The Spirit of the Fillmores
"Whosoever Would Become Great"
A unity center leader once asked Charles Fillmore for an affirmation to use as a blessing for herself and for those who worked with her in her center. He was probably not aware that it was a description of himself that he gave her:
"I am dignified and definite, yet meek and lowly in all that I say and do."
Other people recognized the greatness of Charles and Myrtle Fillmore and sought to honor them, but neither Charles nor Myrtle Fillmore sought honor. "We have never cared to interest folks in our individual lives," Mrs. Fillmore wrote. "It makes no real difference to others what we have done, who we are." Their dream had been not of personal advancement, but of the growth of Unity.
Once a group of students arranged a program, the purpose of which was to honor the Fillmores, who had not been told the reason for the meeting. Many flattering words were directed toward them before they understood the purpose of the meeting. Then Charles Fillmore arose and said: "'Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God,'" (Luke 18:19) and he forthwith turned the meeting into a song service of praise to God.
When visitors came to Unity School, it was not unusual for Myrtle Fillmore herself to show them through the building. The first time people wrote to Silent Unity, she answered their letters personally, until the work grew to the place where she could no longer do this. After that,
she did answer personally as many letters as she could.
Once a picture of Charles Fillmore was wanted for use on a Unity letterhead at Christmas time. It took two years to get it. "I don't believe in glorifying personality," he said. It was only after many friends had pleaded with him that he reluctantly agreed to let his picture be taken. However, once he had consented, he let the photographers turn him this way and that and sat patiently while the various props were arranged.
"I remember the first photograph I ever had taken for Unity" he chuckled. "It was back in the 90's. There were about six workers in Unity at the time, as I recall. The photographer was fiddling around the way you are now, so I went into the silence. I was sitting there with my eyes half-closed; suddenly the photographer said that he was ready to take the picture; then he added, 'I wonder if the gentleman on the left (he was referring to me) could look just a little more intelligent.'
"A short time before having the picture taken, I had shaved off my beard, and in commenting on the picture in the magazine, I mentioned the fact that this was the first picture I had had taken without a beard. One subscriber wrote in: 'If cutting off your beard makes you look like that picture, I hope you will let it grow again.'"
Charles and Myrtle Fillmore did a serious work, and other people took them seriously. This was right, for often their words meant life itself to those who came to them for help. But Charles and Myrtle Fillmore had a sense of humor that ran through all they said and did, as a little melody sometimes runs through a great symphony and gives it life and light. Charles Fillmore was a born storyteller and he loved to inject humor into his sermons. He had the gift of all natural speakers to sense the moods of an audience; he
could tell when the people were getting restless and he knew when to inject a story. "I do not mind your looking at your watches," he told his audience, "but when you look at them, then put them to your ear to see if they are running, that is too much."
It was this sense of humor that enabled Charles Fillmore to be undisturbed by criticism. Sometimes secular publications ran articles that were unfriendly to Unity, but he refused to let this disturb him. If he felt that they were amusing enough, occasionally he even reprinted them in Unity with comments of his own. Once the "New York Times" ran an article ridiculing Unity, entitled "Christian Science Outdone." "This is a good piece, with very good testimonials," wrote Mr. Fillmore, and proceeded to reprint the entire article. He thanked the author for writing it, commenting that he had received numerous letters from people asking help who had never heard of Unity until they read the article in the "New York Times."
Over and over the history of Unity has shown this to be the case: the main effect of critical articles has been to interest people in Unity.
Charles Fillmore was always ready to laugh and if the laugh was on himself he did not mind. There were many typographical errors in the first issue of Modern Thought, so in the second issue he wrote:
"We may not be able, outside a printing office, to convince our Christian Science brothers and sisters that matter really exists, but shall have no trouble in backing our position when once its portals are passed. What outside was a dream, a shimmering illusion, the 'Maya' of the Bhuddist, becomes cold, metallic facts within, endowed with a creative power that coins words and phrases, and plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven as make the angels weep. In the face of such
facts it were useless to beg our readers' pardon for the many typographical errors in our last issue."
In the early days of Unity, someone brought some "hot dogs" to a Sunday-school picnic. This would not have been important if one of them had not been put on Mr. Fillmore's plate. He was a strict vegetarian. Instead of acting displeased, he took the "hot dog" and with a great show and much laughter nailed it to a tree.
While on a lecture trip in Texas, he had a cold and could hardly talk. He started his speech with the words: "It ain't my brother and it ain't my sister, it's me, O Lord, that's standin' in the need of prayer," and he had the whole audience joyously join him in prayer for himself.
Myrtle Fillmore had the same love of gaiety as her husband and at Sunday-school parties would dance with the children. Sometimes she would get off a witticism that it would have pleased Charles Fillmore to make. Once, during a Unity conference, all the center leaders were present at the Wednesday evening healing meeting, which Charles and Myrtle Fillmore were leading. Although the chapel was packed with people, Mr. Fillmore announced toward the end of the meeting: "When this program is over you are all invited to come over to our place for a bite to eat." As he stepped back, Mrs. Fillmore rose and declared quietly: "If you do, there had better be another expression of the miracle of the loaves and fishes."
In the early days, the family did not have much money, but their hearts and their house were large and they found room in both for those who needed help. Grandma Fillmore could always be counted on to conjure up enough of her delicious food to fill an extra plate. They all prayed about their needs — and they had a wonderful time.
One time, when they were children, Lowell and Rickert
played with a little boy who said that he was lost. When they went home that evening they told their parents about him. Mrs. Fillmore sent their father out to find him.
Soon Mr. Fillmore returned with him, and he was a little Negro boy. He was very dirty, and his clothes were in rags, so Mrs. Fillmore took off his clothes and burned them, replacing them with some of Rick's and Lowell's. She heated some water on the kitchen stove and gave him a bath in the tin tub that served the family.
While she was bathing him, she talked to him. and tried to give him some Unity ideas about God. "God is everywhere," she told him. "God is in this very room." At that moment, Mr. Fillmore came through the room and went upstairs. The little boy's mouth fell open. "Is that God?" he asked.
The Fillmore family lived in the northeast section of Kansas City. They moved often, but finally settled in a house on Elmwood Avenue where they lived for several years. This was then far out in the suburbs. The barn on the lot was moved forward and joined to the rear of the house, and in this back part, which they called "the den," Lowell, Rickert, and Royal lived. Rickert painted the walls of "the den" with pictures of the Katzenjammer kids. Lowell was the gardener and filled the yard with flowers. There was a huge elm in the back yard, and in this tree Rickert built a series of platforms and ladders that enabled one to climb up high. Often his mother and he would climb up together, and he would play his guitar while she sat and meditated.
The Fillmores were a neighborly family and soon were good friends of most of their neighbors. Many of these became stanch followers of Unity.
To Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, life was a joyous and wonderful experience, and they were not content merely to make their own life wonderful; they tried to live so that
some of the wonder spilled over into the lives that touched their own. To them, people were not merely followers, but lovable human beings in whose personal adventures as well as spiritual welfare they were interested.
A woman who now works at Unity told how, when her mother had given birth to her children, Mrs. Fillmore stayed up each time until she was informed by telephone that all was well. One time, the mother was unusually worried about some physical symptoms that had appeared. Before she went to the hospital, Myrtle Fillmore insisted that she be called as soon as the baby was born. No matter what time it came, she would be waiting up for the call. It was not until 3 o'clock in the morning that the baby was born, and when the Fillmore house was called Mr. Fillmore answered the telephone. He and Mrs. Fillmore had stayed up praying for the mother and child.
Myrtle, especially, had a way of making people feel that she loved them. She was always putting her arms around the people she knew; her conversation overflowed with compliments. She had a gentle smile that made her callers feel that she had been looking forward to seeing them especially. And on terminating an interview, she had a way of half-rising, sometimes going to the door, as if to say, "Oh, I wish you wouldn't go." Usually when she had visitors she gave them some gift. She herself received many gifts from everywhere; as she could not use all of them she passed many of them on to other persons. She was not afraid either in her conversation or her letters to say, "I love you."
"How I wish I could write this letter to you right from my heart without waiting for this typewriter to form the words," she began one letter. It was right from her heart that she wrote — and felt.
Although she carried on a voluminous correspondence,
and many of the letters were answered by secretaries, she was able to remember intimate details in the lives of the persons to whom she wrote. The letters her secretaries wrote for her, she always read. Usually she added to them in her own hand a postscript or a word in the margin, perhaps inquiring after a father or a daughter whom the correspondent had not even mentioned in the letter that was being answered.
Charles Fillmore, too, had this faculty for remembering people. One woman wrote to Unity that two years after she and her husband had met Charles and Myrtle Fillmore at a Unity conference, the couple paid another visit to Unity and on entering the building on Tracy Avenue happened to encounter Mr. Fillmore. When he greeted them personally, the woman said, "I believe you are mistaking me for someone else."
Mr. Fillmore replied, "No, a good shepherd knows his sheep," and told her how shepherds have their sheep named. "The shepherd doesn't forget the names of the sheep," he said. "You were here two years ago with your husband, you are from Peoria, Illinois," and he called them by name.
To the Fillmores, people were important, all people, whether important in the world's eye or not. All people were important because they were God's children. The Fillmores loved them, great and small. A young girl who once sat next to Charles Fillmore at a banquet later said, "He made me feel as if what I had to say was of great importance."
One time, a Negro woman came to study at the Unity Training School. She ran out of funds before the term was over. She heard that the Fillmores wanted to hire someone to pick berries on their farm, so she went over to apply for the job. She was instructed to go out and bring in a
large bowlful of the berries for Mr. Fillmore's dinner. Then instead of hiring her to work, Charles asked her to eat with him.
Years later, the woman described the incident: "When dinner was served, Mr. Fillmore, like any father serving his little girl who was hungry, took a spoon and served half his dish of berries to me. Then, when I was about to leave, without my asking, he let me have twenty dollars to help me with my expenses and carried me back to Kansas City in his pretty new red car. I loved the twinkle in his eyes. He did his good like a bad boy slipping things over on one."
The Fillmores did not believe in amassing wealth for themselves; they believed in passing it on. "Sometimes I have a very definite place for all my allowance, before I even begin on my own individual needs," wrote Myrtle. They carried no life insurance, made no financial provision for the future. They never copyrighted any of their writings; they wanted people to be free to reprint anything they wrote. People sent them many gifts of money, most of which they turned over to Unity.
"My husband and I have put ourselves into this thing which God has given us to do, year after year, without personal returns beyond our 'daily bread' and clothing," wrote Myrtle Fillmore. "I work here in the Unity buildings every day, and receive a salary just as several hundred other workers do. I think a very capable businessman or woman would not consider working for my salary."
Charles and Myrtle Fillmore thought of themselves as Unity workers. They were "Papa Charley" and "Mama Myrtle." They felt that every person who worked at Unity, everyone connected with the movement, everyone who wrote to Unity, everyone who even visited the buildings, was a
member of the Unity family. They felt a oneness with them all, a kinship with all people everywhere. When Unity workers were having financial trouble, they sometimes found money left on their typewriters. It was from Myrtle.
The offerings in classes taught at Unity School in the early days were likely to be very small. Myrtle Fillmore knew this and she would often have her secretary slip into a class that some worker was teaching and put something for the teacher into the collection plate.
Charles and Myrtle Fillmore often went with the other workers for picnics on Cliff Drive, a scenic spot in the neighborhood. They would build a fire and cook their meal and after they had eaten they would repeat Truth statements together or sing some of the Truth songs they loved.
Mr. Fillmore loved to conduct what he called "joy times" for the workers. He would tell funny stories, and so would some of the others. Long before most places of business were having recreational periods during working hours, the Unity workers were given time to tell funny stories, to sing songs they liked, and to meditate and pray.
The Fillmores wanted their workers to enjoy themselves and to improve themselves. Interesting speakers who came to Kansas City were often invited to speak to the Unity workers. Once an adult educational program in downtown Kansas City sponsored a series of lectures called "University Extension Lectures." Although these lectures were held during working hours, the Unity workers were given the privilege of attending. Today the hours of young people who come to train for the Unity ministry have in some cases been arranged so as to enable them to attend college.
The Fillmores believed in joy and wanted others to be joyful. They had a large tent erected on top of the building at 913 Tracy where Unity workers and students who lived
in the neighborhood could sleep out of doors on hot nights. For several years on this roof, Charles Fillmore on his birthday, August 22, had a watermelon party for the workers.
Sometimes, on holidays or at other times when there were only a few workers in the office, he would invite the whole group into his office to have lunch. There he had a little hot plate. Sometimes all he had was soup and crackers. The workers would sit in his office and sip soup from cups or glasses, or any other kind of small container they could get.
A room on the roof of 917 Tracy Avenue was called "The Tower Room" and was used for night work. Often Charles and Myrtle Fillmore would come up to this room to have the nine o'clock healing meeting with the workers who were on duty there. In the winter there would be a coal fire in the fireplace. Sometimes Mr. Fillmore would come up alone and sit in the rocking chair in front of the fireplace. Sometimes he would not say anything, merely sit in the silence; sometimes, when the workers were not busy, he would sing. He loved to sing, especially songs that had amusing words, and he always smiled as he sang. One of his favorite songs was from "The Mikado," and his voice would ring out on the final words of the refrain,
"Let the punishment fit the crime —
The punishment fit the crime."
Mr. Fillmore did not believe in punishment. At one time, a number of Unity workers were won over by another teacher. This alone would not have disturbed him, for in the early days of his ministry, when some visiting lecturer would come to town with a lot of publicity and most of his congregation would go to hear the visitor, Mr. Fillmore would just proceed as always, blessing the lecturer and blessing the people and saying to any friend who was con-
cerned: "Leave them alone, they'll be back." And they came back.
But this time, the other teacher not only tried to win away the workers, he tried to get them to procure for him a copy of the mailing list of Unity's correspondents. These names, of course, are considered inviolate. (The names and needs of all those who write to Unity have always been considered strictly confidential. All the workers are impressed, when they come into the service, with the fact that they are not even supposed to talk among themselves about the correspondents; and some months after the letters are answered, they are burned.) But even when Charles Fillmore learned of the atfempt to destroy the loyalty of his workers, he did not become angry. He did not even dismiss the workers. He merely told them that they were free to stay, or go, as they felt led. If they wanted to follow the other man, they were free to do so, only he felt that they should serve in the other man's organization. On the other hand, if they wanted to stay at Unity and be loyal to Unity, he was happy to have them stay; they were his friends.
The Fillmores had faith in people. They had faith in them because they saw them as God's children; they did not see the defects and shortcomings, they saw the spiritual potentialities, they saw the Christ Spirit. Most persons lack faith in themselves. The Fillmores knew this. They had the gift of instilling in people faith in their own abilities. Few persons have love's eyes to see and love's heart to feel the unspoken need and the hidden talents of another. The Fillmores were such persons.
Myrtle Fillmore, especially, was sensitive to others' undeveloped possibilities. No small part of her influence on the Unity movement was the work that she did with the Unity workers. She was always among them, stopping at
their desks, praising them, encouraging them, drawing out of them some good quality that they themselves perhaps did not know they had. For example, for years Myrtle Fillmore went every day to the bindery to conduct the blessing of the mail.
The woman who was in charge of the bindery was a timid person; she felt that she could never lead the workers in prayer. But one day, Mrs. Fillmore turned to her and said, "You know, today I would like you to give the blessing. I'd like to hear what it sounds like." The worker was hesitant as to how to begin, but heartened by Mrs. Fillmore's smile, she started out. Before she knew it she had led the workers in a prayer service that she had had no idea she was capable of. After she had finished, Mrs. Fillmore lifted her hands over the mail and said, "There is nothing more to be said. God bless you." From then on the workers in the bindery gave their own blessing to the Unity mail.
Blessing the mail is still a Unity custom: Every morning when the mail from the post office reaches the mail-opening room it is blessed. Every day when mail is ready to leave Unity the workers in the mailing room gather around and place a blessing upon it.
Many who became successful Unity leaders felt that the encouragement given them by Myrtle Fillmore was in large measure responsible for their success. Some of them might not have stayed in the Unity work had it not been for her appreciation and understanding. She helped them to find exactly the right place for themselves. One young man came to work at Unity about the time of World War I. Brilliant and restless, at first it did not seem that he would be able to find a place in Unity where he could use his talents. Myrtle Fillmore, however, recognized that he was a gifted person and encouraged him to stay and to have
faith that he would find in Unity the right avenue for the expression of his gifts. In 1924 this young man, Frank B. Whitney, encouraged by Myrtle and Charles Fillmore brought forth Unity Daily Word, which has since become the most popular of all the Unity publications. He became the first editor of this magazine and one of the best loved of Unity's writers.
Charles Fillmore, too, knew how to call forth the talents of others. Many workers in Silent Unity remember an experience they had when they first came to work in that department: A difficult letter came to them that they did not know how to answer; they took it to Mr. Fillmore and asked him how to answer it; he told them. This happened perhaps three or four times; then they took a letter to him, and he told them: "The Spirit that is in me is in you. Go back to your desk and ask that Spirit how to answer this letter. You can answer it." At first, the letterwriter might doubt that he could do it; but always in the end he discovered that he had the ability.
Charles and Myrtle Fillmore were leaders. Because they had courage and faith in themselves as children of God, they inspired those around them to have courage and to dare to step out on their own resources.
Charles Fillmore was a man of action. Everything he had to meet he took to God in prayer. He prayed. He looked for guidance. Then he moved boldly ahead. He once told a co-worker: "Go ahead with an open mind and, if you are not on the right course, something will soon appear that you will see is better."
Knowing almost nothing about the publishing business, he dared to publish a magazine. To a materially minded world, he dared to proclaim a new interpretation of the Jesus Christ teaching. Rejecting approved financial methods,
he dared to rely on God and accept freewill offerings as his income. Down through the years when there were changes to be made, buildings to be built, steps to be taken, people to be intrusted with important parts of the Unity work — whenever there was a vital decision to be made — Charles Fillmore was there with a David-brave heart, a Solomon-wise judgment, and an unshakable faith in God.
Charles Fillmore was the embodiment of prayer in action. He prayed about everything that he had to do, then he did it. His daring faith had much to do with making Unity what it now is. He always seemed to say, "Where He leads me I will follow, I'll go with Him all the way."