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Unity of Sedona
About Unity of Sedona
Unity of Sedona is a New Age spiritual center, New Thought church, and energy vortex featuring sacred services, workshops, a labyrinth, psychics, concerts, spiritual gatherings, and a metaphysical bookstore and gift shop. Located in Sedona, Arizona, one of the most beautiful places on the planet and also unofficially known as the New Age capital of the world, Unity of Sedona serves as a spiritual hub for spiritual travelers (students and teachers) on the path to their remembrance that peace is the natural state of being that arises in those who choose Love as their identity.
A Light in the Desert - By Joe Engel
In the early days of aviation, the US built a path of light towers across the country from coast to coast. Air mail pilots became able to navigate safely in the dark. This was a needed visual measure, especially across the western desert, where only a few random lights could be seen, and identifiable cities were great distances apart.
Gradually, the light beacons fell out of use but many in the desert remained operable well into the 50's and early 60's. Some few remain standing today as museums in New Mexico and Nebraska.
About the time they were dismantling or decommissioning the beacon lights, a new kind of light was birthed in the desert town of Sedona, Arizona. Sedona, with its bright red cliffs and cascading stream, was already known as a beautiful western location for movies, tourists, and personal exploration. But a group of its residents joined in a cooperative spiritual venture and built Unity of Sedona, which became a new kind of Light in The Desert.
The metaphysical light voltage was raised beyond beacon energy when Unity of Sedona acquired a new spiritual leader in 2011. Michael Mirdad, already an eminent spiritual teacher, author, lecturer, scholar, counselor, was asked by the attendees at Unity to move to Sedona from his home-base in the Pacific Northwest. Adding to vast repertoire of teaching, Michael is student/teacher of A COURSE IN MIRACLES and leads workshops and services at Unity as well as nation-wide.
Similar in a way, to the air-mail path of light, the light of Unity of Sedona is now spread beyond the desert, to help those traveling over unfamiliar territory to find a way home. The well-trained chaplains at Unity offer prayer, spiritual counselling, and hands-on healing. Light is clearly needed by all—especially in these times—in order to navigate through the darker parts of life—unsure which direction to turn.
Unity of Sedona is an incredible metaphysical and spiritual center that serves Sedona residents, tourists, and truth seekers from around the globe. Its members include a cross-section of prominent New Age therapists, body workers, and spiritual healers, whose work promotes Sedona's planet-wide reputation as a major spiritual center. Information on the variety and quality of professional advice and services can be found on their website or in their incredible bookstore. Their sacred services are at 9:30am and 12:00pm. Visitors are welcome and appreciated.
Unity of Sedona's Spiritual Leader
1970-1977: Rev. Dale Batesole was a Unity minister who lived in Scottsdale, Arizona but made frequent trips to Sedona to teach classes about a form of psycho-cybernetics. He loved Sedona and dreamed of establishing a Unity church there. Dale was charismatic, spiritually evolved and highly motivated, but the central church in Phoenix saw his destiny in Flagstaff. They did not believe that Sedona was large enough to develop a congregation.
Travelling to where the church headquarters directed him, Dale rented a space in Flagstaff and announced his arrival to the town. No matter how marvelous his teachings nor how hard he persevered, attendance was poor on Sundays. Most of the congregants were driving up from Sedona. Dale again tried to convince the headquarters that Sedona wanted, needed, and would support a Unity Church. Approval and financial assistance were denied.
Dale felt guided to use his own money to establish a church in Sedona. He contacted a realtor, Mary Lou Keller, to look for a suitable property, but the available facilities were either too small or too expensive. As they were discussing the situation, Mary Lou felt called to offer the use of her office on Sundays free of charge, and thus Unity of Sedona was founded in November, 1971.
Within three months, the real estate office was filled to capacity, usually fifty or more, every Sunday. The elders from Phoenix Unity came to Sedona to observe that which they said couldn’t be done. They gave Dale the money to rent a building on Hwy89A at the base of Airport Road, for a short period, untl a larger, more permanent building was found on Deer Trail Drive1.
This property was built in 1955 by Professor Belva Horvath, an internationally known sculptor and painter who left Budapest in 1943, fleeing the Nazis who had bombed and burned much of his art. He came to America in 1949, became a professor at the University of Dayton in Ohio and spent part of each year in Sedona, Arizona. Professor Horvath and his wife, Josephine, built the structure to serve as their private home and art studio from May to December each year. They designed the brownstone home with a high-pointed cupola and made some of the furnishings, including a large hand-forged iron chandelier incorporating the twelve signs of the zodiac.
Poor health motivated the Horvaths to move to Florida in his later years and the house was sold to Anne and Harvey Siegmans. They in turn sold it to Unity of Sedona in 1972, with Reverend Dale Batesole as the minister. The first Unity services held at the Deer Trail Drive location were conducted on Sunday, September 30, 1972.
1978-1982: Rev. Jack Hamilton took over when Reverend Batesole accepted a ministry at a much larger church in Palm Springs, California.
1983-1991: Rev. Corrine Hamilton, Jack’s wife, officially became the minister when she and Jack divorced. She later married Leslie Marquette who (although not a Unity minister), also presented some of the Sunday talks. Unfortunately, Corrine developed breast cancer and passed away.
1991-1994: Rev. Leslie Marquette assumed the duties of Corrine and decided to sever the church’s connection with the Association of Unity Churches (AUC) and changed the name of the church to the “Church of Today” (to emulate a large Unity Church in Warren, Michigan). Leslie appointed a new Board of Trustees and moved into the upstairs room of the second building on the property. By now Sunday attendance was only averaging 35 people, and the church was in serious financial difficulty. Then Leslie told the congregation that he had not been paid a salary in five years, which led him to proposing the sale of the church to the local Science of Mind church for his back wages. He also suggested that any remaining balance would go into a trust fund that he, himself, would preside over, which created a lot of anger and mistrust. Therefore, a large number of current and past Unity Members organized themselves in opposition to this plan and an Association of Unity Churches attorney came in to help resolve the situation. The result was that Leslie Marquette and his Board resigned.
1994-1996: Rev. Max Lafser came to the rescue of Unity of Sedona. He was a former president of AUC and was a very charismatic speaker who rapidly built up the membership with his inspiring talks. Church finances grew healthy enough that the church could pay off the mortgage. Max stayed almost three years and then accepted an offer from a much larger church in Walnut Creek, California.
1997-1999: Revs. Mark and Helen Pope were hired as co-ministers when Max Lafser departed. Helen had a Science of Mind background and both Mark and Helen were ordained Unity Ministers. Mark was well liked and admired. His talks were thought-provoking, rich with material, and sprinkled with lots of funny stories. He and his wife Helen, spoke alternate Sundays. She was very authentic and “walked the talk.” Helen died suddenly from heart complications. Mark Pope was with Unity of Sedona for almost three years. During his time with Unity Church of Sedona, Mark Pope initiated its first Chaplain Program. Dr. Jack Baldwin and Jeannette Suggs were two of these original Chaplains and Nonda Kellogg chaired the Prayer Ministry. Church attendance was at a peak when Mark left and the church savings account was increasing every month.
2000-2003: Rev’s. Geoffrey and Anne Marie Davis were hired as new ministers. They had gone to ministerial school together and had served as ministers in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Under their leadership the church grew and prospered. They started the “Unity and All That Jazz” program on Wednesday nights and A Course in Miracles on Thursday evenings, which helped the Membership to continue to grow. The attendance on Sunday’s grew to the level that the sanctuary was filled beyond capacity.
Geoffrey and Ann Marie realized that the church needed to expand into a much larger facility to serve the church family and the community at large. But some controversy ensued when, without Board approval, a down payment was made on approximately four acres on Thunder Mountain Road. The price of the land was $730,000. Architects were hired and a church-sponsored fundraising banquet was held, but the pledges and tithes fell short of expectations. Less than a year after spending $130,000, the payment on the land came due and it could not be met—thus the property and vision were lost. The Board decided to fire the ministers and did so without consulting the Members. Geoffrey and Ann Marie were loved by so many of their congregants, the backlash of their departure ended with the resignation of the Board Members who asked them to leave.
2003-2005: Rev. Marylou Palmer was hired as the “Interim Minister” to help create healing and a possible new direction. She was well-liked by most attendees but due to the behaviors she witnessed within the various sets of the Board of Trustees, and knowing a few low points in the history at Unity Church of Sedona, she refused to even consider staying on in a permanent position. Several congregants stepped forward, to help keep things going while the church was without a minister.
2005-2006: Rev. Sandra Keep came in as the next hired minister. Once again, Unity of Sedona learned the hard way to be very present and mindful when selecting a minister. Sandra left after a very tumultuous time as minister and dealing with several issues that could not be resolved.
2007-2010: Mark Pope returned to Unity Church of Sedona, and this time, , he initiated one of the many recovery groups that now use the property for their meetings. Once again, however, he decided to leave, announcing that he was tired and wanted to go in a new direction. His sudden departure caused a great deal of upheaval between himself, the Members, and the Board. So Unity of Sedona spent another couple of years without a minister. The difference this time was that its Board decided to not replace the minister right away (feeling too traumatized by several previous incidents of the past), and instead chose to have a few interim ministers and an array of guest speakers.
2010-2011: After more than a year without a minister, it was apparent that Unity of Sedona needed a longer-term leader. The process of finding a new leader began and continued far longer than anyone expected—dragging on for well over a year and exhausting everyone involved. The Board and Minister Selection Committee interviewed a record number of applicants (30+) but could not come to an agreement on any one person, which left the process in a stalemate and added even more agitation between the various committees and Board Members. In the meantime, Unity Worldwide Headquarters made the decision to ask all of its churches to no longer use the word, “Church” in their name. So, late into the year of 2011, Unity Church of Sedona officially changed its name to “Unity of Sedona.”
2011-present: One day, when Unity was hosting one of its many guest speakers—Michael Mirdad—for the Sunday services, it became apparent to several of the Board Members and attendees that he was the one who could take Unity of Sedona to the next level. There were two huge problems, however. The first was that Michael was already an internationally known speaker and was already booked for teaching-tours for the next year. The second problem was that by this time in Unity of Sedona’s history, the Members and attendees had become divided between “traditional” and “progressive” people, which meant the choice of a new minister would not come easy. If they were going to have a traditional church, they would then need a traditional, ordained Unity minister. But if they were going to be a progressive church, they could then invite a non-Unity, but suitable, spiritual leader. So the Board at Unity decided to have a vote of its Members to see which direction (traditional or progressive) they would like to go. The vote ended with over 90% voting for a progressive approach for the future of Unity of Sedona. Therefore, once Michael was able to alter his touring schedule, he was selected as the new Spiritual Leader by the Board of Trustees and the Members. The small minority of people who preferred the traditional approach ended up departing from Unity of Sedona and becoming part of another Unity in the region. But hiring Michael Mirdad as the new Spiritual Leader [for a minimum of a few years] immediately resulted in the attendance in Sunday services rising from 50 people to over 250 people. The number of committed “Members” also grew within one year from 30 to 150 and the mailing list grew from 100 people to 2000 people. Unity of Sedona also became the primary sponsor and creator of one of Sedona’s largest spiritual events ever: “The Sedona 2012 Festival,” which continues as The Sedona Solstice Festival events twice a year.
Beyond: As with any other church with a long history, there have been ups and downs but, the focus remains to be on nurturing the Presence of Christ Consciousnes and holding to the statement, “There is only One True Power in the Universe, God the Good, Omnipotent,” Unity of Sedona will continue to grow and change but is certain to continue in this tradition.
NOTE: The history of Unity of Sedona was mainly written by Marjorie Muro (a long-time attendee and Board Member) but is also a collaboration between several former and current Board Members. Many thanks also to Nonda Kellogg, a member since 1990, who filled in many of the pieces of history.
1. “First Unity Church.” Echoes of Sedona Past, 1999, Mary Lou Keller. ISBN #1-891824-23-6.