9. Growth and Expansion
Growth and Expansion
"He Shall Build the Temple"
Almost at once, the building at 913 Tracy Avenue was too small. In less than four years, an even larger building was going up on the lot next door, at 917 Tracy Avenue. The September 22, 1910 issue of Weekly Unity reported:
"The Unity printing plant has been moved to its new quarters at 917 Tracy....
'A new Optimus press, thirty-nine by fifty-five, has been added to the pressroom equipment, making it quite complete. ... This number of Weekly Unity is the first piece of printing done in the new building."
The first number of Weekly Unity, with Lowell Fillmore as editor, appeared May 15, 1909. Unity School had taken another step forward. Years before, Charles Fillmore had thought about making Unity a weekly, but the idea had not seemed practical then.
The new magazine had grown out of the weekly bulletin that described the activities of the Unity Society of Practical Christianity in Kansas City. People in other parts of the country had expressed an interest in these activities, and it was decided to publish a magazine that would tell about them. Unity announced:
"Weekly Unity, containing all items of interest to the Society, reports, readings, and so forth, will be mailed to any address fifty-two times a year for one dollar."
The popularity of the new magazine increased rapidly,
and in the July 10, 1909 issue, the editor told his readers:
"We have one subscriber as far east as New York and one as far west as California, with a sprinkling over the intervening States."
Today there are more than two hundred thousand subscribers, living in many countries. [TruthUnity note: the later edition of this book adds: but eventually Unity School decided that it was not needed; Unity magazine presented what was essentially the same message more effectively at much less expense and without the escalating mailing problems involved in getting out a weekly, so it was discontinued in July 1972.]
The new building proved to be no more adequate to contain the rapidly growing Unity work than the one at 913 Tracy had been. It had to be enlarged. The original three-story section of the building had been placed far back on the lot. Now a front section was added to this, and a fourth floor placed over all. The dedication of this enlarged structure took place at the stroke of midnight December 31, 1914. Declared Weekly Unity:
"The opening of the Unity administration building was a great success. By 9 pm., December 31, the Unity auditorium was full to overflowing. The Guild [a young people's group] had ready a multitude of talent with which to entertain the assembled guests. Near 10:30 the Unity Inn became a mecca for the hungry. Apples, sandwiches, cakes, cocoa, and cereal coffee were served to nearly four hundred people. By the time everyone had finished his refreshments, the new year was almost ready to be born. At the stroke of twelve the darkened administration building suddenly flashed into light; the front door swung open and the chimes began to ring."
This building, which was later enlarged twice more, was to house most of the activities of Unity School for the next thirty-four years. Its front, which with its massive white columns somewhat resembled a temple, became — much as today the Tower at the entrance of Unity Farm has become — a kind of symbol of the Unity movement. It is still pictured on the front of the prosperity banks.
The prosperity bank plan is one of Unity's most distinctive ideas. It was originated by the Fillmores in 1910.
Often those who wanted to buy Unity literature were persons of small means to whom a dollar, the price of a year's subscription, was a large sum of money. Also many of those who studied the literature liked to order subscriptions for the periodicals and buy books for their friends too. The prosperity bank plan was a convenient way of doing this.
Those who use the prosperity bank plan are provided with a small cardboard bank. The instructions are to drop a coin in the bank at a regular time each day for seven weeks and to concentrate on the statement printed on the bank. A typical statement reads:
"The Spirit of the Lord goes before me and my health, happiness, prosperity, and success are assured."
Bank users are expected to do their best at all times to feel that the statement expresses the truth about them, whatever appearances may indicate. His repeating the bank statement daily reminds the user that God is the source of his financial supply.
From the first, the bank plan was popular as a means of saving for subscriptions. Also users found it a convenient way to save for their offerings to the Unity work. The bank plan has been popular because through the years those who have used it have felt that they were truly helped and prospered by its use. There are many Unity students who are never without a prosperity bank.
It was fitting that a picture of the new Unity building should be printed on the bank, because it was prayers for prosperity that had built the Unity buildings and the whole Unity work.
Charles Fillmore felt that the main reason for the study
of Truth is to develop spiritual faculties. He wrote that people were too prone to think of Unity simply as a system of healing. He taught that it is not primarily a system of healing. He taught that it is not primarily a system of prosperity either. He taught that spiritual development should bring in its wake both healing and prosperity.
"Some religious teachers," wrote Mr. Fillmore, "have tried to make us believe that it is our Christian duty to be poor. But this is not the doctrine of Jesus." It was not the doctrine of Charles Fillmore either.
Charles Fillmore believed in praying for prosperity. Although he and his wife discovered Truth because they needed healing, they were soon stressing to their students that all people have the infinite resources of Spirit within themselves and they can be successful in all their worthy undertakings. One of the first popular articles that Charles Fillmore wrote was entitled, "Overcoming the Poverty Idea," which was reprinted several times in Unity magazine and finally issued as a pamphlet. Silent Unity was not very old before a special time each day — noon — was devoted to praying for prosperity for all who asked for prayers.
Whenever Unity School had a need for money or there was an important decision to be made, the first thing that the Fillmores always did when they called Unity leaders together for a conference was to say, "Let's pray about this matter." Often the whole conference, as they conducted it, turned out to be a prayer meeting. The Fillmores would not only take the matter to God themselves, but they asked everyone else present to speak words of prayer aloud. They believed in the power of affirmative prayer, and they practiced what they believed.
When there is a financial need to be met, the management of Unity School calls on Silent Unity to pray with it
exactly as someone on the outside does, and Silent Unity takes up the needs of Unity School in prayer just as it does the needs of others.
Unity School does not have, as some institutions do, wealthy backers. Unity has been supported mainly by the modest offerings of countless persons who have been helped through its ministry. For the most part, it has been the "widow's mite" that has sustained Unity. The workers at Unity feel grateful for every offering that is sent in. They know that it is not the size of the gift but the love in the heart from which it comes that counts.
Even as late as 1910, it was not unusual for the total offering at a Sunday morning service of Unity Society to be no more than ten dollars. One time early in the history of Unity, a subscriber sent in one hundred dollars for a hundred-year subscription to Unity. It is hard to imagine the gratitude to God that the one hundred dollars evoked in the Unity office.
The Fillmores did not seek money for themselves, although they felt that it was their right, as it is the right of all the children of God, to have enough to meet their needs. But they sought support for Unity, and they believed implicitly that God would supply the needs of this organization. If they had not believed this, they would never have had the courage to go ahead. Often as they pressed forward, expanding their services, enlarging their magazines, building buildings, there was no apparent worldly source of needed finances. Had they always waited until the funds materialized to do the things they needed to do, they would have been able to do little. They took a step — praying all the while in faith — and the supply came to meet the need. "All things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive" (Matt. 21:22).
It has been in this way, praying and working, trusting in God for supply, that the various Unity buildings, one after another, have been built. And the need for more buildings has been continuous.
The building at 917 Tracy, even though it was enlarged, still proved to be too small. Behind it another building was erected to house the radio studio, heating plant, repair shop, and other departments. It was in this building that Charles and Myrtle Fillmore lived in the apartment that she dubbed "Gasoline Alley." Later another building was constructed alongside this one. Also, on the corner of Ninth and Tracy, Unity Inn, a vegetarian cafeteria that became one of the most popular eating places in Kansas City, was erected in 1920.
Finally Unity grew so large that it began to think of moving from Tracy Avenue. The center of population in Kansas City had shifted far to the south and the Unity Society of Practical Christianity needed a location that would be more convenient for those who attended its services. In 1928, it bought the lot on the Country Club Plaza where Unity Temple is now located. Unity School of Christianity, the sister organization, began to think about moving its activities to Unity Farm.
Today it is there, in some of the most beautiful office buildings in the country, in a setting so perfectly landscaped that it is becoming famous throughout the world, that Unity School is located. There almost six hundred workers carry on the work that Charles and Myrtle Fillmore began. There every year come hundreds of students to study and to learn the teachings the Fillmores first propounded more than half a century ago.
In the buildings on Tracy Avenue, there was not enough room nor were there the proper facilities for activities of a
community nature. The Fillmores envisioned a place apart, a place where Unity workers and students could go out of the bustle of the world's affairs to pray, to work, to re-create themselves physically and spiritually. Unity workers have always been like a big family, liking to do things with and for one another. It was natural that the Fillmores should look for a place suitable for the activities of their "Unity family."
In 1919, shortly after Rickert Fillmore returned home from service in World War I, he and Lowell and their father began a search for such a place. One Sunday, they saw an ad in the paper that listed forty acres for sale a few miles southeast of Kansas City. They drove out to the place but when they arrived they found that it had been sold. The real-estate agent was still there and he asked them what they had in mind. They told him that they wanted a small place that was removed from city noises and confusion and at the same time not too far out for easy travel back and forth.
The real-estate agent replied: "I know just the place you want." He took them out to the location that is now Unity Farm and showed them fifty-eight acres that were for sale. The Fillmores liked it and made a down payment. On March 1, 1920, Unity Farm was born.
Slowly more and more acres have been added to the original fifty-eight until today Unity Farm comprises more than twelve hundred acres. When the first parcel was purchased, the nearest good road was several miles east of the property. Today U. S. Highway No. 50 goes by the main entrance to Unity Farm and another concrete highway, Colborn Road, runs through the Farm.
The first buildings constructed were of the English Cotswold type. Among them was The Arches, which was
built for Charles and Myrtle Fillmore about 1925. It stands near the farmhouse that was on the property when it was bought. After it was built, Mr. and Mrs. Fillmore would go out to The Arches on Thursday evening and stay overnight, going back to "Gasoline Alley" on Friday morning. Then on Sunday after the service was over, they would return to The Arches and stay until Monday morning.
Myrtle Fillmore called The Arches her dream house. Rickert Fillmore had built it for his mother exactly as she had dreamed of a house. Set in the middle of an apple orchard, with a high peaked roof of many gables and casement windows, the house was like one out of a fairy book. Myrtle Fillmore spent a great deal of time in it.
It had no kitchen, as she had wanted "a fairy home without kitchen or care." When the Fillmores were staying at The Arches they took their meals with Grandma Fillmore, who lived in the farmhouse just across the road.
"Charles," wrote Myrtle to a friend, "is doing his best to get some sort of impromptu kitchen into our fairy home. But I say, 'Not while we have Grandmother's kitchen so close.' We have entertained, doing our share, I think, in the past; and I do wish the fairy home to remain as it is, filled with food for thought and inspiration and blessings, but not the kind that makes stacks of dishes to wash."
Grandma Fillmore was the center of the life on Unity Farm. Resourceful, generous, energetic, she had been born for such a role. Although, when the Fillmores began to spend time on the Farm, she was nearly ninety, she was still as capable of running a household as she had ever been. She was always happy and never seemed to run down. One of her friends once said of her: "She should have been sixteen years old all her life."
In her late nineties, she fell and broke her hip, but she refused to use a wheelchair. A wheelchair suggested "invalid" to her. That she never was. She had some rollers attached to a rocking chair and got about on that. Myrtle called this contraption "a roller skate motor."
"It is really a rocking chair with rollers," she described it to a friend, "like those on roller skates, and, my, how Grandmother does ride around on it. She 'motors' all over the house, and she's the engine, the gas, the chauffeur, and the backseat driver all combined in one."
The first office building finished on Unity Farm was the Silent Unity Building, which was designed in the Italian Renaissance style. It was completed in 1929.
In the summer of 1928, a great meeting of Unity leaders was held on Unity Farm to bless the buildings and to make plans for the future. A tent city was erected. There hundreds of Unity leaders, not only from the United States but from foreign countries, lived for eight jubilant days through rain and fair weather.
It turned out to be mostly rain, and of creature comforts there were few. When it rained hard the water streamed through the tents between the cots; the only available shower baths were in the unfinished Silent Unity Building; the only place to eat was in the chapel in this building, which had been converted into a cafeteria serving fifteen hundred meals each day. But everyone sloshed through the rain to the meetings with sunshiny spirits that the weather could not dampen. There was no criticism, no complaint. There was little comfort, but a lot of consecration.
Meetings were scheduled from 8 o'clock each morning until 10 o'clock at night. Sometimes there were several at the same hour, so that it was impossible for one to attend all the events. One person was heard to say that he was
kept as busy as if he were at a three-ring circus. And at the center of the celebration, greeting their friends, taking part in the meetings, sharing the meals, joining in the prayers, were Charles and Myrtle Fillmore.
At one meeting, more than four hundred workers from headquarters on Tracy Avenue formed a procession, passing in front of the assembled leaders, singing hymns while they marched. On the last Sunday, the whole conference came to its climax with the dedication of the Silent Unity Building, which more than two thousand people attended. The leaders returned to their homes rejoicing in the vision of the expanding Unity work and of the building rising on Unity Farm to house it. The following spring [in 1929], Silent Unity moved from Tracy Avenue to its new building on the Farm.
It was a triumphant moment for the Fillmores. It must have seemed to them then that one of their fondest hopes, the dream of a great spiritual center, was about to be realized. There were many years of prayer behind them, many years of trusting God for supply, many years of holding to their high purpose when there seemed little but their trust to hold to. But the lean years had changed into years of accelerating growth and prosperity. Not only had subscriptions to Unity and Weekly Unity and Wee Wisdom been soaring, but the last six years had seen three new magazines established: The Christian Business Man (later Christian Business, now Good Business), Unity Daily Word (now Daily Word), and Youth (later Progress, now You.) Subscriptions to these were pouring in. Silent Unity was growing. New centers were being opened in various cities. After almost half a century of strenuous spiritual effort, in that jubilant moment it may have looked as if Unity's prosperity was assured and Charles and Myrtle Fillmore could rest on their laurels.
But this was not to be. In the fall, the 1929 depression began. By 1930, Silent Unity was back on Tracy Avenue in Kansas City, and its building on Unity Farm stood empty.
In the 1930's, the Fillmores' vision of a great spiritual center on Unity Farm from which the Unity message would go out to all the world and to which students would come for spiritual instruction may have seemed to some almost a shattered dream. Unity has never had a large reserve fund. Its income has always consisted largely of offerings sent in day by day. Since it has followed exactly the instruction of Jesus, "Be not therefore anxious for the morrow," (Matt. 6:34) and has immediately employed in the expansion of the work whatever money it has received, it has not built up any surpluses.
In the 1930's, when great industrial empires with carefully hoarded reserves were going bankrupt, it might have seemed to an onlooker that an institution like Unity, that had no source of income except the literature that was sold for a nominal price and the freely-sent offerings of people who were not even members of the organization and whose only connection was often only that of a letter and a prayer, could not possibly survive. But the casual onlooker could not have perceived the real source of Unity's strength, for this was invisible; it was faith, the faith of the Unity workers, the faith of the Fillmores, the faith that had stood adamant in the beginning when there was almost no income at all; the faith that had stood adamant when the first small building on Tracy Avenue had to be built and there seemed to be no funds with which to build it; the faith that had been tested over and over throughout the years; the unalterable faith that God is the supply of those who trust Him. "Prove me now herewith, saith Jehovah of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it" (Mal. 3:10).
Now this faith triumphed as it has always triumphed; Unity not only weathered the depression but began to grow again. Although for ten years no further buildings were erected on the Farm, the Fillmores held steadfast to their vision of the Farm as the center of the work. In 1940, they began to build again.
Rickert Fillmore was in charge of this building program, and he quickly proved that he had in him the same spirit as his parents, a spirit ready to use that which is at hand, quick to see and utilize every natural advantage, and willing to strike out on new paths and try the untried.
Beauty and utility have gone hand in hand in the development of Unity Farm. The Amphitheater, for instance, is as lovely a thing of its kind as can be found in America. This is how it came into being:
"We needed a garage," said Rickert Fillmore, "to take care of the cars of the workers at the Farm. There was a steep bluff at the most convenient location, so we built the garage up against this almost perpendicular bluff. When later we wanted a place for an open-air gathering, we found that we could use the flat roof of this garage as the floor of a platform or stage. The gentle rise of the ground eastward from this point made it possible to use it for outdoor meetings, and seats were set out. When we wanted to use it for larger gatherings, we graded it and built a regular stage, which rises about four feet above the front level of the ground."
The land itself provided limestone for buildings, retaining walls, and roads. Oak and walnut trees, killed by the drought that ravaged the Middle West in the 30's, were turned into a blessing instead of a loss when the lumber was salvaged for cabinet work in the new buildings. Even the Tower, which was completed in 1929 and rises one hun-
dred sixty-five feet above the ground, was not constructed for decorative purposes alone. Rickert Fillmore says:
"We needed water to operate the Farm, and every time we drilled for water we got oil and gas. So across the railroad tracks on our property we made an artificial lake. The lake covers about twenty-two acres, and has a drop of fifty feet at the dam. We did all the concrete work on the dam ourselves, and it is the only one of its kind in Jackson County. This was in 1927. Then we had the water, but we had to get the elevation and the pressure in order to distribute it where needed. So we built the Tower with its huge water tank at the top. It is a symbol and a delight to the eye, of course, but it also makes available a continuous supply of one hundred thousand gallons of water without which the Farm could not be run and provides seven stories of rooms for office use."
An amphitheater stage roofing a garage, a tower that masks a water tank, chimneys that look like bell towers, mirror pools that are really part of the air conditioning system — such things as these reveal the imagination that has gone into the development of Unity Farm.
In 1940, when it became possible for Unity to build again, it was well that there was such an imaginative spirit in charge of the building program. The shortage of labor and material caused by the war made the usual type of construction out of the question.
Rickert Fillmore turned to a new type of construction — prefabrication. Tests proved that the idea was not only practical, but economical. The result is that all the new buildings have been cast in sections in the casting building on the Farm, the sections hauled to the place they are to stand, and there put together in a process that might better be called "assembling" than "building." Almost everything
in the buildings is precast; even the "antique cut-stone trim" is only colored concrete made in molds. The result has been a tremendous saving with no sacrifice of beauty.
In 1947, the printing department moved into its new quarters. In the fall of 1949, work on the building that houses the administrative, publishing, and editorial departments reached the place where it was ready for occupancy. On a week end in late October, a huge fleet of trucks backed up to the dock at 917 Tracy and moved all the departments of Unity School except Silent Unity and the Editorial Department out to the new quarters. On Monday morning, the work in the new building went on almost as if no move had been made. A week later, Silent Unity moved into its building that it had occupied for a brief time twenty years before.
For the first time since 1906, passers-by on Tracy Avenue at night saw no light shining from the rooms where workers in Silent Unity had kept so long the constant vigil of prayer. The buildings on Tracy Avenue, however, were to continue to be identified with the work of Jesus Christ, for after several months they were sold to The Salvation Army.
[TruthUnity note: Unity Church Universal was established in 1982, a new congregation in Unity's first world headquarters at 913 Tracy Avenue in downtown Kansas City. While the building had suffered years of neglect and the neighborhood which surrounded it was blighted, the founding minister, Rev. Greg W. Neteler, decided to lease space in the building and began to revitalize it. With the help of Unity people everywhere, the new congregation purchased the building in 1988, and burned the mortgage ten years later.]
When Unity School with its vast facilities and hundreds of workers moved out and occupied its new home, it could no longer be appropriately called a farm. It is difficult to find a word that tells exactly what it is. It is the center of a big publishing business. It is a place of prayer, a shrine to which hundreds of thousands of people all over the earth turn in their thoughts when they are in need of spiritual help. It is a garden community where Unity leaders and workers live. It is a recreational center to which they go for physical activities that build and refresh the body and mind: to swim, to play golf and tennis, to picnic, to hike, to dance, and to get together with one another. It is a school and
a retreat to which hundreds of people come every year from all over the world to study and meditate and pray. It is a farm with orchards, vineyards, and crops in cultivation. It is all these, and yet it is more than all these, for it is a place of God — it is Unity.
To Unity School of Christianity, Lee's Summit, Missouri, come increasing streams of mail, and from there increasing streams of magazines pour out. From the Silent Unity Building shines more brightly than ever the light that shows that Silent Unity workers are always praying, a light that was lit over sixty years ago in Kansas City where two sincere people began to pray for those in need.
Sixty years ago, Charles Fillmore prophesied that Jackson County was to be the center of a great spiritual work. Today, like faith in concrete, the expression of the enduring faith of Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, stand the buildings of Unity School. And still the dream is not complete. More buildings are going up, the plan for developing Unity School is being pushed ahead, the work of Jesus Christ grows and grows. "And of his kingdom there shall be no end."