The Rev. Barbara Winter Martin never dreamed when she and her husband, Stephen, moved to Grandview Estates in Sartell, they would be living just two miles from their future church site.
They moved from St. Louis Park to Sartell three years ago. About five years ago, they had purchased a small building near Lake George in St. Cloud as a site for their church, Unity Spiritual Center of Central Minnesota. Many years ago, that white stucco building once housed the Christian Science church.
Winter Martin commuted from St. Louis Park to St. Cloud for two years to the church. The commute was necessary because they were trying to sell their St. Louis Park home in a time that was far from ideal for home sales.
It was a relief to be living in Sartell, closer to their church site. Then, about three years ago, the chance came up to buy the facility formerly owned by Celebration Lutheran Church, which had moved to a new site in north Sartell. Unity Spiritual Center bought the building and moved into it about 18 months ago.
The St. Cloud church building was a small place, far too small for Unity’s congregation of 50 and growing. And there was no room for social occasions, so the new Sartell facility was a godsend.
Now there are about 70 congregants at Unity in Sartell, which holds a weekly Sunday service at 10 a.m., as well as a 7 p.m. Wednesday service for those who cannot make it on Sundays. Many members come from miles around.
Unity Spiritual Center of Central Minnesota is affiliated with Unity Worldwide Ministries, based in Unity Village, Mo., which has about 700 congregations in the United States, including six in the Twin Cities and the one in Sartell. Unity has had its St. Cloud base for 19 years. The Unity movement was founded in 1889 in Kansas City by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore. It started as a healing ministry based on the power of prayer and the power of thoughts for people to create their own realities with a knowledge that God is in every person. Charles Fillmore, incidentally, was born in St. Cloud in 1854. The author of many books, he lived to be 93.
The mission statement of the church, Winter Martin said, is to be a center for “an inclusive community of positive-minded people learning and supporting one another in living healthy, prosperous and meaningful lives.”
Winter Martin said Unity emphasizes inclusiveness because she and members of Unity strongly believe every person is at a different place on their spiritual paths, and the purpose of Unity Center, she said, is to help those people discover and enhance the divinity within them to lead fulfilling lives in all ways.
“We are culturally Christian,” she said. “We consider ourselves spiritually unlimited. Wherever people are on their spiritual paths, they are welcome.”
A typical church service includes a message followed by a guided meditation period and interspersed with music of all kinds – folk, pop, sacred.
“We use music that is uplifting and joyous,” Winter Martin said. “Many of the people in our congregation are very talented, such as Dennis Warner of Clearwater, who is a musician and songwriter.”
The church recently brought on board a music director, widely renowned violinist Cristina Seaborn, who lives in St. Cloud.
Unity is not big on rituals.
“We get very centered on oneness during our meditations,” she said. “The Bible is one of our books, but we interpret it metaphysically, not literally.”
The church also draws heavily upon inspirational and spiritual writers such as Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle and Dr. Phil, plus many others.
After every service there is a sharing fellowship time during which congregants share potluck food, ideas and lots of fun.
A major part of Unity’s mission is the many classes and gatherings it hosts. There are book clubs for men, book clubs for women and book clubs for both. Congregants of Unity spend a lot of time learning in groups. One class Winter Martin is teaching is called “The Lazarus Effect,” which attempts to contact the divinity that is often “hidden” within each person. The class is based on the writings of Mary-Alice and Richard Jafolla. After the new year starts, a course called “Fabulous Prosperity” will begin. The 10-week course is intended to help people learn, by opening up to the power of the divinity in them, to be “prosperous” in all areas of their lives – spiritually, within relationships and financially, too.
“We like wisdom wherever it comes from,” Winter Martin said. “We offer classes and book studies so people can do their own personal spiritual searching. Everyone has their own internal knowing, and they will find their own spiritual path. We help create our world by the beliefs we hold. It’s about coming back to our own power and realizing the divine beings we are.”
Another mission of Unity is to welcome anyone to their church, even if it is only to use their facility for meetings. Many groups, including the Girl Scouts, have met there. Another group is Co-Dependents Anonymous, and Winter Martin is seeking other chemical- or alcohol 12-step-type programs who would like to hold sessions in the church building. The church also welcomes couples who, for whatever reason, do not feel comfortable being married in other churches. Winter Martin will officiate at those marriages within Unity Center, or she welcomes other clergy to do it there, if they choose. She will also perform holy unions for same-sex couples. Winter Martin and Unity members are very proud of an outdoor space they created for outdoor weddings. They raised $15,000 to landscape the area that includes shrubs, flowers and potted plants. Many people, especially younger ones, like to get married outdoors because they derive inspiration and divinity from contact with nature, Winter Martin said.
Unity Spiritual Center also hosts a program for children at 10 a.m. each Sunday, and it has a daycare program for children at that same time.
Winter Martin was born and raised in St. Louis Park. She lived in Modesto, Calif. for 15 years, where she met her husband-to-be. For years in California, she had her own practice as a counselor in a hospital. Back in Minnesota, she was also a chemical-dependency counselor at the Hazleden Treatment Center in Plymouth. She holds a master’s degree in transpersonal psychology from JFK University in California. Her husband, Stephen, owns an at-home web-and-graphic-design business called “Stephen Martin Designs.”
They have three grown children – Stephen Jr. of Reno, Nev.; John of Seattle; and Becky of Modesto. They have four grandchildren.