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A Metaphysical Model for Ministry

What Troubles Unity Worldwide Ministries Today

Mark Hicks

Hi Friends -

What troubles Unity Worldwide Ministries today is the treatment of Unity ministers. Their position as pulpit ministers does not provide enough stability for them to effectively lead and minister. They don’t last long in Unity churches. What I hear is not so much about money, responsibilities or faith. What drives them away is the constant badgering by congregants. Gossip and parking lot conferences, disguised innuendo and threats, and passive-aggressive behaviors take their toll. Eventually the board will cave in and cut loose the minister.

Congregants are not malevolent people. The reason they badger their ministers is because of an illness that affects everyone in Unity. It’s no one’s fault and why they do what they do is understandable. Most important, they can change, and they will change. But the ministers must also change. That’s what this post is about. I will start with the symptom, then describe the illness. From there, we should be able to see the solution.

The Symptom. Last year I released A Metaphysical Model for Ministry as a chapter in my Credo book, which you can read by scrolling further down. That chapter was based on a 2021 post entitled “What We Might Learn from Helen Zagat,” a profile of an extremely talented metaphysical teacher who abruptly left her Unity ministry to start an independent ministry in New York. Two months ago I interviewed Edwene Gaines, another extremely talented Unity minister who chose to work independently from the churches as a provider of workshops.

And last week Unity Worldwide Ministries announced the departure of another extremely talented and innovative minister: its President and CEO, Shad Groverland. I am well aware that the UWM board is limited in what it can publicly say. But no one is fooled. The statements made in closed ministerial forums and in open town hall meetings was clear: Shad was let go because his effort to restore our Christian identity angered at least a few people who were able to badger the board to drive him out.

Many of you who read this post are congregants in churches who are finding it extremely difficult to attract a Unity minister. Others of you are Unity ministers who have left pulpit ministry because of toxic relationships. And others, both congregants and ministers, ask why it is that we see things on TruthUnity that we don’t see in Unity churches.

And a few of you are ministers who sit on the UWM Board of Trustees. What you have done last week at UWM is exactly the same sort of thing that congregants and boards of trustees have been doing to you and your fellow ministers in the churches. You have perfectly modeled the symptom for everyone to see. What goes around comes around. Good luck in replacing Shad.

The Illness. The underlying illness causing our dysfunctionality is a shift in our model of ministry. We have shifted away from the original Unity model of ministry—Unity as a Center of Practice that supports and works with the Christian churches, supplementing the Christian faith with what the Fillmores called Practical Christianity.

We have shifted toward the congregational model of ministry—Unity as a faith community that throws rocks at Christian churches, criticizing, condemning and complaining about racist, sexist and homophobic history, and teaches anything and everything except Practical Christianity. That is the illness we need to address.

It is true that we have seen a few highly successful Unity congregational ministries that have established collegial relationships with other churches in their vicinity. But they have been the exception and few have outlasted their founding minister.

The Solution. I’m not writing this to criticize Unity congregants, Unity ministers, the UWM board of trustees, nor Shad’s critics. I’m writing this to raise up the possibility that Unity is uniquely well suited to collaborate with mainstream Christianity through establishing Centers of Practice of Practical Christianity. Unity Centers of Practice are the natural expression of a metaphysical model of ministry, described in the Credo chapter below.

What is most regretful is that if the group of ministers that once called itself the Unity Ministers Association (and later called itself the the Association of Unity Churches and now calls itself Unity Worldwide Ministries) had kept to its essential work of developing Unity Centers of Practice that taught the nuts and bolts of Practical Christianity, and had striven to raise consciousness, promote harmony and serve humanity instead of competing with the established churches, then we might still have something today that calls itself the Unity School of Christianity.

Mark Hicks
June 5, 2024


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16. A Metaphysical Model for Ministry

The congregational model of ministry is broken. We are at the end of the Evangelical era, which created the congregational model, and from which Unity field lecturers and ministries adopted the congregational model in the 1930s.

I am not advocating that we abandon the congregational model. Still, I wish to show how the congregational model may be preventing the type of disruptive growth that we saw in the early years of Unity.

What the congregational model is and how Unity adopted it.

When serving settlers on the North American frontier, the congregational ministry model made sense. Because Unity was centered in Kansas City, it could be said that Unity is a frontier religious movement. So it seems logical that field ministries in Unity organized on the congregational model would effectively augment the publishing, prayer, and teaching ministry of the Unity School of Christianity. Unity began to send out field lecturers who traveled city to city, sharing the message of metaphysical Christianity. The study groups they planted became house churches, eventually becoming congregational ministries.

By the 1920s, Unity was hosting summer camps for those carrying on the fieldwork. By the 1930s, Unity had formalized the training of field ministers, and ordinations were held every summer. A Unity ministers association had formed in the 1940s, and by the 1950s, we see rapid growth in the number and sophistication of Unity ministries. By 1966, the growth and sophistication of Unity field ministries convinced Charles R. Fillmore (grandson of the founder) to split off the Unity field ministries, forming what is known today as Unity Worldwide Ministries.

So it might have been inevitable that the students of Charles and Myrtle Fillmore would feel the need to adopt the congregational model for their field ministries. There had been substantial success; by the 1990s, there were over 600 Unity churches in North America.1

What’s wrong with the congregational model?

Two indicators suggest that the congregational model is in trouble, particularly in metaphysical Christian denominations such as Unity. First is the decline of prestige and power of the Unity minister. Del DeChant wrote in 1993 that the ordained ministry entirely dominated Unity churches.2 According to DeChant, a ministry not led by an ordained Unity minister (most often an appointed minister) was not a Unity ministry. Today, if anything, the exact opposite is true. Power has shifted from the minister to the members.

Many believe that the change has been for the better. That may be so, but over the same 30-year period, we have seen no growth in the number nor size of Unity churches. I am not saying that our growth has stalled because of a shift from minister-led to membership-led leadership, but it is something to consider.

The most important thing we do need to consider is stability. How many of our 600 churches are new, how many of the churches we had in the 1990s have folded, and how many times have ministers come and gone in the churches that are still with us? That is the second indicator that the congregational model is in trouble.

In short, what is wrong with the congregational model is that it no longer leads to stability. And as I said in Insight 14, Rational Choice in the Religious Marketplace, religious commitment is greatly determined by the stability of the religious organization and the investment people have made in the organization. Religious commitment is a form of investment; each of us has a limited amount to give. We have limits on the amount of “time, money, and education” we can give to our spiritual development and community.

The problem of good ministers leaving out the back door.

Unity leaders are well aware of what is known as the “back door” of a church. Ministers work incredibly hard at attracting newcomers to the church, getting people to show up and eventually join the church. New people arrive at the front door, but they often leave out the “back door,” slipping away quietly, with no apparent cause or reason. They don’t come back.

Losing congregants out the back door is a big concern. But I am more concerned about the same back door phenomenon occurring with ministers who serve or pioneer churches. To me, losing ministers is a bigger problem than losing congregants. We spend enormous time and money attracting people to Unity ministry and training them. Many serve Unity churches for a few years, and some even start new ones. But all too often, their service is cut short for reasons that are seldom understood.

I’ve been there,3 twice.4 Rather than talk about my experience, I’ll share the story of Helen Zagat, an incredibly gifted Unity minister. After many successful years, she left Unity for some unexplained reason and founded a Divine Science church in New York City. You can read my observations about her life as a minister on TruthUnity.5

Newspapers carried dozens of articles about Helen Zagat’s life and work in the 1930s and dozens more about her work as a Unity minister in the 1940s. But it all stopped in the early 1950s when she left Unity and reemerged in 1955 as the founding minister of a Divine Science church.6 From then, we see her carrying out a quiet ministry in New York City until her passing 20 years later in 1975.

Why did she leave Unity? No one knows. But she is not the only one. There seems to be a pattern of talented people coming into Unity, serving for a time, and then venturing out on their own, particularly in the New York City area. They include Emmet Fox, Florence Scovel Shinn, Raymond Charles Barker, Ella Pomeroy, and Helen Zagat.

Helen Zagat is important because her story, and the story of these other highly successful Unity leaders, shows us that the fundamental problem with stability in Unity congregational ministries today is instability in the minister’s role.

The decline of the Unity minister.

Is it possible that the instability we see in Unity churches has its root cause in the instability experienced by its ordained ministers? I would not be surprised if that were so.

What was once a Unity Ministers Association became in 1966 the Association of Unity Churches, now known as Unity Worldwide Ministries. Power shifted, and shifted abruptly, from ministers to church boards of trustees representing the will and desire of insider congregants, not the message of Unity, and certainly not the interests of the ordained ministers.7

If anyone is disempowered today, it is the Unity ministers. Many feel threatened by overbearing boards of trustees, many are unable to find work, most opportunities they find do not pay a living wage, a substantial number of churches have elected to forego having an ordained Unity minister or have chosen a licensed teacher, and several have gone with some crazy New Age guru. This leads us to Unity Worldwide Ministries, the credentialing and governing body today for Unity ministers.

UWM placed tremendous effort from 2009 to 2013 on addressing the decline of Unity churches through a program called The Transformation Experience. I counted twenty-two articles about the program appearing in Contact magazine, UWM’s internal publication, making it the most covered topic during those years. I did not find any subsequent article assessing the impact of The Transformation Experience program.

Today, many Unity churches have shifted from a “minister-centric” model to a “ministry-centric” model, and UWM has recently adopted this model as one of its “five pillars,” referring to it as “Integral Ministry.” The Transformation Experience program and Integral Ministry share the same root and philosophy. We may be able to look at The Transformation Experience to predict how churches will be affected by Integral Ministry. But that is not my concern here. Each ministry will do what they think is best.

My concern is for the future of the Unity minister. Judging from the experience of the past thirty years, the future for the Unity minister does not look good. And I repeat what I said above: Is it possible that the instability we see in Unity churches has its root cause in the instability experienced by its ordained ministers?

If so, the most crucial challenge for Unity Worldwide Ministries is addressing the decline of the Unity minister. I am not confident that any single organization is capable of serving in the best interests of both ministries and ministers. Furthermore, I do not know of any group of professionals who do not have an organization that looks out for its best interests. I believe our work to grow Unity ministries will eventually lead us to a Unity movement that stands on three legs: Unity World Headquarters, Unity Worldwide Ministries, and a Unity Ministers Association.

A better model for metaphysical Christian ministry.

At this point, you may think I’m about to recommend a new organizational model as the solution for growing Unity ministries. I’m not. The last thing I think we need to stabilize Unity ministries is more or better organizational control.

Instead, I want to revisit the five factors for growth from Insight 15, Disruption in the Religious Marketplace. And I want to point out some things that may be unique opportunities for Unity and other forms of metaphysical Christianity.

1. Our Unserved Flock is ideas, not congregants.

The unserved flock we serve in metaphysical Christianity is ideas, not people. In the metaphysical Christian era, we compete in the marketplace of ideas, not religion. Ideas, as all metaphysicians know, are our inheritance from God-Mind, and they attract the right and perfect congregant at the right and perfect moment.

The flock of these unserved ideas includes Justice, Wisdom, Inclusivity, Insight, Encouragement, Empowerment, Love, Forgiveness, and Healing. What is unique to metaphysical Christianity is that divine ideas are central, not personality. They are our authority. They are our foundation for expression.

However, these divine ideas come into our consciousness through embodied people. These people minister to us by conveying in embodied form divine ideas that we associate with them. In other words, the gifts of God, divine ideas, are expressed in metaphysical religion by people.

Here are some people whom I associate with the divine ideas listed above: Ruth Mosley (Justice), Emilie Cady (Wisdom), Sandra Campbell (Inclusivity), Eric Butterworth (Insight), Tom Thorpe (Encouragement), Johnnie Colemon (Empowerment), Richard Billings (Love), Charles Fillmore (Forgiveness) and Myrtle Fillmore (Healing).

Each of these notable Unity leaders is much more than the one-dimensional divine idea I have associated with them; but they evoke awareness of a unique gift of God, at least for me. In other words, divine ideas are served by the ministers who embody them; through their ministry, I am also served. If you want to pursue this idea, check out Phil Cooke’s Branding Faith.8

It has taken me a long time to understand that my deepest desire is to self-identify with Christianity’s metaphysical teachings and bring these teachings to mainstream Christianity.

My spiritual journey started as a teenager with the metaphysics of Emerson and Thoreau, and I later moved on to liberal religion and mystical explorations of Christianity. But it was Charles Fillmore and Emilie Cady who brought metaphysics and mysticism into focus for me. Bringing metaphysics and mysticism into focus is the divine idea I serve and the divine idea to which TruthUnity is dedicated. I hope that my life and TruthUnity will exhibit enough integrity and authenticity for others to want to know more.

I share this very personal part of my life and ministry with you because you also embody a divine idea, and the success of your ministry begins with an understanding of what that idea is and your commitment to being as authentic as possible in its embodiment. The many persons I have mentioned above are, in a way, my cloud of witnesses. They inspire me not so much by their teaching but by the divine idea expressed through their personhood. I believe that ministry as administrative consciousness and skills begins with understanding the divine idea to which we dedicate our life and ministry.

2. Our Simplified Message is metaphysical and mystical.

People ask two questions when they visit a Unity church: What do you believe? And, Who are you? Here is how I answer their questions.

What do I believe? I typically answer that my understanding of God is rooted in the foundations of western culture, while my experience of God is rooted in the life and teachings of Jesus. That is to say, I use metaphysical language when speaking of my understanding of God and mystical language when speaking of my experience of God.

From there, I may affirm some basic metaphysical ideas, such as aligning our thoughts with God through prayer and sending them out as blessings to others. However, I always try to make sure the person I’m speaking to knows whether I’m talking about understanding or experience.

The work of separating our understanding of God from our experience of God has already been done for us by John the Evangelist and Paul the Apostle. That was discussed in the first two insights, Three Tenets of Metaphysical Christianity and Four Bible Foundations, Metaphysically Interpreted. And the same work has been done by Charles Fillmore in his tract The Pure Reason and Honest Logic of Practical Christianity.9

Who are we? I tell them, “Unity is a part of Christian tradition that is metaphysical in belief.” They usually want to know more; from there, I will explain that we are metaphysical Christians, not evangelical Christians. If it hasn’t yet been discussed, I may also add that while we differ in belief about our understanding of God, we also share with Evangelicals, Catholics, and most other Christians the same experience of God as a loving, personal presence.

I know that most people will not know what I mean by metaphysical Christianity. Is it unfair to use the term? Am I being coy or disingenuous in declaring ourselves Christian? I don’t think so. At least I don’t feel any more disingenuous than Evangelicals should feel when co-opting the name “Christian” to describe their particular evangelical beliefs.

One unfortunate difference between Evangelicals and Unity ministers is that Evangelicals proudly proclaim confidence in their Gospel, but Unity ministers are often unable to do the same. They often tell me they can’t refer to themselves as Christian because others might think they are Evangelical. Should we repudiate our Christian faith because of what others might think? Really?

Tell me it isn’t so. Charles and Myrtle Fillmore devoted their entire life to the notion that the Christian faith is not based on shame, guilt, and atonement. As I said in Insight 1, it is difficult or impossible to distance Unity from Christianity without distancing Unity from the foundational teachings of the Fillmores. I would like you and me to stand with them.

I understand the pain many people have from unhealthy experiences in Christian churches. However, walking away from the Christian tradition breaks my heart because the metaphysical Gospel of the Fillmores has brought and continues to bring peace, healing, prosperity, and joy to millions of people. We have a simplified message that delivers religious benefits to many people. We need to declare it boldly.

3. The Viral Ministry is the Christ consciousness in the individual.

The viral ministry, metaphysically understood, first serves the thoughts and powers within the individual. It then serves the world. That is to say, from a metaphysical perspective, the first converts of anyone in Unity reside in the thinking processes and powers of our mind. Once the individual mind is transformed, then each moment of each day becomes an opportunity to minister to others.10

Lesson 4, Body of Christ in the Unity Correspondence School material declares that we are each a church, individually,

The particular church, or the individual church, is the Christ consciousness in the individual. The one purpose or aim that unifies this church or body both individually and universally is that of making God manifest, bringing forth into actuality the oneness and the perfection which have been an ideal.11

It’s fair to say that metaphysical Christianity is obsessed with the conversion of all inner thought processes and powers. Emilie Cady ranked thinking as the most important spiritual discipline,12 and Cora Fillmore wrote an entire book on converting our inner faculties.13 As Eric Butterworth famously said, quoting Meister Eckhart, the only thing God expects of us is to let God be God in us.14 That is not only metaphysics; it is also a mystical concept that would naturally flow out of a metaphysical mind acting as a viral ministry.

However, metaphysical religion is not just about us and our inner journey. As the lesson says, the individual church and the universal church are unified, and its mission is to bring forth oneness and perfection. I brought that out in Insight 4, The Problem with Revelation when I talked about solipsism. There is what Charles Fillmore called a universal church, a Unity Church Universal, and I will have much to say about that in the Conclusion.

But for now, we need to ask: What is unique about metaphysical Christianity that makes it a viral ministry that replicates and scales, delivering spiritual benefits without being noticed or challenged?

It begins with an understanding that every one of us is a minister, that we are all ministering, and that we are ministering all the time. Eric Butterworth, whom I quoted above, not only said that we need to let God be God in us, he declared that we must see God in others. He repeated time and again that,

Man is not in the world to set it right, but to see it right. Right seeing is the passport from the earthly experience to the heaven of accomplishment. The scientist sees appearances. The transcendentalist sees reality, looking at the same world, [seeing] from a perspective of depth.15

The same idea was put into song by Frank B. Whitney, founder of Daily Word and husband of May Rowland, who wrote, “I behold the Christ in you.”16

So what we have in Unity and other metaphysical Christian churches are congregants who are trained and encouraged to see the best in others, to bring out the best in others, and wish the best for them. That is what happens when we let God be God in us. It is a natural extension of what we do in metaphysical Christianity.

That is metaphysical Christian ministry. And in my opinion, it’s a lot better than a church full of people who are trained and encouraged to find faults in others. Moreover, the ministry is viral; it replicates and scales and delivers religious benefits without putting people on the defensive.

In summary, metaphysical Christian ministry begins with the transformation of our soul. It then proceeds to a transformation of how we see others. Transformation leads the metaphysical Christian to a ministry of right expression. Those expressions will be covered next and in the following three sections, ministry as education, ministry as worship, and pastoral ministry.

4. The Spiritual Drive is the unity of message and ministry.

Jesus sent his disciples out with no gold or silver, with no supervision except being paired with a partner and, finally, without carrying a staff which, by today’s standards, implies high social status in a church.17 In other words, he sent them with no secular resources, no organizational control, and no social status. It was the perfect formula for a disruption of the existing religious establishment.

I will not say that this is the formula for congregational churches. It isn’t. But what’s described above is a formula for disrupting the existing religious establishment of our time. What I am going to say—and to say explicitly—is that this formula had better be part of our congregational ministries if they are to survive. Here’s why.

One hundred years ago, an unmarried pregnant teenager went to her minister. Today she goes online. One hundred years ago, an unfaithful husband went to his priest. Today he goes online. The same is true of those with incarcerated family members, who are unemployed, are estranged from their children, are aged, obese, hyper or unable to sleep, are abused by others with power, are depressed, chemically addicted or mentally ill, are friendless, homeless or alone, are filled with fear, grief or resentment, who hide from shame and guilt and who have loved and are broken-hearted.

The unserved flock is online. Let me repeat: the unserved flock is online. Those who come to your church are fine people, but they aren’t the unserved flock. Instead, they are the interested flock, the friendly flock. They are friendly and interested, but they don’t need your church. Jesus sent his disciples to the cities and towns where the unserved were found. He never demanded that they come to him. We must do the same.

Furthermore, I want to stress that none of these problems are easily handled by the minister of a congregational church. But we have right now—trained, credentialed, and able to serve—hundreds of ministers and licensed teachers who can respond to these needs. These ministers typically have a unique message based on their life experiences. What they don’t have is a ministry.

They don’t have a ministry because many of them are retired and have moved to places like Florida. We need to connect their message with a church. We need to send them out into the (digital) world to heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons.

A retired Unity minister who makes themself available online to address a pressing human need is not an alternative ministry. It is a viral and vital ministry that replicates and scales and does so with little or no secular cost, organizational control, or social status.

I’m not just advocating getting a bunch of ministers online. Instead, I’m saying that both our national organizations and every Unity congregational church should be adopting and supporting these new viral ministries. Why? For two reasons, they are not only viral ministries but also vital ministries.

First, making retired ministers available online opens up a digital channel to the world and expands the reach of the congregational ministry that supports them. The long list of spiritual needs I have listed above, from pregnant teenagers to the broken-hearted, can be well served by experienced ministers who are accessible online. Second, online ministry extends the career life of ministers who want to continue to serve, but not by leading a congregation. They can still move to Florida, but they can continue to bless others with their pastoral skills and wisdom. I’m proposing a shift in Unity’s culture so that retired ministers and underutilized licensed teachers can collaborate with congregational ministries to serve the world through new channels. As I wrote some time ago,

To be sustainable over the long run, successful ministries have one additional task. Their work must be in creative alignment with other ministries that share the same unique vision, mission, and values. We live in a post-modern era, where Truth is often evaluated in relationship with other known Truths. This means that spiritual seekers will evaluate Truth by assessing its prevalence among trusted sources. Truth, for the post-modern, is distributed and networked. The vitality of a ministry in the digital age depends on its ability to thrive on the good ground and organic process of providing spiritual benefits in a cooperative and pluralistic manner.18

So I will be happy when every Unity church website and every Sunday bulletin lists one or more digital ministries hosted and supported by the church and run by an adjunct credentialed leader who addresses one or more of the human needs listed above or something like it.

And I will be happier still when our national organizations host a listing like the TruthUnity Events19 page that directs Internet visitors to these vital ministries.

That will transform the congregational model of ministry into a metaphysical model of ministry, and it just may revitalize the metaphysical Christian churches.

5. The Condemnation by Incumbents.

The condemnation by incumbents represents a shift in the disruption process. Until this point, the process requires the disrupting organization to remain relatively unknown or, if known, to be perceived as non-threatening to the incumbents—the existing alternative organizations. At some point, however, those existing organizations will become aware of the disruption and respond somehow. When that happens, it is most likely that the incumbents—in our case, the mainstream Christian churches—will react critically and choose to resist the challenge they feel.

The model predicts that the existing churches will tend to withdraw from whatever they consider challenging. Mainstream churches will tend to move away from metaphysical Christianity. They might even declare that Unity is not Christian. They will distance themselves from our message of oneness, health, and prosperity, from our roots in metaphysics and mysticism, and our refreshing meta-narrative of Mind, Idea, and Expression.

That breaks my heart. Even though the incumbent ministers may condemn metaphysical ministries, mainstream Christians who are online and looking for a better way are open to who we are and what we offer. As I said in Insight 8, God as Meta-Narrative: Mind, Idea, Expression, there are 2.3 billion Christians today, and 30-40% of them are looking for a better way. Many have already arrived. My message to mainstream Christianity is that we should work together to promote the Good News of divine healing throughout all Christianity.

My message to metaphysical Christian leaders is that the churches will withdraw only if we are ambiguous about where we stand in the historic Christian tradition. Placing ourselves outside the Christian faith takes us outside the religious marketplace. It does precisely what some Catholics and Evangelicals might hope we will do—to go away.

So I rest my case that we must proclaim what Charles and Myrtle Fillmore devoted a lifetime to say: we are Christian. A window has been opened and will continue to be open when we declare ourselves an authentic and distinct expression of the historic Christian faith.

  1. Unity Ministries Yearbooks.
  2. The Rise of Institutional Pluralism in Unity.
  3. Unity Georgetown Fairwell Talk.
  4. A Letter to Congregants at Unity in Baltimore.
  5. What We Might Learn from Helen Zagat.
  7. The Rise of Institutional Pluralism in Unity.
  8. Branding Faith: Why Some Churches and Nonprofits Impact Culture and Others Don't or [second edition] Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media
  9. The Pure Reason and Honest Logic of Practical Christianity.
  10. Metaphysical Christianity is perhaps uniquely suited to carry on viral ministry because of its declaration our individual minds are open to God and therefore are not private. Our ministry is God’s.
  11. Unity Correspondence School. Body of Christ.
  12. The Most Important Spiritual Discipline in Unity (It's not prayer).
  13. Christ Enthroned in Man.
  14. Eternally Begotten of the Father. Clip 7.
  15. Antecedents of New Thought by Eric Butterworth, Lecture 3 - The Transcendentalists, clip 41.
  16. I will have more to say about that in Insight 23, Seeing the Christ in Others.
  17. Gospel of Matthew 10:5-15.
  18. Ministry in the Digital Age.
  19. Unity Events and Classes.

From the Early Church To New Thought Conclusion: