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Ernest Wilson—If You Want To Enough

CHAPTER XLIV — A Mood or a Message?

Before I left Kansas City back in 1938 to establish a ministry in Los Angeles I had felt the almost overwhelming sense of The Presence grasping my shoulders from behind and saying, “You must go!”

Now again in the autumn of 1964 I had the feeling of momentous movement in the hidden side of life. It was as though my bags were packed and I didn’t know where I was going. Looking back I can see that there were many logical reasons for this, though they had come about so gradually that I did not consciously recognize them.

Franklyn had fulfilled his own prediction that I would outlive him. Norma had retired and made only rare appearances in special services; Marietta Ide was attempting the impossibility of replacing her. Nena de la Noy, my standby of the pioneering days, had succumbed to leukemia. June Jones, active in our prayer ministry and youth leadership, had left to accept church leadership in La Crescenta. Mabel Beebe was gone. Bert Perks had died of heart failure following a tragic accident. Ron Potter was finding his way as a promising young leader. Fredericka Singleton continued in charge of the book room. John Lambert was still soloist and Leslie Jolliff church organist. Violet Goetchius had become a strong hospital minister and board member. She, Marietta, Les and Freddie were the only continuing staff members from earliest days. I was, as Franklyn once put it, “bereft of my cohorts.’’ Violet was the strongest member on my staff.

There was a welling up of all these thoughts in my mind, and the related intimations of impending change, when I received a surprising letter from John Hinkle.

John Hinkle

John Hinkle had become the Unity minister in Sacramento soon after the war ended. We became friends, and occasionally exchanged pulpits. On Sunday mornings he spoke to from seven to eight hundred. He received the best response from our Los Angeles congregation of any visiting speaker. From time to time we had discussed his joining our Los Angeles staff. He wanted to do so, but felt he could not leave the Sacramento work.

In the early 1960’s, when I had established my home in Hollywood Hills, he had acquired a small plane—he had been a flyer during World War II—and would fly down to the Lockheed Airport in the San Fernando Valley to spend part of a day with me occasionally. It was in the autumn of 1964 that he made another such visit to tell me that if I still had a place for him he could come to work with us. By this time Franklyn had passed on, Norma retired. It seemed like a guidance.

“There’s one problem,” he confessed. “Skipper (nickname for his pretty wife) and I are getting a divorce. Would that make a difference?”

“No; not if there’s no scandal involved. I don’t think our congregation even knows your wife except by your mention of her.”

“Then there’s no problem.”

“Do you think you will marry again?” To this question I sensed hesitation. “Oh, maybe; sometime,” was his response.

I called a special meeting of the church board.

Our board members and others close to me in the work were pleased at the prospect. Neither the faithful members of the staff, who had weathered the years of the church’s growth, nor the ministers from headquarters whom the School had provided seemed to have that mass appeal that is essential in attracting and holding a congregation numbering in the thousands. John had that appeal. There were things we could have known, should have known, that only the years yet to come were to make plain. At the time our guidance seemed clear. In a surprisingly short time John had joined us.

“This is the fulfillment of a possibility we’ve often considered but could hardly believe would really happen,” I volunteered. “Let’s celebrate by having dinner together.” I chose the place I like best, a quiet eating place on the top floor of a skyscraper in West Los Angeles, noted for its elegant food and service, and matchless view of the city and the sea. As we drove out world-famous Wilshire Boulevard past its many towering buildings, smart shops, well-dressed late shoppers, John shook his head in self-effacement, with the comment, “You’re a big-city man, Ernest. I’m just a small town guy.” That his first effort to change this self-appraisal was to buy a Chrysler New Yorker that rivalled my Continental in size and price served more to confirm than alter his pronouncement, I thought.

Maybe I hadn’t known John—or he me—as well as we thought. What we outstandingly shared in common was a devotion to Jesus Christ as our Elder Brother. That should help us to solve any personality problems. For the time, John was occupied with finding an apartment, adjusting to a bachelor’s way of life. My effort was to maintain the serene, orderly conduct of the church activities during this period of change.

That there was yet greater change to come I was soon to know, and in a manner I could not have foreseen.

In Kansas City Too

Returning to my home in Hollywood Hills following the Sunday morning service on November 22nd I heard the phone ringing as I was getting out of my car. I hurried across the patio to answer it. The caller was a Kansas City friend who had attended the annual membership meeting at Unity Temple on the Plaza. It was three o’clock in the Midwest. Dissident members had brought about a situation that caused the ministers, L.E. and Ethel Meyer, to resign. They were, I know, greatly loved by the great majority of the congregation. By everybody, I would have said.

Surely the dissention would be resolved in the Meyer’s favor. I could not imagine L.E.’s not being at the Temple. He was a loving and capable minister. In his quiet way he always presented a well-prepared sermon, or lesson as he preferred to call it. His counselling ministry to the sick and troubled was outstanding. It was he whom I had recommended to succeed me as minister when I had resigned to undertake the Los Angeles ministry. The church would be hard put to replace him.

A Caller and a Call

It seems like only a day or two later, though I suppose it may have been more, that Gill phoned from her office to tell me that a Doctor Carl Cleveland was in the reception room waiting to see me. I asked her to usher him in.

“You wouldn’t know me,” he began, after we’d exchanged greetings, “but I have known you for years by reputation, and from having read your books and attending your services here on the many occasions that my wife and I have visited Los Angeles. I have come to see you today on a very difficult mission.”

He was, he went on to say, the president of Cleveland Chiropractic College in Kansas City and for seventeen years a member of Unity Society. His father was president of the parent college in Los Angeles. “My wife and I have often gone through the line after church here to thank you for the message; but with the crowds pressing to greet you, we’ve never attempted to identify ourselves.”

They had been ardent students at the Temple but had been content simply to attend services, contribute their offerings, visit the book room, and buy literature. Almost the only members they had come to know were the ministers and Ruth Stockdale who was in charge of the book room.

They were incensed by what they felt was unfair treatment of the ministers at the annual membership meeting. He had risen to protest, demanding that the board resign and a new one be elected. This did not reinstate the Meyers, but it did result in a new board of directors. Doctor Cleveland was chosen as its president. It was in that capacity that he had come to ask if I would come back to the ministry to which Charles Fillmore had so long ago appointed me.

Somewhat to his surprise—and certainly to mine—I found myself saying, “Yes. I will!”

This was not like me.

It would have been more like me to say, “I appreciate the honor and I’ll pray about it. I’ll let you know within two weeks.”

Doctor Cleveland thanked me effusively and left without delay, as if given time to think what I’d said, I might retract it.

As I shook hands with him in his departure, I felt dazed, and stepped back to lean against my desk. In doing so, my hand touched the lid of a leather-covered box. I turned to replace it and instead absent-mindedly lifted it. On top of the papers it covered was a letter addressed to May Rowland in Charles Fillmore’s vigorous handwriting. It had been written following his visit to Los Angeles and a tour of our facilities, following which he had commented, “You’ve got a bigger plant here than the one in Kansas City.” He was alluding not to Unity School of course, but to the church on the Plaza.

Still in something of a daze I opened the letter and reread the lines I had forgotten:

“Ernest is doing a magnificent work for Unity in Los Angeles. Some of the center leaders don’t approve of him and his methods, but they’ll change their mind.”

It seemed to me like a message from the Beyond; as if it were Mr. Fillmore’s way of letting me know he approved of the move. What made it seem so, was the timeliness of its coming to my attention. It seemed like more than chance, and brought to mind another coupling of time lapsed and ostensibly unrelated incidents. It took me back in thought to the last time I had taught a class at Unity Village.


Kathryn Jarvis, now the minister of a Unity church in Oakland, California, had been called to Unity Village to supervise the teachers training classes, and had asked me to teach a course in creative writing. Writing had been a compulsion with me from the time I was in grade school. While I was a ministerial student in John Ring’s Har-monial Institute in San Diego I had enrolled in a creative writing course with Lucy Stone, a successful writer whose stories appeared in The Saturday Evening Post. I felt that I had learned a lot from it, but teaching a course was another matter. Yet the invitation was irresistible. I got books from the public library for help. The one that helped most was written by Adela Rogers St. Johns, whom I had known since the late 40’s. When I told her how, with no experience in teaching others how to write, her book helped, she commented, “I didn’t know how to teach writing either; that’s how I came to write the book!”

Living at the Village for the term of the course gave me the happy opportunity to renew longtime friendships amid ideal surroundings, and to become acquainted with some of the newer teachers, like Kathryn. One day she said to me, “I wish you were on the staff here. We need you.”

“I think I’m needed more in California. Besides, the School is well-staffed, and there is little turnover.”

“How about Unity on the Plaza?”

“L.E. and I are both in our right places, and will stay put till we retire,” was my answer.

“Mind if I pray about it?”

“Pray that I will continue to do God’s will the best I know how!”

I dismissed her suggestion as a well-meant compliment, and did not think of it again until the surprising request from Doctor Cleveland made it seem like more than coincidence. Synchronicity again!

© 1984, by Ronald and Beverly Potter
All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission.