There is much to be said about the number 40. It has significant meaning across cultures and religions. It appears in biblical stories of the
flood, temptations, and journeys. It is associated with trials, transformation, and purification, and represents life’s challenges and opportunities for growth. The story of the birth and evolution of Christ-Love Unity Church in Omaha, Nebraska, is a living testimony of weathering storms, rising above challenges, and the transformation and growth within the community over the past four decades.
On Sunday, August 20, 2023, Rev. Karen Saunders and the congregation of Christ-Love Unity in Omaha, Nebraska, will celebrate their 40th anniversary since her mother, the late Rev. Helen Saunders, of the infamous Detroit-8, held the first Sunday service there on August 21, 1983.
Rev. Karen is the Registrar of UUMS, teaches online classes, serves as an alumni advisor, and as treasurer on the UUMS Alumni Association board of directors. In 2017, she received the Rev. Dr. Ruth M. Mosley Award for Outstanding Leadership in Urban Ministry, given each year to a UUMS graduate who demonstrates the UUMS mission in accordance with Isaiah 61:1.
Rev. Helen Saunders was born and reared in Detroit, Michigan. As a seeker of Truth, Helen visited several denominations, including Baptist, Spiritualist, Methodist, Catholic, and Christian Science. In her twelve years with Christian Science, Rev. Helen told of having “many healing experiences.” Her spiritual journey led her to politics, and she joined an organization of automobile workers wanting to improve their
working conditions. With a focus on humanitarian and anti-war efforts, Rev. Helen traveled to North Vietnam and China in 1972, where she expanded her awareness of the omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience of God.
In 1974, she was invited to the Easter Sunday service at West Side Unity Church in Detroit. Of that first experience, she said, “From the moment I walked in the door, I felt I had come home.” Helen served as Church secretary for eight years, working closely with Rev. Ruth Mosley, founder of West Side Unity and UUMS. She expanded her knowledge through classes and earned her certification as a Licensed Unity Teacher and Spiritual Counselor.
When Rev. Ruth started Unity Urban Ministerial School in 1979, Helen was one of the first to enroll in classes to become a Unity minister. While completing the coursework through UUMS that was required by Unity School of Christianity, Helen earned an Associate degree in Sociology from Wayne County Community College. Rev. Ruth required all UUMS students on the path to ordination to earn an Associate’s degree through WCCC. In July 1982, Helen was one of eight students from UUMS in Detroit who traveled to Unity School of Christianity in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, for their final year of training at Unity School of Christianity. Helen and her classmates, commonly referred to as
“The Detroit-8,” were ordained by Unity in 1983.
After ordination, Rev. Helen Saunders contemplated returning to Detroit to begin her ministry or joining her daughter, Karen, in California. While she was at Unity School, she had been invited to speak in Omaha, Nebraska, and even considered the possibility of pioneering a church in the north Omaha area.
Armed with faith and a grant from the Association of Unity Churches, Rev. Helen decided to pioneer a church in Omaha. A week after arriving, she purchased a house. Within the first two weeks of her move, she was given furniture and a car. It was then that she recognized the power of the Divine to lead us to where we are supposed to be.
Three weeks after Rev. Helen moved to Omaha, Karen joined her mother on the quest to lay the groundwork for the planting of Christ-Love Unity Church. The two of them became active with several community organizations.
As the church grew, Karen expanded her support, becoming Church secretary, Sunday School teacher, and occasional platform speaker. In December 1983, seven founding members were installed.
Services were initially held in a community room at a local bank until the room was no longer available on a regular basis. The church then moved to the first floor of Rev. Helen’s home until the congregation outgrew it. The first permanent building at 1706 Clark Street was dedicated in August 1991. Following Rev. Helen’s transition on March 25, 1994, Rev. JoAnna Gabriel (UUMS ) served as Minister until June 1997.
The church relocated in the Spring of 1996 after the City of Omaha rezoned the property for a future housing development. For the next year, Sunday services were held at a local community room. Following that, the church moved back into the parsonage where services are still being held.
Intent on furthering her mother’s legacy, Karen took on a greater leadership role within the church. She served as president of the board and in various other capacities where needed.
From 1997 to 2000, guest speakers for Sunday services included ministerial students from Unity Institute and the Field Ministry Program. In 2000, Karen became the official Spiritual Leader.
When UUMS started the online program in 2009, she began taking classes to become an ordained Unity minister. Rev. Karen was one of the first three UUMS students to graduate from the new online program started by UUMS in 2008. The others are Revs. Sandra Campbell and Brenda Harger. The three of them were ordained by Unity Worldwide Ministries on May 3, 2013.
While working towards ordination, Rev. Karen also assisted with the expansion of the UUMS online platform under the leadership of then UUMS Executive Director, Catherine Thomas, Ph.D.
While she had played a key role along with her mother in building the church and kept the church going through the years, Rev. Karen was officially installed as Minister of Christ-Love Unity Church on ( ) by fellow UUMS classmate, Rev. Sandra Campbell.
Rev. Karen is the Registrar of UUMS, teaches online classes, serves as an alumni advisor, and as treasurer on the UUMS Alumni Association board of directors. In 2017, she received the Rev. Dr. Ruth M. Mosley Award for Outstanding Leadership in Urban Ministry, given each year to a UUMS graduate who demonstrates the UUMS mission in accordance with Isaiah 61:1