Mary Ann Finch is an African-American Unity minister who was ordained in 1983 After graduating from the UUMS - Unity Urban Ministerial School as one of the original Detroit 8 (first Urban School graduating class in 1982), she was ordained at Unity Village in 1983. She founded Unity of Charleston and Unity Myrtle Beach, both in South Carolina. She was also an instrumental part of Unity of Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, and was one of the founders of Unity Ministers of the Mid Atlantic States (UMMAS).
B. Nov 6, 1929 D. Aug 14, 2021.
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Memories of Mary Ann Finch by her daughter
Mary Ann was creative force in motion. She exploded (was born) into this earth dimension on the 6th of November, 1929 to Louis and Annie Mae Holloway Thornton. She was the fourth daughter of seven children, five girls and two boys. That close and supportive group of five sisters would later be affectionately and not so affectionately known as “those Thornton women”.
At the age of four Mary Ann, who’s health was sometimes fragile, was sent to stay with her aunt and uncle while her mom recuperated from the birth of her brother. She was supposed to stay two weeks but instead stayed thirteen years. Being raised as an only child by her aunt and uncle had a profound effect. She spent a lot of time by herself reading and day-dreaming. At 12 she tackled challenging books like War and Peace and Crime and Punishment. She didn’t really understand them completely, but she read them anyway. In fact, she read almost a book a day through high school. She graduated from high school, Magna Cum Laude at the age of sixteen.
Everyone in the family was compelled to take piano lessons. It was a must. Mary Ann mastered the piano at 12 years old playing for Sunday school. At 13 she became the pianist for the Gospel Chorus at St. Stephen AME Church, an activity she continued through young adult and motherhood. She reared her children on the piano bench at Sunday service, sometimes stopping to attend to a baby, then picking up the chord. These skills would serve her well throughout her life; both the piano playing and multi-tasking.
In 1947 Mary Ann left Wayne University after attending one semester, to help support her mother and younger siblings. She was hired at Michigan Bell Telephone Company as a telephone operator. That was the first year that black women were hired as telephone operators and they endured much overt and covert racism.
She was married to Lanier Finch from 1950 to 1970. To that union three children were born; Constance Marie, Mary Ann and Martin Lanier. In 1965 during her marriage, Mary Ann and her husband started attending Roman Catholic services. But in 1970 after she had filed for divorce, the church refused to let her continue taking communion. So she stopped going to church all together but she was miserable. That’s when a friend introduced her to Unity and her life was changed forever.
Mary Ann began reading Unity literature and was transformed. She became a licensed Unity teacher in 1977, while attending Westside Unity Church in Detroit. It was there in 1979 that the minister Rev. Ruth Mosley revealed her dream to start a ministerial school. Mary Ann helped write the proposal for the ministerial training program to be presented to the Association of Unity Churches. When the Unity Urban Ministerial School opened in Detroit, Mary Ann enrolled and dedicated her life to work and study. She attended college four nights a week while working full time. It was a grueling schedule but she kept it up until she graduated with the first and historic class of eight in 1982.
She quit her job and went to Unity Village in Missouri where she completed her last year of full-time ministerial studies at the Unity School of Christianity. In 1983 when the time came to receive her ordination, it was denied her. The Ordinating committee members told her that they felt she would not make a good Unity Minister. No other explanation was offered. It was the bitterest disappointment of her life. But she didn’t give up. Instead she prayed for an answer and after 48 sleepless hours she told God that she was going to sleep and when she awoke the next morning she wanted to know why she had been denied ordination. She slept well that night and when she awoke the next morning she was aware of the word “humility”. She thought about it and realized she had always been an A student. She had graduated magna cum laude from high school and had never failed at anything except her marriage. But humility, she realized, she did not have. She would seek for it.
So undaunted Mary Ann came to Charleston in July, 1983 at the request and with the encouragement and support of Shay St. John the Unity Minister of Savannah. The group of 14 people first met at a cafeteria and began work toward establishing a church. From that small beginning, Mary Ann was able to see her vision of the ideals of practical christianity taking shape and transforming the lives of those around her, much as her life had been transformed. And, not only did the ordinating committee members change their minds in 1984 and award her full ordination but they also voted her a full member of their committee. The creative force that is Mary Ann was an instrumental part of the formation and growth of Unity of Mt. Pleasant and Unity Myrtle Beach.
In 1985 Mary Ann was one of the founding members of Unity Ministers in North and South Carolina which expanded to include Georgia and Tennessee. She was active in UMMAS(Unity Ministers of the Mid-Atlantic States) for over thirty years. She served as a Regional Representative to Unity Worldwide Ministries from the 1990’s until 2007. During that time she was available to churches facing challenges in South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida. From 1991- 1996 she served on the Board of Directors of My Sisters House, Inc.
On September 9, 2018 Mary Ann was honored at Unity Church of Charleston on the 35th anniversary of the church. Mayor John Tecklenburg attended and proclaimed September 9, 2018 as: The Reverend Mary Ann Finch Day.
At 12:15 pm on August 14, 2021, Mary Ann took off the clothes of this earthly plain and soared free. Unencumbered, she is not gone. She is more present now than she ever was... because she is pure spirit moving amongst us right here and right now.