The History of Unity San Diego
(Compiled by Neal Macurda)
Five dedicated senior pastors have served or are serving this organization in addition to countless assistants, staff and wonderful volunteers. To them all, this history is dedicated.
The story of Christ Church Unity, San Diego, now known as Unity San Diego, starts with the dream of one man, the founding minister, Robert Stevens. Stevens was born on April 22, 1930 in Alhambra, California. His father was a self-employed contractor. He grew up in Huntington Park and South Gate, California with his two younger sisters Frankie and Jody. The family were members of the Christian Church, (Disciples of Christ). One Easter night, when in his last year of high school, Bob and his mother attended a metaphysical church. This activity lived in his memory and would later effect his life work. After high school he attended USC and earned a degree in psychology. He then served 21 months in the army, where after basic training he became a Chaplain's assistant. After the service he was accepted in ministerial school, where he studied for three years. He became an assistant minister in a Christian Church in South Gate where he was ordained on Thanksgiving Day 1955 by the Disciples of Christ. In 1958 Bob became the minister of his own Christian Church in Huntington Park and soon began his radio ministry ("FAITH FOR TODAY") which emanated from XEMO and covered most of Southern California. The radio program was based on the Unity publication, The Daily Word.
In response to a group of radio listeners in San Diego, Stevens visited San Diego in 1960 and taught classes in the La Jolla area to a group of about 50 people. During the next six months Bob visited San Diego about once a month. During this period, he met Reverend Wallace Walther and together they planned the first service of our church. This service with 45 in attendance, took place in what was then the East San Diego Masonic Lodge (at the time located on Fairmont Avenue just south of University) on the first Sunday of 1961. Classes were held in a little house that Bob rented on Iowa Street. The first class had three students, the collection being $3.00. The mid-week classes were held in Tifereth Israel Synagogue. Like Robert Schuller, Bob went house to house in the area inviting the un-churched to join him in building his new church.
In June of 1961 a "church for Rent" was found for $265.00 a month from Guarantee Chevrolet. This "church for rent" is what is now known as the "Marlborough Church" and there are still a few of our current members remember making this building their church home. In March of 1965 this was no longer available and temporary facilities were found in a building condemned by the state for freeway construction at 3303 University. On Thanksgiving Day 1964, nine years after his ordination, the ground that our present buildings stand on was dedicated. On November 21, 1965 the first service was held in what is now Wrigley Hall. This building is named in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Francis Wrigley, who were generous supporters of the church for many years. In September 1967, the church was affiliated with the Unity School of Christianity. On the seventh anniversary, January 1968, ground was broken for the Sanctuary. On June 10, 1968, Stevens was ordained in the Unity movement by Lowell Fillmore in a ceremony at Unity Village. The new sanctuary was dedicated on November 24,1968. The nineteen rank pipe organ was installed by Easter 1969. The building was paid off at that time. January of 1969 the name of the church was changed to Christ Church Unity. Dr. Ernest Wilson spoke at the eighth anniversary party. In April 1969, the church for the purpose of establishing a Retreat Center for the Unity Movement purchased the apartment house next door. G. Arthur Hammons, who was assisted financially by the church during his studies at Unity School was ordained and installed as assistant pastor on June 29, 1969. On September 6, 1970, Arthur became the pastor of a satellite church, (now on it's own) Christ Church Unity of El Cajon. Membership at the beginning was dual, (e.g.) you automatically belonged to both churches.
During this period of great expansion, the church grew not only in a physical sense but in consciousness also; they supported numerous students at Unity School. Help was sent monthly to Rev. Rodgers in starting the first Unity work in Australia. In retrospect, the key to success seems to be that nothing was undertaken until the money was manifest. Also nothing was done that was not done with class. This was to be the most beautiful Unity Church in the world. (Some think that it is). When a need was developed, funds were also developed, and volunteer help found, if possible, to do much of the labor. The Altar Guild (later Women's Fellowship) would develop some programs and fund a project. The Men's club did likewise, many times providing the labor to get the parking lot just right, or lay tiles on the roof, paint the apartment house etc. The congregation worked together and supported each other to the glory of God and Unity Church.
A greater need for expansion came as the prayer ministry grew in scope and provided 24-hour telephone prayer help patterned somewhat after Silent Unity. What else could be built on the property to serve our needs? A six story tower building, with the top floor dedicated to prayer work, a chapel on the ground floor, a classroom on the second, counseling center on the third, much needed office space for equipment and workers on the fourth and the church offices on the fifth floors. In addition, we have the finest metaphysical bookstore in the Southwest in the tower lobby. This dream was developed as the major project of the seventies. During these years of development Bob also served as president of the Association of Unity Churches.
At the same time Bob Stevens developed his dream of a retreat and classes in Descanso, a mountainous area some 50 miles east of San Diego. (This facility was destroyed by fire and later sold.) As this work developed, it became apparent that Bob was working much too hard at keeping all of the activities going. His dream was manifested in so many rich ways that he shocked his congregation with the announcement on Easter Sunday, 1980 that he was retiring from being the spiritual leader of Christ Church Unity - San Diego. At this event he introduced Rev. V. Stanford Hampson who was to take his place. Rev. Stevens reorganized the ownership of the church, and gave the property to the congregation. (He taught for a number of years at his teaching center at First and Thorn Streets in San Diego. This facility has been sold and Bob made his home for a time in Mexico, McAllen, Texas, Prescott, Arizona and most recently, Fallbrook, California.) The congregation elected a Board of Directors to manage the assets and direct the business of the church. Stan Hampson was to be the senior pastor of the newly organized church. Stan brought with him a background of 20 years of successful churches, the most recent being that of Hawaii. (Stan hired as his secretary Margaret Imms. Later the church assisted her while she attended Unity Ministerial School. She then served for 30 years as senior minister at Laguna Hills Community Unity Church as Rev. Margaret Melanie. And has now returned to be a member of our church again) Stan and his lovely wife Helen led the church through the changes necessary to our growth. Later Stan moved on to a wonderful work in Palo Alto and served as president of the Association of Unity Churches. Rev. Rene Pare who continued to help us grow through the changes followed Stan. Rene retired from service at the Unity church in Wilmington, North Carolina. Rev. William Cameron was then hired to be the senior pastor and to help us continue with our growth experiences. Bill later served at and retired from Miami Unity on the Bay in Florida.
In January of 1988, a young man with a vision for the future growth of this dynamic congregation was called to serve as senior pastor of Christ Church Unity - San Diego. He visualizes for the organization a bright future. He sees the church expanding by serving the needs of the community as well as those who are seeking the Truth. Rev. Blair Tabor and his wonderful family have brought a sense of love and well being to this congregation. He has served with distinction the community we call Unity San Diego for over twenty-nine years with love and compassion. Great dreams are being developed for expansion of the activities of the church.
In the community, Christ Church Unity has helped create many different activities. Unity San Diego was the sponsor of a neighborhood cleanup several times. We have work as a part of the Inter-Faith Housing Network to provide temporary shelter for the homeless. Each year we provide hundreds of stuffed toys to children in San Diego and Tijuana. Volunteers from our church work in the Rolling Reader program at Marshall Elementary School. Our board of directors was instrumental in helping Colina del Sol City Park re-introduce its Halloween carnival. An annual “Circulation Day” provides free household items to the neighborhood. We participate with Feeding America to provide food distribution to our neighbors each month.
With such a heritage of fine, inspired leadership, such a wonderful plant in "Americas Finest City", and the absolutely wonderful congregation that has supported this terrific Unity work, greater dreams will be dreamed, and we will soar to new heights of accomplishment. We bless all those who have so faithfully served in the past, and know that the future is indeed bright with new vistas as we move into our fifty third year.
ORIGINALLY, THE PRECEDING WAS PREPARED FOR THE 1990 CEP PARTICIPANTS AT CEP IN THE WEST AT SAN DIEGO AND DRAWN FROM PREVIOUS ARTICLES IN "FAITH FOR TODAY," PARTICULARLY AN ARTICLE BY JIM HONEY, LONG TIME MEMBERS CONTRIBUTED INFORMATION, AND PERSONAL MEMORIES FILLED IN THE GAPS. AS IN ANY ARTICLE LIKE THIS SPACE DICTATES THE NECESSITY OF LEAVING OUT THE NAMES OF THE MANY WHO HAVE MADE THIS ORGANIZATION THE SUCCESS THAT IT IS. REV BLAIR ASKED THAT THE ARTICLE BE PUBLISHED FOR ALL OF OUR FAITHFUL READERS. GOD BLESS, NEAL MACURDA.