Unity of Buffalo: The Story of Our 70 Years of Service and Success
“Our one desire is that this ministry be a blessing to the whole community.”
- Rev. Lillian Matthews, Unity of Buffalo Founding Minister
On June 22, 2014 Unity of Buffalo celebrated its 70th anniversary as a Unity ministry in Buffalo, New York.
There are historical records of New Thought study groups meeting in Buffalo dating back to the 1920s and ‘30s. The earliest documented leader of our church was Mrs. Ella Richards according to newspaper accounts in 1930. She stayed only a short time and several leaders followed through the 1930s.
In July 1941, Rev. Lillian Matthews came to Buffalo and assumed leadership of one of the Unity groups that existed at the time. The group incorporated on June 21, 1944 under the name, “Unity Center of Practical Christianity.” At that time, we were one of only 33 Unity churches in the world.
In May 1948 a merger occurred with the Buffalo Unity Society to join with our church. This new church met in various rented locations downtown Buffalo over the years. One of the locations we stayed the longest was the Statler Hotel where Sunday services were regularly held in the Chinese room.
As the church community grew, there was a desire among the congregants to have a more permanent church home. Church members began looking at various locations around the city and as it turned out, the property at 1243 Delaware Avenue was the only vacant lot on Delaware Avenue. It had previously been a mansion that had burned down. The owner didn’t have the heart to re-build at that location but he said he was really pleased to know that the land would be used for a church. So in 1953, the Unity congregation purchased the vacant lot at 1243 Delaware Avenue.
In September 1957 ground was broken and only six months later the building dedication was held on February 23, 1958. (Among those who spoke at the dedication was Eric Butterworth, one of Unity’s most famous ministers and writers.) The entire building project was funded by “faith bonds” from the congregation, which were completely repaid within 13 years.
Upon her retirement in 1980, Rev. Lillian Matthews wrote to the congregation: “The Unity church continues to be an ever increasing power for good in this community.”
In 1980, Rev. Sue Smith (Allaurah Olson) was appointed our new minister. During the 20 years of Rev. Smith’s ministry, the congregation grew and many new programs were developed. From 1983 – 1990, the Unity in Prayer ministry (a telephone ministry) was headed up by Elsie Harnish at our church. Elsie would go on to become an ordained Unity minister and start her own ministry in Tonawanda, New York. In 1983 Rev. Smith started a weekly radio program, “Pathways of Light” which was an outreach ministry that continued for 16 years.
In 1991, Marge Reid was named an Assistant to the Minister and served our ministry for a number of years through the 1990s. She also became an ordained Unity minister and went on to found her own ministry in West Seneca, New York, A Center for Unlimited Possibilities.
In the 1990s, we purchased the vacant property between our parking lot and Linwood Avenue. It was initially referred to as our Green Space and is now our Unity Peace Park.
On June 4, 1994 we celebrated the 50th anniversary of our ministry with a special luncheon at The Park Lane Restaurant and a Sunday service with Unity’s poet laureate, James Dillet Freeman, as our special guest.
Rev. Sue Smith (Allaurah Olson) retired in the year 2000.
Rev. Brunetta Winthers-Kaye served our ministry in 2000-01. In 2001-02 we were also blessed to be served by Rev. Dennis Skiles as an interim minister, and then for a few months after that, Edward O’Keefe and Romella Hart-O’Keefe served as our “interim-interim” ministers. Ed, Romella and Steve Thoren started our Unity Prayer Chaplains program which continues today.
On February 1, 2002, Rev. Mary E. Masters came to Buffalo and began her ministry with our church as the senior minister. Since that time there has been many celebrations and mile-markers noted: the 50th anniversary of our building dedication, the 65th and 70th anniversaries of our ministry, and naming Rev. Allaurah Olson (Sue Smith) our Minister Emerita on July 27, 2003. A Grand Opening and Dedication of the labyrinth on our Unity Peace Park was held on June 2, 2012.
Along the way, our ministry has engaged the congregation with the Appreciative Inquiry process and participation in the three-year Transformation Experience (TE) pilot project with Unity Worldwide Ministries. The TE program is a research-based holistic approach to developing a thriving ministry. It focuses on raising consciousness of the congregation, shifting the culture from minister-centric to community-centric, building authentic relationships, and developing well-functioning church systems and processes. Today Unity of Buffalo continues to be “a blessing to the whole community, an ever increasing power for good in this community” as a Unity ministry offering a positive, practical approach to Christianity and serving as a spiritual and cultural arts center for Western New York.