One word sort of sums up in my mind our visit to the Unity Church of Venice, Florida on the morning of Sunday April 15th; wow! Vacationing in Sanibel Island, we drove to North Port last Saturday to stay overnight with our West Seneca friends, Bob and Kathy Doll. We accompanied them to a Unity Church they have been attending this winter. I felt energy just getting out of the vehicle when arriving. Walking across shaded property toward the building entrance we noticed a large, well used labyrinth near a palm laced meditation pavilion. People were sharing on benches under other palm trees nearby.
Entering the church, we saw people preparing tables for its weekly $2 dollar lunches served after the 10:30 service. Moving through crowds of people we were graciously greeted as we were introduced to the exuberant Minister Rev. Patricia Reiter. We wandered into the bustling book store where books by Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dwyer, and Thich Nhat Hahn were available along with the Tao te Ching and the book A Course in Miracles. Many others resources were present which taught of the “inner way” and release from pain, guilt, and negativity.
Before entering the large, bright sanctuary, freshly made name tags with bright green ribbons were prepared to wear around our necks which also entitled us to a free lunch! Sitting toward the front amid 250 to 300 comfortable chairs arranged in a semi circle, we observed the open, refreshing sacred space, tastefully displaying a large screen in the front center below golden carved wings hovering above near the ceiling. A lively, smiling, un-robed choir sat on a raised level a short distance in front of us with the key-board and director/player below. Behind in the balcony were 4 or 5 technicians sitting before operating cameras, recording devices and sound equipment. It was professionally planned and tastefully used in an unobtrusive manner.
At the 10:30 hour, with seemingly every chaired filled (the Sunday after Easter) the welcome and opening prayer were begun led by the keyboardist and choir leading the congregation in a projected short chant titled, “I Feel Love.” Another member then transitioned in silencing the audience and led in reading the affirmations of the day from the “Daily Word” magazine.
Two trained “Prayer Chaplains” then came forward with a beautiful box containing the past week’s prayer requests. Laying the box on a large side lectern, they were joined by the pastor as together we prayed for energy, love, and hope to be given those who had asked for special Divine aid in their lives.
The keyboard musician and choir then offered special music followed by Rev. Pat giving a message on the power of perception in relieving ourselves from pain and suffering. She wove into her easy-to-follow talk, standing barefoot, stories and concepts from various traditions including contemporary and ancient sources of Christian and Eastern religions. Her message shared thoughts on the importance of “Being” as connected with “Becoming.” I remember well the later part emphasizing parallels to giving birth, which can be a painful, messy process. She ended her talk with a short meditation on healing, concluding with the keyboardist and choir leading the congregation in a quiet rendition of “Halleluiah.”
Announcements were briefly shared as they simultaneously flashed across the overhead screen concluding with the minister giving a short gospel of Luke reminder of the blessings in giving as offerings were received and blessed.
Before the last song children came streaming down the center isle from their special time of sharing. Joined with the pastor and leaders on the raised chancel platform, the congregation was led in the closing song, “I Love The World.” The service closed with their usual peace song, “Let Peace Begin With Me” followed by the Prayer for Protection.
Afterwards, my wife and I joined the Dolls in a special 20 minute “Oneness Blessing”. As people exited the sanctuary, 20 or so chairs were placed for people to sit in the middle aisle to receive a “hands on” transmission of energy and healing as shamanic chanting with drumming music played in the background. It was a wonderful experience as I felt moved and “visited” by impulses of peace and assurance.
Thus ended a wonderful hour and half. I felt a sense of “magic” and energy generated by the kindness and openness of the folks in this well equipped, well led congregation. I hope to review the web stream soon to discover ways I might further enhance services I conduct in the future. After eating a wonderful lunch with our friends on a wharf near Englewood, we said our goodbyes and were on our way to our apartment on Sanibel Island. I wondered, as we drove south, how the “Sacred Drum Circle” event was going which began at 4:00 in the Meditation Garden. This was such a diversified, eclectic, loving, honoring, inspiring congregation that serves the area of Venice along with the world through its web services. I invite you to visit their site (http://veniceunity.com/) perhaps to receive inspiration as you listen to the webcast of previous services and read their vision and belief statements.
I have read and pondered often in the past decade how congregations can break through the barriers from the old so-called “Christian era” period to what is now called the post-Christian era. It is sad to see continual decline and closures of what a few years ago were vibrant, energetic congregations. We have become stuck in what I consider to be a narrow, 16th century theology based deeply on 4th Century Creeds. The Unity Church of Venice offers a model of going beyond this outdated form of exclusionary thinking. Seeing the presence of Divinity within all peoples, it uses universal teachings and tactics to tastefully make contemporary connections to hungry hearts in awakening people to Inward Consciousness. Granted, its form is obviously not permanent but one which reaches many searching, worried hearts with mediums known and familiar, but so often never unused. God bless their vision and work. The Unity Church indeed is offering a viable model for other groups lost in the morass of despair amid shrinking adherents.