top line in the paper that night, and it was that big! "Unity Church All Paid For." That was the biggest news there was.
Interviewer: [crosstalk 00:46:52] right?
Mary Wessel: It never happened in the community before, you see.
Interviewer: How did you organize the parishes in the other communities?
Mary Wessel: It was usually somebody ... When I was going to Butte the Livingston people knew about it and their church ... The Christian Science Church had split and half of them weren't going. So a delegation came over and said "Will you come over and help us too? You're going to Butte and helping them."
What was I talking about?
Interviewer: How do you organize the churches in Butte and Livingston.
Mary Wessel: Oh yes. About five months after that I arranged to go to Livingston. I kept my time organized. Then the next year, it seemed every year I saw this ... I saw this in a vision, that every city in this state could have these little prayer groups.
I told Mr. Fillmore, the originator, the founder of Unity, to send a minister up to Montana and I would help them organize all of these, you know. He looked at me searchingly and he said, "Who had that vision?" And I said, "Oh, I had the vision." "Well, why do you suppose it was given to you?" "So you'd send a minister up there," I said. He said, "Go home and be it. You are." I knew he didn't know what he was talking about because I had five little children. I wasn't going out of my home. I wasn't going to do that. Wound up - I did. I did it.
He raised up the most wonderful housekeeper you ever saw. She could do even more physically for them than I could. And they loved her and they loved me too. And I had more time with their mental life, which was so important too, you see.
Interviewer: How often were you out of town?
Mary Wessel: I would spend Fridays in Butte.
Mary Wessel: And then the next year I added Mondays in Livingston. And then the following year, Billings. And it was a pharmacist and his wife who came up and wanted me to come to Billings. Said they were little groups that were meeting and were trying to read and study and pray together in the homes.
Interviewer: They had gotten some Unity literature from somewhere?
Mary Wessel: Yeah. It was breaking through, you know, all over the country. The literature was going out and people were getting it and reading it, and then they wanted to find out who else was reading it, you know, and read together. So we had 40 at our first meeting in Billings. It was all sort of organized and planned for us. All I did ... If I could've had another body, I had calls to make to Fargo, North Dakota, to Cody, Wyoming and up in Canada. People wanted me to come there too, you see.
You see, Jesus' ministry, he went from town to town.
Mary Wessel: He didn't stay in one place. Yes He did.
Interviewer: What were some of your duties as a minister? Did you counsel people?
Mary Wessel: Yeah. I was on duty at 7:30 in the morning. I counseled till nine o'clock, from 7:30 to 9.
Interviewer: How many days a week?
Mary Wessel: Five days a week.
Interviewer: In that certain town where you lived?
Mary Wessel: I'd travel at night, I'd be on deck for 7:30 in the morning. Even if I got there at 5:30 in the morning, I'd be on deck at 7:30.
Interviewer: Did you find that the people needed to be there that many hours?
Mary Wessel: I had to get it in whenever I could 'cause I had a morning class. I had a prayer service in the afternoon and a class. I had a young people's service, a vesper service.
Mary Wessel: I had a regular, we'd call it Sunday morning service, every evening, in the community I was in. I had all those classes and evening services, which took a good part of the day. Oftentimes there wasn't time to eat. In the beginning there was quite a lot of counseling, but as they grew to help themselves it grew less, the counseling part of it.
Mary Wessel: But it was always, God does it. God does it, not we. We're not doing it. They got to lean on God and now use God as a source, and they found they could take care of many of the situations and conditions themselves. I didn't have them come to me and depend on me, you see. Because I was only a channel and God was the one who did the work. God does the work. They wrote an article about me one time in a magazine that said, "God does the work." 'Cause that's what I said more than most anything else, "God does the work."
Interviewer: Do you ever remember when strikes were happening in Butte?
[TruthUnity note: the Interviewer is asking about the 1919-1920 miners strike in Butte, which led to the Anaconda Road massacre. Mary had just been introduced to Unity and had not yet begun her studies. So the response she has given here is a reflection from the perspective of what she later learned from Unity.]
Mary Wessel: Yes. When they carried guns.
Interviewer: Oh! What was that like?
Mary Wessel: They carried guns.
Interviewer: Was that in 1934? [crosstalk 00:53:38]
Mary Wessel: I'm not very good on dates, a prior concern. But I know how fearful some of the people were. And that was the time we would learn to know that God's perfect love casteth out fear. You're not afraid of anything, anywhere, anytime, and you're perfecting your love. Your security is in God. Not in guns or in anything outwardly, in a place. No more secure in one place than another. So they learned a lot of good common sense along with it.
Interviewer: Did you ever have any people come to you and ask you whether you thought they should strike, or if they should just put up with working conditions?
Mary Wessel: We knew that there was a God of justice. And God was able to work out things in the lives of any group. If they take it to the Lord in prayer, He has a way that was past our finding out to bring solutions. Just as that telegram, they didn't know where it came from. It was a solution for our problem in which we can ... I can never. I had lots of things that I couldn't tell how it happened. God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform at times. How He does it ... It's our business to know he does it.
Interviewer: So you think that they should pray rather than take the action of strike?
Mary Wessel: Yes, I think ... Pray for good judgment, for both sides. There is a right solution, always, there is. It would solve itself in wonderful ways and they'd all have greater understanding too of meeting. And it would bring them closer, both labor and management.
All the differences are in the outer. In the inner there's always one, there's always one, you see. It's two sides of the same thing. Both are needed, both are necessary. And if you go to the source of whence they came you're going to get solutions, it will be solved.
Interviewer: The source that the two sides came from?
Mary Wessel: Yes. And they will be brought to greater understanding of how to work together in a better way, you see. For the benefit of both of them.
Interviewer: What if one side is greedy and the other one is ... [crosstalk 00:56:58]
Mary Wessel: That has to be dissolved. The greediness will be dissolved in God, you see. There's no greediness in God. If we as a nation ... We wouldn't be in the difficulties we're in now if we in God had been our trust, as it was in the beginning. It was on our coins and people believed it. They did put their trust in God. And our early government would stop and pray about the thing, and they'd get a right solution through prayer. Instead of jumping into hot water all the time as they seem to do now.
Interviewer: During the twenties and thirties when people had a hard time economically, were they dependent on the local merchants to give them credit on food?
Mary Wessel: Yes. I think there was a great deal of that. I never had it though. I got down to one night there was just a bowl of rice and milk for the children, five bowls. "Mother, where's yours?" And I go, "Mother doesn't have one tonight." They wanted to share theirs with me. And I said, "No, Mother has meat to eat that the world knows not of." I had inner food. I sat there while they were eating theirs, and I saw that table laden with all that was needful for the children and I blessed the food. They never thought it was lack at all. The next morning there was evidence of more abundant food. Food came in for us. From that time on we never had such short rations again, never.
Interviewer: [crosstalk 01:12:40]
Mary Wessel: It went on increasing. During the Depression my supply went up.
Interviewer: How [crosstalk 01:12:50]
Mary Wessel: Because the people were beginning to acknowledge God. And in acknowledging God they were making us all more prosperous too, you see. They were not depending on the outer things so much. If we could put our dependence in God we'd never have any lack. Oh, not at all.
Interviewer: Did you have any leisure time during those years?
Mary Wessel: Did I what?
Interviewer: Did you have any leisure time during your years as a minister?
Mary Wessel: I would take a week off and I'd let them carry on. I would go to a mountain cabin somewhere and I'd just have a quiet week of rest and refreshment.
Once I went up to Lake McDonald and the restaurant sent down a tray of food once a day for me, it was enough. And I had taken some fruit juices and things along. I didn't talk to people. I just had a quiet time away from everyone and rested and slept and read, had a refreshing time.
Interviewer: That's great. Do you remember changes that happened in Montana when the homesteaders all moved in and took out homesteads, and then they left again?
Mary Wessel: Yeah. My husband in Great Falls had a car. He would take them out to homesteads when they came in and the rush was on.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Mary Wessel: With the homestead. Some of them couldn't take the life, you see, it was so different.
Interviewer: They didn't know how to farm?
Mary Wessel: Mm-hmm.
Interviewer: Do you think ... What was the effect of the New Deal programs during the Depression when Roosevelt put in work programs and gave people aid?
Mary Wessel: Well, it seemed to work. I think it gave people heart, and especially when the banks closed and he set up a new ... He seemed to give the people a feeling of hope, that there was going to be a way out of it. They just had lost faith. They just lost ... It was a terribly depressed feeling. It seemed to work. It took hold again, you see. And of course that really was what was needed, and so work themselves out of it.
Interviewer: During World War II, were people that you were around favorable to the U.S. going into the war?
Mary Wessel: I don't think so as much as in the first one. They weren't that patriotic or as feeling that it was the right thing to do.
Mary Wessel: And I think they had even less on the third one, because it never solved anything. It never can, and why do it over again then? There has to be another way.
Interviewer: Really? There has to be [crosstalk 01:16:57]
Mary Wessel: And of course now it would have to be, with the kinds of implements they have now there'd just be nothing left.
Interviewer: End of the world.
Mary Wessel: Yeah.
Interviewer: There were rationing and there were shortages during World War II too, weren't there?
Mary Wessel: There was what?
Interviewer: Was there rationing and shortages?
Mary Wessel: Yes.
Interviewer: Did you go on with your ministering during that time?
Mary Wessel: Yeah.
Interviewer: The trains ran on [crosstalk 01:17:28]
Mary Wessel: We even built a church during that time. Someone sent some money from Canada, and it was awfully hard to get money out of Canada. Because I had the courage to build a church during the ... But it was a necessity. We couldn't find a meeting place. The government comes in and takes all the fare, office rooms. Our meeting room, a great big one, was divided into three offices, and you get three times as much rent as when we paid for the one room. Just took it right out from under us, gave us a month's notice. So we were up against it.
But the mayor, wife and daughter came to the meetings. They said the ... The mayor owned the commercial business, the school. We used their Sunday room for our meetings until our church was built.
Interviewer: It was unusual to build a church at that time?
Mary Wessel: Because ... Hard to get materials, very hard to get materials. Here was an interesting thing. We put the bids out to the contractors. One of the largest contractors took the bid for that little church. It was the smallest building he ever built. He built the big buildings in the community, the county court house and the schools and (knocking noise) and the buildings.
He couldn't get the wood that the architect design wanted. So he was a big enough contractor that he could just phone Seattle and say, "I've got to have it right now." And it was ... We got it the next week, we had it.
Mary Wessel: And if we hadn't had that big contractor we wouldn't have been able to get our building finished. God took care of us. Everything worked so beautifully, and God had this building for us. It all worked out in a wonderful way.
Interviewer: Which town was that again?
Mary Wessel: That was in Billings.
Interviewer: In Billings?
Mary Wessel: In Billings. We never went out of our group to get money. They took up their savings even and trusted it with God. It all came back to them eventually, but it was just wonderful the way it worked out. Somebody said, I remember one person saying, "I really never knew what it was to give before." They'd given out of their supply and didn't miss it. But when they took up their savings and put it in, they felt it. They felt that they had something, and they knew what it was to give in a greater measure. They were enriched by it.
But we didn't have to go out in the money market to get money. It was a building that was just pure God-given. God expressed. There was such great love in it. Today when I go back, there's still that wonderful love in that, you feel it. You feel it in the atmosphere of that place. They have a lovely minister there now.
When I retired it took five Unity ministers to take my work. Ordained ministers. They were going to increase it, you see. A resident minister can do more by having all the week to do it in. They have done very good work down in Billings. They have a very lovely minister down there.
Interviewer: When did you retire?
Mary Wessel: When did I? Fourteen years ago, when was that? [crosstalk 01:22:52]
Interviewer: About 1966 or 1967, '68?
[TruthUnity note: earlier, Mary says she was in ministry 43 years. If she retired in 1968, then she dates the start of her ministry in 1925. This fits well with the information in the 1948 survey, where she says that she first began studying Unity in 1920, then started the correspondence course in 1924.]
Mary Wessel: Isn't that funny, I can't remember. I haven't talked about that so much to anyone, the year.
Interviewer: You worked until you were in your 80s.
Mary Wessel: Yes. I drove my car till I was 93.
Interviewer: You don't believe in aging, do you?
Mary Wessel: No. I don't think age. I believe that I'm a spirit. I think more of myself as spirit than I do a body, you see.
Mary Wessel: And as spirit, we're ageless. Never were we born, never did we die. It's an eternal, everlasting thing.
We change our clothes, we give up a dress and receive another one. But we go right on. There's no ... Life leads to life. There's no death.
I say every night, "Father, I'll go where you want me to go and I'll do what you want me to do." And I just believe that if I went to sleep and found myself somewhere else it would be all right. But I'm still ... I'm here!.
Interviewer: Thanks a lot. I enjoyed it.