First Years of the Ministry
"Pastors and Teachers"
One of the great needs of the Fillmores was a suitable place in which to conduct their ministry. The first office in the Journal Building, where Mr. Fillmore had conducted his mining and real-estate business, proved almost at once to be unsatisfactory, and he moved to the Deardorff Building, where several other persons who were interested in the metaphysical movement had their offices. Here, with the help of some of these friends, he was able to establish a circulating library of books on metaphysics.
Visitors who were interested in any phase of the metaphysical movement were invited to drop into the offices regardless of what school of thought they might represent. A few months later, the Fillmores moved their offices again, this time to the fifth floor of the Hall Building, on the corner of Ninth and Walnut Streets. The Fillmore boys loved these rooms because from the windows they could look "way down" to the street, and across the street was a fire station. A parking lot is now located on the site of this building.
This move turned out to be a fortunate one, not only because of the more commodious quarters, but shortly after the move the Deardorff Building burned to the ground. Several of Mr. Fillmore's friends who had remained there lost all the records of their work. One of them, Dr. J. S. Thacher, inserted a notice in Thought asking those who
had been his patients to communicate with him again because he had lost even their names.
The offices in the Hall Building consisted of a double room with a kind of archway connecting them. Meetings were held in the east half of this room. The Knights of Pythias hall in the same building was used for Sunday services.
Mr. Fillmore was not the only speaker at the meetings. Often some friend of the Fillmores who was active in the work was the speaker, or some lecturer on metaphysics who was passing through town was asked to conduct the meeting. At one time, on Sunday evenings, a course of lectures known as the "No Name Series" was given, the subject being announced ahead of time but the name of the speaker being kept secret. The Fillmores were not working to gain personal acclaim. They did not believe that they had sole title to Truth or sole access to it. They believed that each person had in him the potentialities of a son of God and they put their belief into practice by letting various persons who felt that they had something worth saying deliver addresses. Several persons who had taken classes under Emma Curtis Hopkins took charge of the "No Name" meetings.
Emma Curtis Hopkins came to Kansas City several times and taught a series of classes. Tall, slender, and good-looking, wearing a big picture hat while she spoke, she was a dynamic and eloquent teacher. Eighty-seven students attended one of her classes, the largest Truth class in Kansas City up to that time. When she came to Kansas City, arrangements were made so that students coming from a distance could find room and board in the same house with her. The times spent with Mrs. Hopkins were joyous times for the Fillmores, for they found with her and with the students that surrounded her the meeting of minds that
as much as any other thing is conducive to happiness in human affairs.
In 1890, the Fillmores went to Chicago to attend a class review at Mrs. Hopkins' school. Both of them made speeches. There were over one hundred and twenty of Mrs. Hopkins' students and graduates assembled at the seminary, and for ten days they threw themselves into classwork, prayer meetings, and joyous visits with others who spoke their language.
When they returned home to Kansas City, Mrs. Fillmore wrote a letter describing the visit to Chicago:
"There are so many things I wanted to tell you about our Chicago experiences. I got my black dress made up so that it is very stylish and becoming with velvet sleeves and collar and the front of the waist is velvet. The Rays fixed me up a velvet hat out of that velvet of your bonnet; they furnished a wing and trim. There were lots of beautiful dresses there but one didn't think much about such things.
"Of course we met all those whose names are so familiar in the literature: Ida Nichols, Nellie Anderson, Julia Twinchester, and so forth. A finer set of people I never met.
"We were fortunate enough to have a room under Mrs. Hopkins' roof. She is just lovely to be with. There were over a hundred at the Review and all ate at her tables. It was the happiest, most harmonious family meeting on earth — for that's what it seemed — everything seemed as free and natural as air.
"You can see from the program how we spent most of our time. Tuesday was a day off, for they were getting the seminary ready for ordination services. Charles and I wandered about the city, went to see 'Jerusalem on the Day of the Crucifixion.' It is a wonderful cyclorama.
"At night, we all went over to C. I. Thacher's — and such a time! Never was there such a jolly, happy set.
He had cleared out the basement and decorated it and had an orchestra down there as a surprise to the party. You ought to have seen Doctor Gibbons and another old minister there trip the fantastic toe. Can you imagine John Thacher, Sullivan, and Barton dancing? I laughed till I could hardly stand up, it was so funny. As they closed about the fourth set, Charles rushed into the middle of the floor and shouted out: 'I can't dance, but I can sing. Let's sing "Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow."' And before the orchestra could change its tune to fall in, the house trembled with the old hymn; it was powerfully sung. Then followed a healing song, and next the dancing was resumed. The musicians looked funny. I suppose they thought they had struck a lot of lunatics. A nice supper was served about 11 o'clock.
"Charles and I were invited out there the Sunday before to dinner. Doctor Gibbons, Miss Rix, Miss Austin, and several others were there. I tell you, they have an elegant home and things are served up in grand style. They keep three servants all the time, two girls and a man. And after our eight o'clock dinner, we sat in the silence, and such a wonderful power came over us. We gave it direction, and those we have heard from were wonderfully benefited. It was then our baby was named and blessed."
Up until this time, the youngest boy of the Fillmores had been known simply as "Baby," but at this party he was given the name "Royal."
The Fillmores knew many of the people who were interested in Truth, and whenever they could afford to, they went to gatherings of those friends. In the summer of 1893, they were back in Chicago, where a group of New Thoughters held a congress at the World's Columbian Exposition. In 1895, they were back once more for the meeting of the International Divine Science Association. There, much to
their delight, it was voted that the 1896 congress should be held in Kansas City under the sponsorship of the Fillmores.
This congress opened on May 12, and the Fillmores were so busy seeing to the needs and the pleasures of their visiting friends that they did not even take time to publish the May 15 number of Unity, but omitted it and put out an extra large one on June 1. This was the first issue that contained small-sized pages such as in the present Unity. It gave an account of all the meetings.
The meetings were held in the Academy of Music, which was located on McGee Street, about four blocks from the Unity rooms, which were then in the Hall Building at Ninth and Walnut Streets.
The first act of most of those who attended the congress, when they got off the train at the Union Station, was to take a cable car to Ninth and Walnut Streets. The Fillmores had arranged for rooms and boarding places for most of them. Good room and board cost four dollars a week.
Most of the well-known metaphysical leaders and teachers in the United States were there. Many of those who did not attend sent papers that were read at the meetings.
This organization that met in Kansas City in 1896 later became the International New Thought Alliance, and during the next few years the Fillmores' association with this group was a close one, for they knew and liked many of the teachers personally. They attended several conventions, but in 1905 in an article in Unity Charles Fillmore wrote:
"So far as the Unity Society of Practical Christianity is concerned, we must candidly say that its teachings are widely different from those of the majority of New Thought doctrines, and we do not feel at home in the average gathering under that name, although we try to harmonize with all Truth seekers."
Charles Fillmore went to the convention of the International New Thought Federation, as it was then called, held in Chicago in 1906, but he was disappointed. The turnout was small, and the ideas that he heard expressed were a far cry from the ones that he had come to hold. He wrote:
"I asked several people to give me a definition of New Thought, and they differed greatly in their concepts. It dawned on me that the name 'New Thought' had been appropriated by so many cults that had new theories to promulgate that it had ceased to express what I conceived to be absolute Truth. The New Thought Federation is attempting to carry this load of thought diversity, and I can see no success in it. There are too many lines of thought to harmonize. When I hear what to me is rank error set forth by New Thought speakers, I protest, and say, 'If this is New Thought, I must find a new name for my philosophy.' In the face of these facts, I have decided that I am no longer a New Thoughter. I have a standard of faith which is true and logical, and I must conform to it in my teaching without compromise. We call it Practical Christianity, and under this name we shall henceforth do our work."
From that time, Unity and the New Thought movement began to go their separate ways. The Fillmores continued to be personally friendly with many New Thought leaders, and many of them who came to Kansas City were invited to speak before the Unity Society, but there was no official connection between the two movements until 1919 when Unity returned to the International New Thought Alliance. At this time, Royal Fillmore and E. V. Ingraham, of the Unity staff, were added to the executive board of the Alliance.
Unity invited the I.N.T.A. to hold its congress in Kansas
City the next year. This invitation was accepted, and the meeting was like a joyous reunion. But this connection did not last long, for in 1922 Unity left the I.N.T.A. once more. It has never gone back. [TruthUnity note: as of 1951, when this was written]
Many times in his magazines, Charles Fillmore affirmed that he was not trying to establish another church or sect; he was trying to establish an educational institution where people of all faiths could study the laws of life as given by Jesus and learn how to apply them in order to establish a more abundant life for themselves.
For several years after the founding of Unity, the Sunday meetings were not held at 11 o'clock in the morning as they now are, but at 3 o'clock in the afternoon so that they would not conflict with regular church hours. Meetings were also held on Wednesday at 3 in the afternoon. Before the Sunday meeting, Myrtle Fillmore conducted a Sunday school for children.
The meetings were as much like discussions as they were like church services. There was singing and prayers much as there is in churches today. But for the main part of the service, copies of Unity were distributed to the members of the group, and the Bible text for that Sunday was read aloud, the leader reading the first verse and the congregation the next. After that, each verse was taken up in a general discussion directed by a leader who had been chosen by the group.
Myrtle Fillmore was in charge of the Wednesday afternoon services, but she usually appointed someone else to lead the silence and give a short talk. This was followed by a discussion of the subject in which everyone present participated.
When the Unity Society of Practical Christianity was incorporated July 29, 1903, it was incorporated not as a
church but as a "society for scientific and educational purposes, viz: the study and demonstration of universal law." Such it still is.
Charles and Myrtle Fillmore never thought of themselves as preachers, but as teachers. They did not want a church, although from the beginning they envisioned suitable quarters from which they could carry on their work and to which people in need of healing and spiritual help could come.
In one of the first issues of Modern Thought, Charles Fillmore wrote that he thought that Jackson County was intended to be a great spiritual center:
"That a peculiar psychic atmosphere prevails here is plain to everyone who has made any attainments whatever in the unfoldment of the spirit. Metaphysicians from all parts of the country have sensed it and observed its harmonious effect upon them. We have carefully noted their separate testimonies as to its quality, and they all agree that they have here a sense of freedom and peace which they do not feel elsewhere."
He quoted several spiritual leaders in corroboration of his intuition about Jackson County and Kansas City. He wrote that Emma Curtis Hopkins had intimated that the city might be the site of a great temple "which should heal of sin and sickness all who step over its threshold." From the beginning of their work, the Fillmores had a vision of such a temple, a great institution where Christian metaphysics would be taught.
Two rooms in an office building were unsatisfactory quarters for the spiritual work that Charles and Myrtle Fillmore were doing. As soon as they were able, they found a house that provided more room in which to do the things that they had to do to carry on the expanding Unity work.
In 1898, they moved into a house at 1315 McGee Street, which had belonged to a steamboat captain on the Missouri River. This house was situated a block from the cable car and was a homey place built of brick. It was set back from the street, with a steep terrace in the front, a large shady yard, and vine-covered porches on two sides. There were two large rooms with folding doors between them that could be used as offices during the week and for meetings on Sundays. Folding chairs were placed in these rooms to seat about one hundred. In two years, however, this room proved to be too small, and for the Sunday meetings a larger hall had to be rented.
On McGee Street, Unity entered a happy period. It was not rich in the world's goods, but the poverty of the first years had now been overcome and there was enough money coming in so that the Fillmores could live comfortably. The organization was not large but it was large enough to support the work and at the same time all the members could know one another. The Fillmores were gregarious people, they loved to have their friends around them; and on McGee Street, there were gay and wonderful social events. In the summertime, there was always the Fourth of July picnic in Budd Park, a small park in the northeast section of the city, to which the members of the Society could all go by cable car or horse and buggy. Usually about two hundred of them would turn out. Everybody brought his own lunch basket, and they would all eat together on tables under the trees. The lemonade and the ice cream were supplied by the Society.
At Christmas, the Sunday school had a Christmas tree with toys for the children and food for the grownups. On Valentine's Day and Easter and Thanksgiving and at other times throughout the year, there were parties and Charles
Fillmore was always in the center of them, cracking jokes and making quips, enjoying himself and helping everybody else to enjoy himself too. There were songs and recitations and games at the parties. Charles Fillmore loved to recite and he could usually be prevailed upon to render a poem. It was one of these entertainments put on by the Unity Society that caused Mr. Fillmore to shave the beard that he wore in the early days of the movement. He had to deliver a dramatic monologue in which he dressed up as an Irish washerwoman who takes her little boy to get a job. Because his beard spoiled the effect, he shaved it off.
There was a warmth about the Fillmores that drew friends to them. When people came for help, the Fillmores took them into their hearts. They were even likely to take them into their home. It was not unusual for them to take into their home someone who had no means and had come to them for help. The boys often had to double up for sleeping because one of their beds was occupied by someone who had come to the Fillmores for help and remained to live with them for a while.
There was a kind of family feeling about Unity. The group was growing but it still remained a family. Even the meetings that the Fillmores held were more like family gatherings than they were like church services. If someone felt like disagreeing with something that Mr. Fillmore said, he got up on the floor and did so. Charles Fillmore liked to have people think for themselves and he invited discussion. Sometimes he turned the meeting over to others, and when they said something he did not agree with he, too, felt free to express his disagreement.
Once Elizabeth Towne, the editor of "Nautilus," the most popular Truth magazine of that time, was in town, and Charles invited her to speak at a Unity meeting. When
she said something with which he disagreed, he shook his head as if to say "No."
"I see Charles Fillmore shaking his head," said the speaker, and forthwith challenged him to discuss the subject. He arose and refuted her point.
To the Fillmores for help, came not only the halt, the lame, and the blind, but also the peculiar, and as these were often the ones who demanded the floor, the meetings sometimes produced exciting surprises.
The joyous informality of his meetings delighted Charles Fillmore. He was a teacher and a thinker; he wanted people to think and to learn and to grow; and he found as he tirelessly and joyously presented his ideas of Truth that people were thinking about them and were growing. His movement grew too, for in a short time it was too large for 1315 McGee Street.
By 1900, a hall had to be rented for the Sunday meetings. This arrangement was not satisfactory, however. The Fillmores wanted a place where they could house all the activities of their growing movement under one roof. In 1902, Charles Fillmore suggested at a meeting of the Society that some committees be appointed to supervise the activities, among them a building committee. During the first year of its existence, this building committee was considered to be a joke. One of the Board members jokingly started the building fund by giving a one-cent piece. But the one-cent piece was not a joke to Charles Fillmore. He took it, gave thanks to God for it, and blessed it. To him, the building was on its way. The fund grew very slowly. By the end of 1903, there was only twenty-five cents in it. Nevertheless, in February 1903 in Unity magazine, Mr. Fillmore gave his subscribers "the privilege and opportunity of contributing any sum from ten cents to one thousand dollars, or more," to-
wards the purchase of a site and the erection of a building.
By 1905, only $601 had been raised. Some people might have lost faith and given up the project of a new building to house the work, but not Charles Fillmore. The financing of the Unity work had always been a matter that took a great deal of faith. As Charles Fillmore wrote: "The way has not always been strewn with roses ..." Charles and Myrtle Fillmore had the required faith.