A Little History Lesson About UCC
Over a half-century ago, in 1941, the time had come for a great idea to unfold! The Reverend Louise Beaty, dynamic leader of the original large Unity Church in St. Petersburg, Florida (then a well-known voice in area radio), responded to demand by starting a Unity study group at the Chamber of Commerce Building on Cleveland Street in downtown Clearwater. In 1955, Louise Beaty invited a new group leader: the wise and loving Reverend Mary Powell (who had been a student in classes at Unity Village in the 1930s, taught personally by Charles Fillmore, Co-founder of the Unity Movement). In 1956, a Unity Center was opened on N. Osceola Avenue (chartered in 1958). The Reverend Carolyn Mohn (who would later found Unity Church of New Port Richey, Florida) assisted in the growing ministry in Clearwater.
By 1960, the Church had moved to East Turner Street, where an existing church building had been purchased. The building was soon found to be too small and was sold to the local Serenity Club when new construction at the present site on Nursery Road was complete. The first service was held here in January 1972; Mary Powell served as Associate Minister to The Reverend Howard Bradford, who retired early in 1977. Then, leadership was assumed by The Reverend Nicholas Griffin, with Mary Powell continuing as Associate Minister. Much-desired additions were made to the Church in 1978, doubling the size of the fellowship Hall and adding office and classroom space and hall restrooms.
In 1981, after The Reverend Griffin left to serve other Unity field ministries, The Reverends Leddy Elaine and Randolph Schmelig (their little boy, Dieter, was eight years old at the time) accepted the call (by overwhelming majority vote) of our Board and membership to serve as Co-Ministers here. Mary Powell graciously remained as our Minister Emeritus, and soon The Reverend Dell deChant joined us as Assistant Minister. (Dell had worked with the team at Unity Christ Church in St. Petersburg 1979-1981). In 1985, Randolph Schmelig remarried and pioneered Unity of Palm Harbor (he is now Minister of First Unity Church, St. Louis, Missouri). Leddy Elaine (who later that year became Mrs. L. Russell Hammock, Jr.) continued as our Minister. In 1988, Dell deChant was named our Associate Minister, and The Reverend Sharon Connors (then Frisby) also served as our Assistant/Associate Minister in 1988-89. (Dell is now the Assistant Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of South Florida in Tampa.)
Our Church became debt-free in the spring of 1981 when Leddy Hammock first came to us, except for manse property acquired nearby in 1984, when the old manse on the northeast corner of the grounds was sold and removed to make way for additional parking. Over a million dollars’ worth of improvements were added over the next twenty-three years, without fund raising.
By 1989, the Youth Ministry wing had been completed and paid for in full. The following year, the parking lot was redesigned and resurfaced.
For Easter Sunday in 1990-1994, the Church leased Ruth Eckerd Hall for Easter service, welcoming as many as 1800 worshipers.
In November, 1991, we honored our Founding Minister, Mary Powell, along with Caroline Mohn, and all of our longtime Unity members, celebrating the presence of “50 years of Unity in Clearwater!” since the first Unity group began downtown in 1941.
In 1992, we hosted the grand opening of the Unity-Progressive Theological Seminary. In 1995, the Emma Curtis Hopkins College (the first state-approved religious college of its kind) began classes here. We brought our Easter Services back “home,” since volunteers had cleared the shores of “Peace Pond” for our first outdoor Sunrise Service.
In 1997, the Unity-Progressive Council higher educational programs merged under the name: The Emma Curtis Hopkins College and Theological Seminary (after the mother of the New Thought Movement). That year, also, we completely remodeled the children’s atrium restrooms and formally changed the name of our church to Unity Church of Clearwater. The Reverend Dieter Randolph (ordained in 1995 by the Unity-Progressive Council) served on our Staff as Associate Minister (1995-2003) before starting a career in the field of internet website design.
In May of 2003, an electrical fire resulted in our building being completely gutted. For about nineteen months, our staff worked in makeshift office space in the garage of the church-owned home nearby where the minister and her family continue to live. For the first few months, services were held on Sunday afternoons at the Unitarian Universalist Church across the street, where our gracious neighbors also hosted our weekday activities. A large tent was set up near the Unity Cottage on the church grounds, where week after week, rain or shine, in summer heat or winter chill, our hard working and dedicated volunteers set up and stored away chairs and sound equipment for our worship services, while the building was being completely renovated. Through the months, several volunteers helped with the redesign and construction, until our building was once again ready for use. Not only did our congregation survive these challenging times, but it grew stronger in many wonderful ways. At last, the first services in the restored building were held at the end of the summer of 2004. In 2005, the parking lot was resurfaced.
In 2006, three new classrooms were completed inside the existing Rainbow Room. In the 50th year since Unity was legally chartered as a church in 1958, our volunteers completed the prayer labyrinth at the north side of our sanctuary to commemorate the occasion.