founding member and former Board Member
Prepared for Unity of Kanawha Valley 35th Year Anniversary
October 23, 2022
In the spring of 1886, Myrtle Fillmore seemed to be suffering from failing health. Charles too had health issues and financial ones as well.
There were no amazing modern drugs then. Since childhood, her parents had told her that she inherited tuberculosis from her parents and was born to be ill and suffer and die prematurely. As the mother of two young sons, she was afraid that her life was ending. They attended a lecture in Kansas City by Dr. E.B. Weeks, a student of Emma Curtis Hopkins, one of the foremost metaphysicians of their time.
As she left the lecture that night, one sentence illumined the very depths of her soul: “I am a child of God and therefore I do not inherit sickness.” She took within her this new truth and began talking to her body. Days, weeks, months went by and gradually she saw improvement. She closed herself in a room, with Charles’ blessing, and studied the Four Gospels. “The truth came to me—a great revelation, showing me that I am a child of the one whole and perfect mind, created to express the health that God is.”
By the time she was healed completely, about 1888, Charles had discovered this Truth too, and they were preparing to launch the spiritual work that eventually would be known as Unity School of Christianity. Myrtle celebrated her own healing and wanted to share this with others. She began writing articles and letters to many who requested healing inspiration.
Fast forward to 1990, when the founders’ great-granddaughter Connie Fillmore was asked to
synthesize Unity teachings. She boiled down a century’s worth of spiritual exploration into five
statements which we in Unity call the Five Principles. Connie must have been divinely inspired, because these five statements that appear so simple on the surface can take a lifetime to understand and practice at depth.
We can learn to live in true oneness, accept our own divinity and to focus our thoughts to create our reality. Prayer and meditation keep us in constant contact with the Divine, and we endeavor each day to practice these Truths in our human lives and circumstances.
The Unity Prayer Chaplains are studying these five principles in our monthly trainings. These
principles have been passed along through the 35 years that Unity of Kanawha Valley has been in existence. We would like to share a copy with each of you today.
Today on our 35th year from our first meeting on Sunday, October 23, 1987, on the third floor of the YWCA downtown, I want to acknowledge the founders of Unity of Kanawha Valley Church: Janet and John Mani, Sharon Mayes and Charlie Ware and Patricia and Kurt Olmosk. In June 1987, these three couples were friends and had each experienced attending a Unity church. They invited others to join them in forming a Steering Committee: Carmen and Rigo Vega, Rich and Karen Hopkins, Faye and Charlie McComas, and Joan and Jack Moss. This was the beginning of bringing Unity to Charleston.
Their first task was to locate a sponsor church which became Unity of Roanoke Valley in Roanoke, Virginia. The two pastors there were Alan and Kathryn Rowbotham. They served as UKV’s sponsors through the process of becoming a Unity church, spoke here on Sundays and offered advice.
The Steering Committee mailed out invitations to friends. At that time, there was a newsletter circulating in the community on wellness and spirituality and many were on that mailing list.
After renting the space upstairs at the YWCA, the group held its first service on a Sunday evening. Eighty-five people attended. I was sitting on the front row!
Each Sunday, members of UKV brought the meeting room to life each week. Members carried in the coffee, the books for the bookstore, the keyboard and songbooks, set up the chairs, made the coffee and then took it all down and cleaned it all up.
After some time of calling and inviting ministers or Licensed Unity Teachers to speak each
Sunday, the group applied to the Association of Unity Churches to become a church. In 1988, we interviewed and hired a full time minister who had just graduated from Unity School of Christianity, Rev. Greg Wissman. We switched the service to 11 a.m.
Among the 51 charter members, you may know: Ruth Davis, Peg Garrett, Rich and Karen
Hopkins, Sharon Mullins, Carmen and Rigo Vega, Joan Wysong and Susan Yancey.
When the YWCA served us notice that they wanted to use the upstairs space themselves, we found a lovely home at 1030 Bridge Road.
Some members feared that in the move we would lose members, but we actually gained some. By 1993, we had to find Sunday speakers again until we hired an experienced interim Unity
minister, Rev. Lois Webb from Kansas. She brought stability and experience to the group and improved communication among the members. It was through her leadership and perseverance in researching the available sites in town that we had the courage to move forward to purchasing our own church! She served as liaison to keep the membership and the board informed during each step of the process.
Again, there was much discussion about whether we could afford to buy a church. The best offer came from the Unitarian Universalist congregation. Although their A frame church building at 3102 Blaine Boulevard in North Charleston was valued at $60,000, we were able to purchase it for $48,000.
On a beautiful August afternoon in 1994, the two church boards met at the new Unitarian church
on Kanawha Boulevard where they signed the deed. After the signing ceremony, Rev. Webb and Unity’s Board members drove straight to Blaine Boulevard to admire their new church home. When we arrived, we found two of the engineers and their wives who helped construct the building still there, touching up the paint on the steps, replacing light bulbs, and making sure everything was in order for the new owners of the church they had built and loved so much.
The next year, Unity of Kanawha Valley began a ministerial search. Among others, the Board brought Woody, Pam and their son Doug Hawley (who was 12) to interview. Woody had just completed two years of ministerial training at Unity Village. After that weekend, the three of them “knew” this was their church. When the members agreed, Woody was hired in August 1995 and the whole family moved to Charleston.
Woody served the church for five years before his death in 2000. His gentle spirit worked spiritual wonders with the members and with the greater community. Using his wonderful carpentry skills, Woody led the remodeling of the sanctuary and the upgraded many of the building’s systems. During this time, a new piano was purchased (our first fundraiser), wonderful musicians were hired (including Ron Sowell and Jack Kennedy), the monthly coffeehouse was started and the membership grew.
In 1999, Woody began experiencing pain in his legs that eventually led his doctors to diagnose stage 4 lung cancer. During his brief illness, the Association of Unity Churches gave financial and moral support. They recommended an interim minister, Rev. Donna Unfreid, to serve the group during Woody’s final days and during the grieving process.
The members met their goal of paying off the church mortgage (accomplished in 7 years!) before the next minister, Rev. Brenda Windell, was hired. Pam Hippler was hired as church secretary. Thankfully, she continues to serve UKV as Administrative Director.
In 2004, after bringing many Sunday lessons to the congregation, Rev. Sky Kershner, D. Min., was hired as pastoral leader. Bringing his long history as an ordained United Methodist minister, holding a Master’s degree in Social Work and leading the Kanawha Pastoral Counseling Center, Sky incorporated the teachings of Unity. The congregation has grown under his leadership and Sky has been our longest serving minister.
2009 - August Board President Matt Schwartz developed a business plan for the church to relocate to the property known as the South Hills Presbyterian Church at 804 Myrtle Road to Ed Rugley, business manager for Kanawha Presbytery.
2009 November 11 - UKV members and Rev. Sky decided to move forward with the purchase, though repairs were needed. The deed to 804 Myrtle Road was signed by the following members of the Board of Trustees: Ruth Davis, Marianne Gettman, Karen Sylvester, Matthew Schwartz, Linda Austin and Judy Chapman for $250,000.
This Myrtle Road property is an historic stone structure built in 1902 with an addition built in 1955 with beautiful stained glass windows. It was built before Bridge Road was paved and the South Side Bridge was constructed. Stones were quarried on Davis Creek and hauled over mud roads on horse drawn wagons.
2010 March 7 - First service was held at 804 Myrtle Road after weeks of repairs and renovation by members, congregants and service personnel.
2014 - Rev. Sky reached out to the Mountaineer Montessori School who he knew were looking for a place to expand their grade school location on MacCorkle Avenue to extend their educational mission to seventh and eighth grade students. He brought them to the church for a tour and negotiations began. A lease was signed on June 17 by the UKV Board of Trustees and Mountaineer Montessori Middle School leaders for use of the downstairs and outdoor access to the Myrtle Road church property by teachers and students.
2014 - Gutters were cleaned.
2014 - We celebrated the 10 year service anniversary of Rev. Sky Kershner as spiritual leader with
a booklet of appreciation, testimonials and photos. He was honored with gifts and commemorative
2014-2015 - The Woody Hawley Concert Series was on hiatus.
2015 -2016 - The Woody Hawley Concert Series continued at the Clay Center’s Walker Theater
with some new organizational assistance in marketing and management by a committee of musicians and patrons which includes UKV’s Board of Trustees. The Series is sponsored by Unity of Kanawha Valley church.
2015 April 19 - After renting the site to several ministers, the sale of 3102 Blaine Boulevard
property was completed for $55,000. Purchasers were Pastor Estella Nappier and her husband Howard Nappier of the Church of Deliverance in St. Albans, which had recently been destroyed by arsonists. Member Greg Thaxton offered his time and experience to check on the Blaine property as the renting minister was preparing to vacate. He reviewed areas of the structure that were concerning and was present as David Gettman and Sharon Mullins, church officers, showed the church to the prospective buyers. He answered questions about the structure and recommended legal help to finalize the contract.
2017 June 17 – 2019 - Mountaineer Montessori Middle School leaders extended their contract. The school used the downstairs level of the church during weekdays for $1,000 per month. The school partnered with the church for major physical upgrades to the Activity Room for use by the school.
2018 - Water Diversion Project When the Board was ready to address the water problems at
Myrtle Road, Greg Thaxton, UKV member and project manager at the Army National Guard, became the point person to lead the process. He recommended a colleague to bid on the project, kept us up to date on developments and the change of plans, and followed the project to the final stages. This was a very complex project which required a skilled contractor and workers when mid-project, rocks were discovered as filler under the front yard soil. Greg’s expertise helped settle the final bill by scrutinizing the charges. Cost: $32,000. The integrity of this building rested on solving the problem of water leaking into the church through the foundation and from runoff from the roof. Greg’s leadership preserved this church for many years to come.
2018 - Barbie Dallmann introduced Quick Books to the board which became our financial program. She trained Pam Hippler and supervises the church finances as Board treasurer.
2018 - Patty Richmond, Board of Trustees member, provided financial support to needed upgrades and repairs. New gutters were needed to divert rain water from the foundation.
2018 - Patty Richmond recruited Ruth Davis and Gerie Ann Selbe to assist in handling the
design and installation of a new stained glass panel in the sanctuary. They contacted a local designer and nurtured the project to completion. Amanda’s Stained Glass was selected to carry through the project that was initiated in 2011 with the previous glass studio owner.
2018 September 24 - Friends of the Windows Project Congregants have long wanted to improve the protective layer of the stained glass windows in the sanctuary. Rev. Sky created a plan to have each of the windows adopted by congregation members to cover the costs. $35,000 is needed to repair and protect the windows. The campaign was successful and Maria Young of the Gazette-Mail wrote a feature article in a Sunday newspaper using color photos.
2018 October 21 - A dedication ceremony was held to dedicate the Peace Pole and the stained
glass windows, with a potluck luncheon afterwards.
2018 December - We are celebrating the generosity of our membership for contributions to make
significant improvements: new covers on the activity room chairs, major upgrades to the audio-visual system, and beautification of the stained glass windows.
2018 March 22 - Services are being broadcast online through Facebook and Zoom during the
closure of non-essential businesses due to the novel Coronavirus.
2019 - Thank you to Rich Hopkins who has been instrumental in creating the technology solutions
to make online viewing of our services possible. Our use of the Zoom application has made viewing by out of state and home viewing possible. Barbie applied for and received a technology grant which facilitated some of these innovations.
2022 - Renovation of the church manse was begun, resulting in attracting its rental by a family.
Barbie led this effort, along with dedicated volunteers.
2022 - A developing private school, Vandalia Community School, has rented our downstairs space during weekdays.