13. A School of Practical Christianity
A School of Practical Christianity
"Teaching and Fellowship"
Except for a few classes taught in Colorado in the early 1900's, Charles and Myrtle Fillmore did little of their teaching away from Kansas City. Yet, all through the land, there were people praying with Silent Unity and reading the Unity publications. These people were hungry for Truth. They were grateful for the opportunity to unite in prayer with Silent Unity and grateful for the publications, but in many cases there was a demand for more. They wanted to probe deeper into the principles that Charles and Myrtle Fillmore were teaching. Many of them were unable to make the trip to Kansas City to study or take the class work.
The Fillmores did not feel that they had time to teach in other cities, but they wanted to help these persons. They knew how avidly they had sought for inspiration when they had first discovered Truth. There was one teacher especially whom they had tried to get to come to Kansas City. This was Ursula Gestefeld, of Chicago, whose books on Truth were among the clearest and simplest written in the last century. She had not come to Kansas City, but finally she had had mimeographed copies of her lessons sent to the Fillmores for them and their students to study.
In 1909, the Fillmores decided that they, too, could teach students in other cities in this way. They wrote about their new service:
"For years, requests for lessons in the science of Being have been coming to the Society of Silent Unity, but the way never seemed open to take up the work until recently.
"Early in April of this year (1909) we received a letter from a correspondent who asked that we send her immediately the first lesson in our correspondence course. It was one of those faith demands that cannot go unrewarded. She took it for granted that we had the lessons to give, and it was no doubt her unquestioning faith that brought our Correspondence School into manifestation. We had often considered the matter of opening such a school, but there seemed to be so much to do that was more pressing that the school remained merely an ideal to be fulfilled sometime in the indefinite future.
"The faith shown in the friend's letter quickened our faith, and we felt moved to undertake the work at once. So an agreement was formulated and sent to this friend to sign, and in the few days' time required for the return of the agreement, the first lesson was written and was ready to be mailed to her when the signed agreement came back to us.
"And so our first pupil was enrolled, and so the Unity Correspondence School, so long a dream, was at last established in the manifest.
"When the April number of Unity went out, April 15, it carried the first announcement of the school, and in a few days applications for membership began to come in. At this writing, June 4, the enrollment is 268."
The original lessons were written by Charles Fillmore. They were sent out on the freewill offering plan.
In a few months, not only were students enrolled in this new school from all parts of the United States, but also from Canada, Cuba, Hawaii, England, and India. By 1911, over two thousand students had been enrolled. Today thousands of persons are receiving their instruction in
Truth principles through the Unity Correspondence School.
[TruthUnity note: The Correspondence School was discontinued in 1973 because more students wanted to come to Unity school for instruction.]
For several years in the early 1900's, Charles and Myrtle Fillmore taught summer classes in Pueblo and Denver, and in August, 1901, they conducted a school in Manitou called "The Colorado Summer School of Metaphysics." Most of the classes of this school were held in a large tent, which seated about one hundred and fifty persons on its wooden benches. At night, the tent was lighted by coal oil lamps. In the daytime, some of the meetings were held in the open, where the people gathered to hear Mr. Fillmore and the other teachers make their talks.
The Fillmores and some of the students lived in tents set up on the grounds. Grandma Fillmore was along and did her cooking in the Fillmore tent. The three Fillmore boys hiked and played in the mountains. Rick had just become interested in photography. By day, he took pictures of the meetings and the teachers and by night developed his films in the waters of a stream that ran through the grounds.
The Fillmores last taught classes in Colorado in 1902. After that, except for a brief series of lectures that Charles gave in Chicago in 1921 and a short trip to New York that he made in 1926, Charles Fillmore did not leave Kansas City again until after the passing of his wife.
The Fillmores had not named their organization Unity School of Christianity idly. Few weeks went by when they were not teaching classes. They taught classes in Truth principles, in prayer, in healing, in prosperity, in numerous allied subjects.
Most of their students came from Kansas City, but always there were a few from other places. Each summer, they conducted what was known as the "Intensive Training School," which drew students from all over the country. This course lasted two weeks.
This was the origin of the Unity Training School, which today is conducted through the summer months at Unity headquarters and attracts hundreds of students. In 1930, when Silent Unity moved back to Tracy Avenue from Unity Farm, the large building that it had occupied was made available to the Unity Training School.
Today the Training School is like a seminary, with courses in public speaking, comparative religion, center organization, Bible history and interpretation, Unity principles, and other subjects. Students come to it from all over the world, and there is a large staff of teachers composed of workers at headquarters and center leaders from other cities. A single class at this school often has many times more students than sat in an earnest circle around Charles and Myrtle Fillmore in the early days of Unity and discussed with them the principles of Truth, yet it is out of those first small classes in practical Christianity that the larger school has grown. Today attendance at the Unity Training School is a requirement for becoming a Unity minister.
[As of 1951, when this was written,] Each term at the Training School consists of four weeks. For this period, the students live on Unity Farm as in another world — and such it is, a world apart. As Jesus went up into the mountain to pray, students go to Unity Farm to withdraw into a spiritual environment. At the end of the four weeks when they return to their homes to give to others the ideas they have learned, they go fortified in spirit and renewed in mind and body.
Students and teachers live a simple life on Unity Farm, studying, discussing Truth, meditating, praying. The intensive study course leaves little time for thoughts of the world of affairs. The students sleep in cottages that have been erected in an apple orchard and they eat their meals
together at the Terrace Tea Room. These meals are joyous occasions, though the fare is plain. No meat is served at the Tea Room, as no meat was served at Unity Inn, the cafeteria that Unity School operated in Kansas City.
Charles and Myrtle Fillmore did not eat meat. Soon after the founding of Unity, they decided that a meatless diet was conducive to spiritual thinking, and from time to time in their magazines, they advocated vegetarianism. They felt that it is more humane and more healthful.
In the early days, when Unity was located on McGee Street and there were only four or five workers, these ate together. There was a stove in the house, and one of the workers was appointed to prepare something hot for everyone. The workers discussed food and its relation to the spiritual life and decided that it would be better for them not to eat meat.
Later when Unity moved to Tracy Avenue, the workers still chose to have their lunch together, so lunch was prepared in the house at the rear of the lot. At first, only workers ate there, but other persons who were interested in vegetarianism expressed a wish to eat there too, so Unity bought a larger house on the corner of Tenth and Tracy, and opened a restaurant.
For several years, no set price was charged for the food served there. Those who ate were left free to pay what they wished for their food.
At first, meals were prepared by Unity workers, as had been done on McGee Street. Some of the girls from the office would go over and lend a hand at the noon hour, serving at the steam table, clearing tables, and doing whatever was needed. Myrtle Fillmore acted as hostess, going from table to table, talking to her friends, making everyone feel at home.
In a few years, the house on the corner of Tenth and Tracy became too small to accommodate all who wished to eat there, and in 1920 a large restaurant building, decorated by Rickert Fillmore, was erected on the corner of Ninth and Tracy, to which Unity Inn was moved. Here for thirty years, the public and Unity workers were served meatless meals in cafeteria style at nominal prices.
In regard to vegetarianism — as with most of the things they taught — the Fillmores left their students free to follow them or not as each felt led. The Fillmores were not trying to put forth a creed that their followers had to accept; they were not trying to convert people to a new religion. Those who studied Unity were of all religions (such they still are); they were Methodists and Catholics and Presbyterians; many were not even Christians. To all these, the Fillmores said in effect: "Here are some ideas that we believe to be true. Examine them; study them; accept those that you can use in your life. For the rest, do not let what you cannot accept keep you from accepting what will help you now. The time may come when you can accept these other ideas too. However that may be, if some of our ideas are of practical value to you now, we are happy to be of service."
"The first step is to grant all people entire freedom to follow their own understanding," wrote Charles Fillmore, "no matter how wrong they may appear to us. If they will listen we may express our ideas, but further than that we should not go. They should be free to accept or to reject, as seems good to them."
It was with a great reluctance that Charles and Myrtle Fillmore set up a fixed procedure for becoming a teacher of Unity. "The doors of Unity," they said, "swing in for all who want to come and study, and they swing out just as readily for those who want to go forth and teach."
Charles and Myrtle Fillmore had their own ideas that they believed in passionately. They had even withdrawn from the I.N.T.A. because they felt that their teaching had little in common with that of most of the members of that organization. They felt, however, that everyone should be free to interpret Truth according to his own light. In an early issue of his magazine, Charles Fillmore wrote that the Unity rooms were open to everyone "interested in progressive thought. Teachers, healers, or lecturers passing through the city are invited to make any announcement they wish in connection with their work."
If other teachers wished to sell Unity literature, the Fillmores were happy to have them do so and did not ask what they taught. Their names were listed as Truth teachers at the back of Unity magazine at their request. When New Thought lecturers came to Kansas City, many of the regular Unity audience went to hear them. Sometimes the Fillmores themselves went.
Once when a lecturer who had been a fellow student with the Fillmores at the school of Emma Curtis Hopkins came to Kansas City, Mr. Fillmore heard that a number of Unity students were going to hear him. "There's nothing wrong with him," he said. "He's fine, only he doesn't put Truth in as simple language as we do, and he charges a good stiff fee for it."
Nevertheless, the Fillmores found at last that they had to place limitations on what could be taught in the name of Unity. All over the country, little groups of students who were studying Unity literature began to meet together and to start classes in the Unity teachings. Often those who led these groups knew very little of the teaching of the Fillmores. They held seances, cast horoscopes, told fortunes, read palms, and practiced numerology. The Fillmores them-
selves did not believe in any of these things and spoke out against them in their magazines. Still they were reluctant to tell other teachers what to teach — even when the teachings were put out under the name of Unity.
In the summer of 1925, at a conference of Unity teachers, a group that did not approve of some of the things that were being taught in the name of Unity but were unlike the teachings of the Fillmores, met together in the Pergola Room at Unity Inn one afternoon and formed what they named "The Unity Annual Conference." They adopted a set of rules to govern the teaching and conduct of leaders of Unity centers and classes.
Although Charles Fillmore told them at first, "I can't see why you want to bind yourselves with a lot of rules and regulations; leave yourselves free," he could see presently that the step they had taken was a necessary one.
This step assured those who might attend a Unity center that they would receive the same simple, practical teaching of the Fillmores that they were receiving through the Unity literature. In 1946 this self-governing organization of Unity center leaders is known as the "Unity Ministers' Association." Its members meet every year at Unity headquarters. It sets the standard for more than two hundred centers.
[TruthUnity note: in 1966 Unity School asked the centers to form their own organization and to take responsibility for all their affairs, including ordination. They formed the Association of Unity Churches, now known as Unity Worldwide Ministries.]
Charles and Myrtle Fillmore did not believe in applying restrictions to the teaching of Truth because they knew that Truth is largely an individual matter: the Spirit of Truth is in every person, and it is only through the awakening of this inner Spirit that anyone can come to know Truth. Books and teachers may be of value along the way, but in the final analysis each individual has to find Truth for himself, within himself. It is this belief that is the basis of Charles Fillmore's teaching about the Bible.
Several of Charles Fillmore's books consist of interpre-
tations of the Bible. As early as 1889, he was printing such interpretations in Unity magazine.
"Scripture as mere history," he wrote, "is not profitable to the overcoming metaphysician; what he looks for is practical instruction in mind operation. ... When we look deeper than the mere historical recital, we find that there is a veiled meaning, which may be understood by one who is familiar with the operations of his own mind."
Few man have thought more about the meaning of the Bible than Charles Fillmore. To him, it shed light on every phase of human existence, and one of the great tasks that he set for himself was the exposition of the Bible's inner light to men. To him, the Bible was valuable not because it is a history of people who lived thousands of years ago, but because when properly understood it sheds light on our own problems and shows us the way to more abundant health, prosperity, and happiness. To him, the Bible was valuable because of its practicality; he thought of it as a guidebook to daily living.
To Charles Fillmore, the Bible was more than the Word of God. The Word of God is the Spirit in man, and the Bible is an attempt "to describe that invisible Word which cannot be described, but must be lived." He wrote:
"Practical metaphysicians do not study the letter of the law ... They study mind in its original purity as manifest in themselves and all men. Then they find that the Scriptures are written in cipher — that they veil the movements of ideas under the symbols of men and nations. Bible writers were dealing with ideas all the time. ... These they represented by the things of sense because they were writing for the instruction of a people who, like children, had to be amused by pictures and catchy stories."
Charles Fillmore's study of the Bible culminated in 1931 with the publication of the Metaphysical Bible Dictionary, the most pretentious work published by Unity School. This work is an analysis of the hidden meaning of all the names that appear in the Old and the New Testaments. Although Charles Fillmore had assistance in preparing it, the original idea was his and most of the interpretations that appear were taken from his writings and lectures.
There was much of Daniel in Charles Fillmore, who spent countless hours in prayer. He delighted in hidden meanings. He loved to dream and to interpret dreams. He wrote that God spoke to him through his dreams. He loved to explore the mysteries of Spirit. Yet always, he was interested in these matters with a practical end in view. He explored the hidden meaning because he felt that it might contain something that could be applied to the everyday world of fact, something that would help men to live more abundantly. He sought arcane truths, and he sought to apply them to everyday problems. On his winged imagination, he made far flights of mind, and always it was in the hope that he could bring back to the footweary world trudging through its workaday existence some idea that would prove to be of comfort, strength, and inspiration.
Charles Fillmore once said that Unity could be defined as pure "Christian mysticism practically applied to everyday living." He was a mystic, as was Myrtle Fillmore; but they were mystics with a mission, and that mission was to help men have healthier, happier, richer lives. This is what made his approach to religion such a scientific one. In him, the scientific and religious approach to life were blended. He felt that the discoveries of modern science were a step toward the abundant life that he was preaching.
At the time when Unity was first founded, Darwinism
and materialism had taken hold of the minds of people. The church was denouncing science as denying the truths of the Bible, and the exponents of science were claiming that the Bible is full of falsehoods. In the very first issue of Modern Thought, Charles Fillmore had an article to the effect that science and religion should resolve their conflict. He saw clearly that the only religion that can stand is one based on Truth and that the only science that will not destroy itself is one based on religious principles.
One of the goals of his writing was to show that science and religion are but two different approaches to the same Truth. He felt that modern physicists, with their theories about the ethers and energy, are approaching with a different set of terms the same truths that Jesus taught when He taught about the kingdom of the heavens and the power of faith and prayer.
In an address that he made at a meeting of the World Fellowship of Faiths held during the Century of Progress in Chicago in 1933, he declared:
"My aim is to prove that science, in developing the unseen forces of the ether is merely revealing the mechanical side of that realm which Jesus called the 'kingdom of the heavens.'
"The approach of religion to the 'kingdom' is through Spirit; the approach of science to the same, under the name of the luminiferous ether, is through physics, chemistry, and kindred fields of research.
"That science and religion have not worked in unity is borne out by history. Religion functions in the realm of ideas and science in the realm of facts. By facts we mean anything that may be proved by material tests. Christianity has been very jealous of its revelations and has assumed that they are far more valuable than the discoveries of science. When Saint Augustine pro-
claimed that 'nothing is to be accepted save on the authority of the Scriptures,' a wall of ecclesiastical authority inclosed Christianity, and the pages of church history testify to the entrenchment within that inclosure of millions of followers of Jesus. There could be no new revelations from God; the slogan of religious authorities was "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where they are silent, we are silent.' Then followed the persecution even to death of anyone who dared to discover anything that seemed to conflict with the accepted interpretations of the Bible. The horrors of the Inquisition are almost unspeakable.
"But the proved facts of scientific research and discovery have bit by bit broken down the wall of narrow dogmatic assumptions reared by Christianity, and we are finding that we have, like the Pharisees of Jesus' time, been making the dead letter of Scripture revelation take the place of the living Christ. Jesus was a demonstation of the fact of God's existence and power in the world, and when charged by the ecclesiastical congress with breaking their law He thundered, 'Ye search the scriptures, because ye think that in them ye have eternal life; and these are they which bear witness of me; and ye will not come to me, that ye may have life.' ...
"Jesus loved to talk about this kingdom of the heavens and He compared it or said it was 'like unto' this and that in many parables and mind pictures. ...
"To perform its miracles, modern science draws upon the kingdom of the heavens. It tells us that out of this kingdom come light, heat, power, color, sound, electricity, magnetism, life, and substance; in fact, that everything that exists in this universe came out of this invisible, omnipresent kingdom of the heavens, the luminiferous ether. Scientists tell us that in their discoveries they have merely touched the hem of the garment of a kingdom that, by further discoveries along the same line, will revolutionize our whole civilization."
It is this scientific approach that especially distinguishes the Unity teachings. Charles Fillmore did not believe that God is an arbitrary and extraneous Being who answers or fails to answer prayer according to His changing whim. He taught that God is law. He taught that life is governed by law, every incident in life, and that as we gain an understanding of the divine law, we can use it to change our life.
"The world," said Charles Fillmore, "is governed by the law of mind action." It was through this belief that he came to Unity's unique concept of prayer — the use of affirmations and denials, spiritual decrees rather than petitions, in addressing God.
Affirmations and denials are statements that deny the reality of undesirable conditions and affirm the reality of God and His good, such as
"There is nothing in all the universe for me to fear, for greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world," and "I am a radiant, all-wise, all-loving, all-conquering son of God."
"Prayer," wrote Charles Fillmore, "is not the beseeching a reluctant God. It is intercommunion with God. 'Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss' (James 4:3). Not that we ask for what God is not willing to give, nor what we, as His children may not rightfully ask for and claim; but because we beseech and supplicate, as though God were not willing but possibly might be induced to change and grant our petition. This is a false notion.
"'For I, Jehovah, change not' (Mal. 3:6). 'Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yea and for ever' (Heb. 13:8). If God ever did answer prayer, He always does, being the same God. Therefore, if there seems to be any lack of principle, it is in the one who prays. Misunderstanding of the will and nature of our God prevents prayer from being answered.
"Prayer does not change God, the unchangeable,
but it changes mortals and makes them receptive to that good which is being given without limit. 'God is Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth' (John 4:24). Translate material desires into their spiritual correspondents and then declare that in Truth and in Spirit you receive that which you desire, and then you will have it materially as well as spiritually. 'But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you' (Matt. 6:33)."
Fifty years before the inception of the science of psychosomatics, which treats of the relationship of the mind to bodily illness, Charles and Myrtle Fillmore were teaching that the ills of our body are the result of our wrong thinking, that disease has its origin in negative mental and emotional states. Over and over, in the early pages of Unity, they traced physical disturbances to mental causes. Many years ago, Myrtle was writing to a correspondent:
"Perhaps it will help if I tell you that I suffered with a trouble similar to yours for years. And I prayed for healing, many times; and did all I knew to please the Lord; and still my healing did not come. I tried to look over all my faults, and to bring myself into harmony with Truth. After asking the Lord to show me just what was hindering, Spirit spoke to me very clearly, saying, 'You have looked among your faults; now, suppose you look among your virtues.' And I did; and there I found the cause of the deep-seated physical suffering and congestion!
"I had considered it a virtue to control my feelings; to never give way to them, outwardly; to never let anyone know when I was hurt or angered. I kept a calm and pleasant exterior, but inside I sometimes grieved and resented and worried and rebelled. And, my secret thoughts and feelings were cutting and congesting and weakening my vital organs and the walls of my body. As I turned the light of Spirit upon these hidden things,
and sought to have Divine Mind transform my very subconsciousness, so that I should work from an entirely new basis, I was healed and restored to harmony and strength. There were times, after the first revelation, when I would forget and give way to old ways of thinking, and there would come a physical warning. I have found that whatever thoughts I harbor do produce some sort of results in me or my environment; that if I want perfect health, I must let the law of God, the rules of harmony and health, come first, regardless of what they do to old habits and thoughts."
The Fillmores taught that the way for a man to change his physical condition is to change his thinking. "People come to me and they ask me for help," said Charles Fillmore. " 'Ask me to do anything,' they say, 'but don't ask me to change my thinking.' But they have to change their thinking if they want to be well."
Over and over, the Fillmores echoed the words of Paul, "Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Rom. 12:2).
"What can a man do with the thoughts of his mind?" Charles Fillmore wrote. "He can do everything with them. They are under his absolute control. He can direct them. He can coerce them. He can hush them or crush them. He can dissolve them and put others in their place. There is no other spot in the universe where man has mastery. The dominion that is his by divine right is over his own thoughts. When man apprehends this and commences to exercise that dominion, he has begun to open the way to God, the only door to God — through mind and thought."
"The purpose of prayer," the Fillmores taught, "is to change your thinking. God does not change; His will is always, only good. All that keeps you from your good is your failure to unify yourself in thought with the source of all good, God."
Following this line of thought, the Fillmores worked out a new technique of prayer, which they called the silence, using affirmations and denials. They instructed the student to relax in mind and body, to turn to God in his thoughts, to think not about his problem but about God, whose wisdom, love, and power are mighty to solve every problem. To enable him to keep his mind away from the problem and on God's presence and power, they taught the student to use affirmations and denials, repeating them over and over. The words themselves had no magic power, but continued concentration on them brought the student to realize the Truth in them. "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32).
Jesus taught, "All things whatsoever ye pray and ask for, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them" (Mark 11:24). The Fillmores' technique of prayer is based on this idea of Jesus' — "believe that ye receive" — and those who apply this idea rediscover what many churchmen have forgotten, that faithful prayer gets results.
The Fillmores did not advance new teachings. All that they taught is based on the Bible, and especially on the teachings of Jesus. They saw Jesus as the Son of God, the Master, conscious of His oneness with our Father, demonstrating His Sonship in His life, the perfect channel of God's power and love. They felt that Unity is a return to His original teachings, a return needed for centuries. Before they decided to call it "practical Christianity," they had called their teaching "primitive Christianity."
The Fillmores went back to the original teachings of Jesus, and came forth with a modern, seven-day-a-week religious teaching, expressed in up-to-date, easy-to-understand language. They demonstrated that religion has practical value in helping people handle today's problems.
Jesus taught that God is loving and accessible. "The kingdom of God is within you," He said, and Paul told the Athenians, "In him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28). But through the centuries, people had come to believe in God as a stern judge, living in a far off heaven to which people went after they died.
The Fillmores re-stated in modern language the great truths that they found in the Bible: "God is within you. You can find Him there. Heaven is a state of mind. You can enter into heaven now."
"God is your loving Father and you are His beloved children," they taught, and repeated as had Jesus the words of the Psalmist, "'Ye are gods, And all of you sons of the Most High' (Psalms 82:6)."
"'Christ in you, the hope of glory!' (Col. 1:27)" they declared. "The Christ Spirit is in you, and the Christ power. Claim it now, use it now to remake your life."
The Fillmores lived by the Bible. They studied the misunderstood teachings of Jesus — about the immanence of God, about the love of God, about the power of believing prayer. Jubilantly in their magazines, in their books, in their talks, they proclaimed these teachings until thousands on thousands of people were putting the teachings into practice and proving with quickened bodies, with minds set free, with lives renewed, that the teachings are true.
Charles and Myrtle Fillmore were people of vision. Their vision is expressed in Mrs. Fillmore's first affirmation,
"I am a child of God and therefore I do not inherit sickness." It was the vision of a way of life better than that which men have so long felt that they are heir to.
The teaching of Charles and Myrtle Fillmore was an affirmation of life. "Live!" they proclaimed. "Live free! Live whole! Live eternally!"