by Rev. Karen Saunders (UUMS 2012)

Fifty years seems to go by so quickly. One day you look up and you have to think about exactly

When or how long ago something happened. I can remember that Sunday in 1974 when I was home from college during Spring Break at the end of my Freshman year. My mother, Helen Saunders, had been experiencing some personal challenges, and a long-time family friend invited her to Easter Sunday service at West Side Unity. For some reason, I chose not to join them. Like many have remarked after their first experience attending a Unity service, my mother said she felt like she was home. Shortly after that first service, she began working in the Church office. I don’t recall exactly when I visited the church, but I do remember that it wasn’t long after my mother’s introduction to West Side. I joined the church in the Summer of 1994. I was attending Michigan State University in East Lansing (city), so I wasn’t able to come home every weekend. I began attending Unity of Lansing where Rev. Dick Ammons was the Minister. Having been raised in Christian science, I was quite familiar with New Thought and answered prayer. So, it was natural for me to begin working with prayer and meditation in Unity. In one of her talks, I recall Rev. Ruth Mosley saying “it works if you work it.” At that time, the dorms at Michigan Sstate were full and on-campus housing was limited. To resolve the problem, single women were allowed to share a one-bedroom apartment in the dorms reserved for married couples. I applied along with a friend from high school unsure if we would be approved for one of the units. I prayed and affirmed a positive outcome and a week later we were able to move into our apartment. This is one example of many examples where I have applied the power of answered (affirmative) prayer that resulted in a positive outcome. After graduating from Michigan State, I accepted a position in Fort Wayne, Indiana where I went through nine months of training. Once I completed the training, I returned to Lansing where I attended Unity of Lansing. In 1980, I moved to San Francisco where I attended Unity San Francisco. Rev. Gwen Norment was Minister there. Eventually, I relocated down the peninsula to Redwood City where I attended Unity Church of Palo Alto. No matter where I went, West Side Unity was always my home church. When I was back home in Detroit, Rev. Ruth would greet me and take the time to convey her wisdom and teach me the Unity principles. As I think back on those precious times under her tutelage, I realize that she must have seen something in me that I had not recognized for myself. While I was moving around, my mother continued to work on the staff at West Side Unity while she was taking classes. She became a Licensed Unity Teacher and was one of the first to enroll in the newly established Unity Urban Ministerial School (UUMS). She and seven classmates were the first class from UUMS to be ordained. I attended her ordination in June 1983 and spent about five days with her at Unity Village following her ordination. While she was in school, we talked often about the possibility of her relocating to California to be closer to me. Towards the middle of July, my mother informed me that she was going to pioneer a Unity church in Omaha, Nebraska. I needed a change, so following Spirit’s guidance, I resigned from my position, packed up my house, gave away or sold many of my possessions, and headed to Nebraska to help my mother plant the new church. I arrived in Omaha on August 8, 1983, and Christ-Love Unity Church which my mother founded.  Christ-Love Unity Church held its first Sunday Service on August 21. At that time, I thought I was just there to assist my mother in getting the church started. I had no idea this would be where Spirit would speak to me to follow in her footsteps. One of our musicians asked me how long I intended to stay and my answer was “oh, six months to two years.” Now, it has been forty years and I’m still here. I don’t see myself moving until Spirit tells me to. While I have been at Christ-Love Unity, I have done whatever my mother needed and now whatever the church needs. When my mother was still running the church, I served as Secretary, Sunday School teacher, and even speaker when my mother was out of town. As I mentioned earlier, Rev. Ruth Mosley saw something in me that I had not yet discovered about myself. When my mother was ordained, Rev. Mosley asked me when I was coming to the Urban School. At that time, I had no inkling of becoming a Minister even though I had taken a few S.E.E. courses. When I spoke with my mother about the possibility of me becoming a Minister, she advised me to fight it until I knew for sure that it was right for me. In the meantime, we worked together in serving the Omaha community and growing the church. 

In 1993, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. As the disease progressed, I became her caregiver and she arranged for guest speakers to fill in on Sundays. Following her transition, Rev. Joanna Thompson-Gabriel was hired as the Minister and I became the Board president. Family members urged me to come back to Detroit, but because I had a young son I decided to stay in Omaha and continue my mother’s legacy at Christ-Love Unity. On those occasions when I went back to Detroit, family members insisted that I come back since I had no family in Omaha. Whenever we got together, Rev. Ruth would hand me an application to the Urban School, but I was not yet ready to say ‘yes’ to the call. Rev. Joanna left Christ-Love Unity in 1999, and students from Unity Institute would speak on Sundays. While working through the Field Licensing Program, Rev. Linda Martella-Whitsett joined me in leading the Sunday services at Christ-Love Unity. After her ordination, she moved to Texas. From then on, I did most of the Sunday talks and the whispers of Spirit became louder and louder. During this time, Unity Worldwide Ministries made a pronouncement that for a Unity church to be in good standing they must have a credentialed leader in charge. Because my son was in Middle School and I was running the church, it wasn’t possible for me to take classes at Unity School in Missouri or at the Urban School in Detroit. I resorted to answered prayer and a little over a year later, Rev. Mosley invited me to come to Detroit to accept a posthumous award recognizing my mother for her accomplishments. Prior to the  trip from Omaha to Detroit, I was notified that my position on my job was being downsized and that I could reapply for other positions. After reviewing the positions, I turned again to answered prayer. Spirit led me to take the severance package and trust that everything would work out for the highest and best. An announcement was made during the banquet and awards ceremony in Detroit that UUMS would begin online classes. My prayers were answered. The asynchronous program would allow me to continue leading the church in Omaha and keep my family intact. I graduated from UUMS in 2012 and I was ordained by Unity Worldwide Ministries in 2013. Ours was the first online Ministerial class in the entire Unity movement. My ordination came 30 years after my mother was ordained from the very first class of the Urban School.

It has been 40 years since I moved to Omaha to help plant and lead Christ-Love Unity Church. It has been quite a journey and I continue to listen to the voice of Spirit directing as I rely on answered prayer to direct my path. In the echoes of my mind, I still hear Rev. Mosley, Rev. Helen Saunders, and many others saying, “It works if you work it!” In the half century since I started in Unity, I have received many blessings. It is my prayer that I continue to be a blessing to others through this work.

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