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The Fillmores and Unity

Charles Fillmore was born in 1854 in Minnesota. A childhood skating accident combined with improper medical care left Charles with a withered leg and thus an inability to be physically active. Although he stopped going to school, he was tutored by a woman who introduced him to classical literature, as well as the transcendentalists of the time.

Myrde Page was born in 1845 to a Methodist Episcopal family in Ohio. Since childhood, she was considered an invalid and prone to tuberculosis. Despite this, she became a teacher and her interest in literature led her to meet Charles in a literary group in Dennison, Texas in 1876. They married in 1881 and moved to Colorado to pursue the real estate business. In 1884 they moved to the boom-town of Kansas City.

While in Colorado, Myrtle gave birth to two children: Lowell Page Fillmore and Waldo Rickert Fillmore. The Fillmores had a third son, John Royal Fillmore, in Kansas City. While Colorado's climate was conducive to improving Myrtle's health, Kansas City brought out the worst. By 1886, Myrtle was again stricken by tuberculosis and was expected to die despite the numerous medicines which had been prescribed. The decisive turning point came with a speech by New Thought speaker Dr. E. B. Weeks from Hopkins' Illinois Metaphysical Institute. Myrtle said that she left the speech with a renewed outlook on life based on the assumption that since she was made in the image and likeness of God, it was not divine will for her to be sick. The affirmation "I am a child of God and therefore I do not inherit sickness" stuck with her and she recovered from her illness over an extended period of time. Other sick people soon came to Myrtle for help. She prayed with them and introduced them to affirmations. Myrtle later explained her healing in Unity magazine:

Life is simply a form of energy, and has to be guided and directed in man's body by his intelligence. How do we communicate intelligence? By thinking and talking, of course. Then it flashed upon me that I might talk to the life in every part of my body and have it do just what I wanted. ... I told the life in my abdomen that it was no longer infested with ignorant thoughts of disease, put there by myself and by doctors, but that it was all athrill with the sweet, pure, wholesome energy of God. (Freeman, 1965, p. 47-48)

In the area of religious thought Myrtle described herself as "decidedly eclectic" (Freeman, 1965, p. 41), which applied equally to Charles. While Myrtle came to be known within Unity for her strong inspirational faith, Charles was renowned for his healthy skepticism and demand for rational practicality. According to Thomas Witherspoon (1977), Myrtle Fillmore's biographer, Charles was more dedicated to his business than to philosophical pursuits until Myrtle was healed. "He saw her health improving. He saw their friends coming to her for prayer and going away with visible results in healing and in attitude. The light which radiated from his wife began to intrigue him" (p. 43). But Charles could not understand these healings on faith alone, so he said he methodically set out to determine how healing worked. After a study of contradictory literature on healing, Charles decided to go to the source — God — through prayer and dreams. He took the advice of his wife and prayed the affirmations of truth that she suggested. After a time he felt that his leg had gained strength and he was convinced that this method of healing could be used by anyone. The following quote from Charles Fillmore demonstrates the experiential nature of New Thought, as well as the "scientific" provability of its principles:

Set aside a time every day, a definite time, and pray whether you believe it or not. Take a Truth statement and repeat it over and over. It does not matter that at first you do not believe it to be true. If you will persistently affirm the Truth, even though you do not believe it at first, you will find that your prayers have power. (Freeman, 1965, p. 54)

It is this rational similarity to the early days of scientific discovery that William James finds interesting in the growth of the spirit of healthy-mindedness. Both science and New Thought argue that their theories can be experimentally verified. Conversions to the New Thought philosophy, much like the experience of Charles Fillmore, are attributable to the verification of ideas through personal experimentation. After chiding positivist scientists who argue that religion has been outgrown, James draws the following comparison of mind-cure and science:

But here we have mind-cure, with her diametrically opposite philosophy, setting up an exactly identical claim. Live as if I were true, she says, and every day will practically prove you right. That the controlling energies of nature are personal, that your own personal thoughts are forces, that the powers of the universe will directly respond to your individual appeals and needs, are propositions which your whole bodily and mental experience will verify. And that experience does largely verify these primeval religious ideas is proved by the fact that the mind-cure movement spreads as it does, not by proclamation and assertion simply, but by palpable experiential results. Here, in the very heyday of science's authority, it carries on an aggressive warfare against the scientific philosophy, and succeeds by using science's own particular methods and weapons, (James, 1902, p. 119-120)

The official birth of Unity is marked in hindsight by the first publication of Modern Thought in 1889. Charles created the magazine as a place where all seekers of the truth could turn for information. Ideas of what was later to be called the New Thought movement, as well as metaphysical interpretations of Christianity and discussions of other religious philosophies were prevalent in the magazine. The name was later changed to Christian Science Thought, but was eventually changed to Unity because of misunderstandings with Mary Baker Eddy, who demanded that anyone who used the term Christian Science adhere to her doctrines. The conflict drove Charles Fillmore to explain the name Unity and its relation to Christian Science and other religions in an issue of Thought:

We have studied many isms, many cults. People of every religion under the sun claim that we either belong to them or have borrowed the best part of our teaching from them. We have borrowed the best from all religions, that is the reason we are called Unity. ... We studied Christian Science, as all the religions. We were also called New Thought people, Mental Scientists, Theosophists, and so on, but none of these sufficiently emphasized the higher attributes of man, and we avoided any close affiliation with them. ... Unity is not a sect, not a separation of people into an exclusive group of know-it-alls. Unity is the truth that is taught in all religions, simplified and systematized so that anyone can understand and apply it. Students of Unity do not find it necessary to sever their church affiliations. The church needs the vitalization that this renaissance of primitive Christianity gives it. (Witherspoon, 1977, p. 48)

The early ministry grew on two frontiers. First, the publishing venture continued and thrived. The Unity Book Company was formed and the name was later changed to the Unity Tract Society so it would not appear to be a commercial venture. The Fillmores charged minimal amounts for subscriptions, and according to Unity accounts, the subscription rates sometimes did not even cover the cost of production. They relied, instead, on the additional donations of those who felt they benefited from Unity's work. In the spirit of providing material regardless of ability to pay, the Fillmores in 1910 formed Silent-70, guided by the inspiration of Luke 10:1: "After this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come" (RSV). Funded by donations, Silent-70 continues today to provide free literature to hospitals, libraries, prisons, the military and other institutions.

Printing in the formative years was done in the Fillmore house by Charles, who had previously worked as a printer's apprentice. Demand soon outpaced production ability, and space was rented for expansion. By 1910, Unity had constructed a building for publishing as well as Silent Unity. The publishing activities eventually moved to Unity Village in 1948. In the 1970s, the actual printing process was contracted to an outside firm, but Unity continues to perform all other aspects of production (Unity School of Christianity, 1988, p. 43-45).

In addition to Unity magazine and Daily Word, Unity has produced such periodicals as Wee Wisdom for children, Weekly Unity, The Christian Business Man (later Good Business), and Youth magazine (later Progress). Unity also produces a 28 variety of inspirational resources, including books, periodicals, magazines and audio and video tapes. Unity materials are distributed in 153 countries worldwide.

The Fillmores and Unity were on the cutting edge of another publishing-related industry: radio and television. Charles Fillmore made his first radio talk in 1922, and Unity purchased a radio station in 1924. The tradition of using all avenues to spread the word has continued into the present, when many Unity centers sponsor radio and/or television broadcasts. Unity School of Christianity, the Association of Unity Churches and numerous local Unity centers also have home pages on the internet and post information on the New Thought home page as well.

The second frontier was Silent Unity, which is described by Witherspoon (1977) as the heart of the entire Unity movement. The organization was introduced by Myrtle as the Society for Silent Help in an 1890 issue of Thought:

All over the land are persons yearning for Truth, yet so dominated by the surrounding error that they find it almost impossible, without a helping hand, to come into harmony with the divine Spirit. To open a way for those and to help them overcome their sins, ills, and troubles is the object of the Society of Silent Help. The wonderful success of absent healing demonstrates that bodily presence is not necessary to those in spiritual harmony. Jesus said, 'If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father who is in heaven.' Those who have had experience in asking understandingly know that this is absolutely true.

Hence a little band in this city has agreed to meet in silent soul communion every night at ten o'clock all those who are in trouble, sickness, or poverty, and who sincerely desire the help of the good Father.

Whoever will may join this society, the only requirement being that members shall sit in a quiet, retired place, if possible, at the hour of ten o'clock every night, and hold in silent thought, for not less than fifteen minutes, the words that shall be given each month by the editor of this department. The difference in the solar time between widely separated places will not materially interfere with the result, for to Spirit there is neither time nor space. (Witherspoon, 1977, p. 87-88)

The time periods for communal prayer were gradually extended to the present 24-hour vigil that is held at Unity Village in Missouri. In 1996, nearly one million letters and 1.2 million calls for prayer were received (Unity School of Christianity, 1997) and answered by more than 135 full-time and part-time employees. As many as 52,000 letters may be received in one day, and the phone lines ring 3,300 times a day on average. Each letter and call receives a prayer and a letter of response (unless anonymous), and all requests are "held in prayer" for 30 days (Requests held in prayer do not receive additional specific attention, but receive prayer en masse.). Most recently, Silent Unity has added Spanish lines and has taken more than 1,000 prayer requests from the internet during its first month online (Jafolla, 1997).

Despite the expense of employees and postage, Unity reports that the prayers are given without cost, and a toll-free number is provided for those who cannot afford long distance. As with all other aspects of the organization, Silent Unity relies on free-will donations to meet expenses. According to Silent Unity Co-Director Mary-Alice Jafolla, there is no solicitation for money in any letter sent in response to a prayer request. She said the only mention of financial support which a person who utilizes Silent Unity might receive comes in the form of a tag line reading, "We welcome your support for our continuing ministry" on promotional mailings which include free calendars, pamphlets, or information on special events such as the World Day of Prayer. Jafolla said she has argued against the use of the financial tag line, and noted that anyone who calls for prayer would not receive any promotional materials for at least several months. "We want to keep this prayer thing as pure as it has always been," Jafolla said.

© 1997, Rebecca Gittrich Whitecotton
All rights reserved by the author.
Reprinted with permission.