At the Unity People’s Convention 2017, held last week in San Antonio, the theme was “Keep Unity Wide Open”. Based on the workshops, seminars, keynotes, musical events, and the optimistic enthusiasm of those in attendance, it is certain the Unity movement is once again poised to be a spiritual leader worldwide. The annual event, which is held every other year in the Kansas City area where the Unity movement first began in the late 19th century, was hosted in San Antonio for the first time. Unity churches throughout the Lone Star State, and especially central Texas, were well represented. In addition to more than a dozen volunteers from Unity Church of the Hills helping to make the event run smoothly, UCOH was also represented by Rev. Steve and Mary Bolen, who officially retire this coming Sunday.
Celebration Rocks The Unity People’s Convention
Also in attendance was UCOH’s new incoming ministerial team, Reverends Brian and Kristen Grandon, who became the envy of Unity ministers everywhere after our amazing music team, led by Celebration, rocked the house at Tuesday night’s keynote event. By the time Tuesday evening’s keynote event rolled around, convention attendees had already experienced two full days of workshops, seminars, meetings and related activities and were primed for an evening of inspired entertainment. Celebration more than filled the bill, turning in one roof-raising performance after another in both their opening and closing sets.
Father Gregory Boyle Inspires Us To Erase The Margins
In between Celebration’s soul-stirring performances, the evening’s keynote presenter, Father Gregory Boyle, inspired everyone in attendance with his message, presence and impeccable sense of humor. Father Boyle, an American Jesuit priest, is the visionary Founder and Director of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, which is the largest, most successful program in the world for the rehabilitation of former gang members.
Homeboy Industries supports rehabilitation and re-entry programs for those who are stuck in the vicious cycle of violence and incarceration. The organization provides support services for 10,000 men and women a year who are actively working on re-imagining their futures, in order to break free of the inter-generational, life crushing cycles that pervade throughout the violent culture of criminal gang enterprises.
Father Boyle’s keynote message centered on compassion and kinship, encouraging everyone to be willing to go to the margins of society, not to fix those who live on the margins, but rather to inspire us to erase those margins. He spoke to the theme of mutuality, whereby we are also served, even as we serve. As fellow LUT, Mark Hicks, observed: “It is impossible to explain or overstate how effective Father Boyle’s is in his presentation.” We both agreed, his keynote presentation alone was worth the entire convention.
Ministry In The Digital Age
Speaking of Mark Hicks, who is one of the eighteen certified LUTs at UCOH, on Tuesday afternoon he presented his workshop, “Ministry In The Digital Age” to a standing room only audience that included Unity ministers from across America, including UCOH’s former associate minister, Rev. Donna Loflin, who now heads the ministry at Unity Church of Peace in North Port, Florida, as well as UCOH’s new incoming ministerial team of Brian and Kristen Grandon.
Mark’s message centered on four premises that can and will revitalize Unity’s master ministry in the digital age. Speaking to an audience comprised mostly of Unity ministers and LUTs. Mark encouraged all to focus on authenticity in messaging, to learn to use our own stories for inspiration as to the value of Unity principles in our own lives. In this age of too much information, he also encouraged us to keep it simple, make it useful and helpful, and to learn to go social utilitzing the technological tools the digitial age affords.
For those of you who do not know Mark Hicks, I encourage you to visit his website, truthunity.net, which has become one of the most vital resources in the entire Unity movement. The value of the work Mark has done to bring the Unity historical and resource archives into the digital 21st century is inestimable. Everyone with any interest in Unity history or foundational literature would do well to bookmark his site and make regular visits.
Keeping Unity Wide Open
A couple of other keynote highlights that supported the convention’s theme to “Keep Unity Wide Open,” were provided by Rev. Sylvia Sumter from Unity of Washington DC, and author Shariff Abdullah, who is also the founder and president of Commonway Institute. Rev. Sumter stirred a Tuesday morning keynote audience by reminding those in attendance that we are light bearers in this world. She noted that the original message of Unity and other New Thought movements has now gone mainstream, and that, Unity needs to once again assume a role of leadership in the next evolutionary stage of our individual and collective unfoldment. Simply stated, Rev. Sumter’s message was a clarion call for followers of Unity to “up our game,” to be willing to assume spiritual leadership on the cutting edge of spiritual evolution.
On Thursday morning, Mr. Abdullah’s core message of inclusivity seemed to place the cherry on top of the proverbial sundae that was the Unity People’s Convention. Working through his Commonway Institute, Mr. Abdullah is a successful proponent of an inclusive global human society, which he first espoused in his award-winning book, Creating A World That Works For All. Using the provocative, yet simple, symbol of a “handful of salt,” the cheapest substance on the planet, Abdullah reminded us all that Gandhi effectively brought down the British empire with a simple handful of salt. It was a powerful symbol that reminds us of the potential power that one single person can have on the world.
The Unification of Unity
At the annual business meeting on Wednesday morning, Unity delegates from churches around the world met to handle mostly routine business matters that required voting from the member churches and their delegates. However, during the activities, those in attendance got a chance to hear from many of the leaders in the Unity Worldwide Ministries movement, including UCOH’s own Rev. Kristen Grandon. In their respective roles, they each spoke to many of the changes that have been transpiring these last couple of years, as Unity Worldwide Ministries and Unity Institute have transitioned into a unified organization.
A big part of this transition took place over the last year as Unity Worldwide Ministries moved its offices to Unity Village, and is well down the path of transforming the educational programs formerly headed by Unity Institute into a single, cohesive educational and licensing organization. While there is still important work ahead to complete the transition, I am happy to report that the vision and leadership demonstrated by key executive staff members at Unity Worldwide Ministries is a good sign for Unity’s future.
As I think about all that happened last week, I realize that these highlights I have written about here were only a portion of all that occurred. To recap it all, I would be writing for several more hours, and would likely still leave something out. Suffice to say, I was inspired by the vision and leadership demonstrated by so many ministers, LUTs, musicians and volunteers in the Unity movement, and I look forward to attending next year’s convention.