Our History 1970-2015
Unity is a celebration of the universal spirit which connects every living thing, as well as the past with the present. In order to fully comprehend Unity of Sedona, it is important to reach back from here and now and embrace its history. The reflection we see in the mirror today is the result of a lifetime of experiences. Let us step through that looking glass and come to fully know the church, beginning with its founder, Reverend Dale Batesole.
1970-1977: Rev. Dale Batesole was a Unity minister who lived in Scottsdale, Arizona but made frequent trips to Sedona to teach classes about a form of psycho-cybernetics. He loved Sedona and dreamed of establishing a Unity church here. Dale was charismatic, spiritually evolved and highly motivated, but the central church in Phoenix saw his destiny in Flagstaff. They did not believe that Sedona was large enough to develop a congregation.
So, being a good Unity minister, Dale went where the church headquarters directed him. He rented a space in Flagstaff and announced his arrival to the town. No matter how marvelous his teachings nor how hard he persevered, attendance was poor on Sundays. Most of the congregants were driving up from Sedona. Dale again tried to convince the hierarchy that Sedona wanted, needed, and would support a Unity Church. Approval and financial assistance were denied.
Dale decided to use his own money to follow through with the powerful message he was receiving from Spirit. He drove to Sedona and looked for a place to rent for Sunday services. The realtor, Mary Lou Keller, showed him everything available. The facilities were all too small or too expensive. As Dale and Mary Lou sat in her office ruminating on the problem and awaiting the solution, Mary Lou followed an uncontrollable instinct and offered him the use of her office on Sundays free of charge. Through the generosity of Mary Lou Keller and the determination of Dale Batesole, Unity of Sedona was founded in November, 1971.
Within three months, the real estate office was filled to capacity, usually fifty or more, every Sunday. The elders from Phoenix Unity came to Sedona to observe that which they said couldn’t be done. They could not deny the reality of the creation and gave Dale the money to rent a building on Hwy89A at the base of Airport Road, which was a venue for only a short period. Sedona residents and visitors continued to flock to see and hear the dynamic Reverend Dale Batesole. So it was inevitable that they find a larger, more permanent building. This was to soon be the very same location we have to this day: on Deer Trail Drive.
The new property was originally built in 1955 by a Professor named Belva Horvath. Belva Horvath came to the United States from Budapest. He was an internationally famous sculptor and painter who said that he agreed with Beethoven’s theory saying, “Every real creation is independent and more powerful than the artist himself and returns to the divine through its manifestation.” He left Budapest in 1943, fleeing the Nazis who had bombed and burned much of his art. He came to America in 1949, became a professor at the University of Dayton in Ohio and spent part of each year in Sedona, Arizona. He described his perception of Sedona in a newspaper interview in 1969, “The nicest rock formations I have seen in my life. They change in the sunlight to give you fantastic variations of plastic forms. We see in this mountain different figures- Hungarian sheepherders, kings, queens, red rock and green cypress, the colors actually vibrate.”
Professor Horvath and his wife, Josephine, built the structure, which is currently the Unity property, to serve as their private home and art studio from May to December each year. The professor designed the brownstone home with a high-pointed cupola and made some of the furnishings, including a large hand-forged iron chandelier incorporating the twelve signs of the zodiac.
Poor health motivated the Horvaths to move to Florida in his later years and the house was sold to Anne and Harvey Siegmans. They in turn sold it to Unity Church of Sedona in 1972, with Reverend Dale Batesole as the minister.
The first Unity services held at the Deer Trail Drive location were conducted on Sunday, September 30, 1972 at 11:00am. The local newspaper described the change from private residence to church as follows:
“The buildings and grounds are well-suited for church usage. The spacious entrance hall leads into a large rectangular living room that will serve as a sanctuary and which can later be enlarged by structural remodeling of the house. Other rooms are available for Sunday school and other uses. The lot across the street, which is part of the transfer of property, will serve as a parking area. The guesthouse will probably be used as a parsonage at the outset and may later be headquarters for the Sunday school. The congregation which now numbers approximately 100 persons has grown rapidly in the less than one year it has been in existence. Sunday school classes for children of all ages are offered. Mrs. Elsie Mc Cray is superintendent. Baritone Bert Ciesian is church soloist. Mrs. Lois Binford is organist.”
1978-1982: Rev. Jack Hamilton took over when Reverend Batesole accepted a ministry at a much larger church in Palm Springs, California.
1983-1991: Rev. Corrine Hamilton, Jack’s wife, officially became the minister when she and Jack divorced. She later married Leslie Marquette who (although not a Unity minister), also presented some of the Sunday talks. Unfortunately, Corrine developed breast cancer and passed away.
1991-1994: Rev. Leslie Marquette assumed the duties of Corrine and decided to sever the church’s connection with the Association of Unity Churches (AUC) and changed the name of the church to the “Church of Today” (to emulate a large Unity Church in Warren, Michigan). Leslie appointed a new Board of Trustees and moved into the upstairs room of the second building on the property. By now Sunday attendance was only averaging 35 people, and the church was in serious financial difficulty. Then Leslie told the congregation that he had not been paid a salary in five years, which led him to proposing the sale of the church to the local Science of Mind church for his back wages. He also suggested that any remaining balance would go into a trust fund that he, himself, would preside over, which created a lot of anger and mistrust. Therefore, a large number of current and past Unity Members organized themselves in opposition to this plan and an Association of Unity Churches attorney came in to help resolve the situation. The result was that Leslie Marquette and his Board resigned.
1994-1996: Rev. Max Lafser came to the rescue of Unity Church of Sedona. He was a former president of AUC and was a very charismatic speaker who rapidly built up the membership with his inspiring talks. Church finances grew healthy enough that the church could pay off the mortgage. Max stayed almost three years and then accepted an offer from a much larger church in Walnut Creek, California.
1997-1999: Revs. Mark and Helen Pope were hired as co-ministers when Max Lafser departed. Helen had a Science of Mind background and both Mark and Helen were ordained Unity Ministers. Mark was well liked and admired. His talks were thought-provoking, rich with material, and sprinkled with lots of funny stories. He and his wife Helen, spoke alternate Sundays. She was very authentic and “walked the talk.” Helen died suddenly from heart complications. Later, Mark married Shelton Olson, who had worked as Office Administrator for some time. He then divorced and married a third time.
Mark Pope was with Unity of Sedona for almost three years. During his time with Unity Church of Sedona, Mark Pope initiated its first Chaplain Program. Dr. Jack Baldwin and Jeannette Suggs were two of these original Chaplains and Nonda Kellogg chaired the Prayer Ministry. Church attendance was at a peak when Mark left and the church savings account was increasing every month.
2000-2003: Rev’s. Geoffrey and Anne Marie Davis were hired as new ministers. They had gone to ministerial school together and had served as ministers in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Under their leadership the church grew and prospered. They started the “Unity and All That Jazz” program on Wednesday nights and A Course in Miracles class on Thursday evenings, which helped the Membership to continue to grow. They held several 4-T classes and Ann Marie had several book study classes. The attendance on Sunday’s grew to the level that the sanctuary was filled beyond capacity.
Geoffrey and Ann Marie realized that the church needed to expand into a much larger facility to serve the church family and the community at large. But some controversy ensued when, without Board approval, a down payment was made on approximately 4 acres on Thunder Mountain Road at the intersection of Dry Creek Road. The price of the land was $730,000. Architects were hired and a church-sponsored fundraising banquet was held, but the pledges and tithes fell short of expectations. Less than a year after spending $130,000, the payment on the land came due and it could not be met—thus the property and vision were lost. The Board decided to fire the ministers and did so without consulting the Members. The Davis’ departed when unwarranted gossip began to circulate. Geoffrey and Ann Marie were loved by so many of their congregants, the backlash of their departure ended with the resignation of the Board Members who asked them to leave.
2003-2005: Rev. Marylou Palmer was hired as the “Interim Minister” to help create healing and a possible new direction. She was well-liked by most attendees but due to the behaviors she witnessed within the various sets of the Board of Trustees, and knowing a few low points in the history at Unity Church of Sedona, she refused to even consider staying on in a permanent position. Congregants stepped forward in a fuller way, to help keep things going while the church was without a minister.
2005-2006: Rev. Sandra Keep came in as the next hired minister. Once again, Unity of Sedona learned the hard way to be very present and mindful when selecting a minister. Sandra left after a very tumultuous time as minister and dealing with several issues that could not be resolved.
2007-2010: Mark Pope returned to Unity Church of Sedona during which time he married and divorced a fourth time — this time to a woman who continued for years to try to play a key role in the direction of the church. This time, while at Unity, Mark initiated one of the many recovery groups that now use the property for their meetings. Once again, however, he decided to leave, announcing that he was tired and wanted to go in a new direction. His sudden departure caused a great deal of upheaval between himself, the Members, and the Board. So Unity spent another couple of years without a minister. The difference this time was that its Board decided to not replace the minister right away (feeling too traumatized by several previous incidents of the past), and instead chose to have a few interim ministers and an array of guest speakers.
2010-2011: After 1-2 years without a minister, it was apparent that Unity of Sedona needed a good, trustworthy leader. So it was decided to again hire a longer-term leader. The process of finding a new leader began and continued far longer than anyone expected—dragging on for well over a year and exhausting everyone involved. The Board and Minister Selection Committee interviewed a record number of applicants (30+) but could not come to an agreement on any one person, which left the process in a stalemate and added even more agitation between the various committees and Board Members. In the meantime, Unity Worldwide Headquarters made the decision to ask all of its churches to no longer use the word, “Church” in their name. So, late into the year of 2011, Unity Church of Sedona officially changed its name to “Unity of Sedona.”
2011-20??: Then one day, when Unity was hosting one of its many guest speakers—Michael Mirdad—for the Sunday services, it became apparent to several of the Board Members and attendees that by the energy and success that was palpable in the services, he was the one who could take Unity of Sedona to the next level. There were two huge problems, however. The first was that Michael was already an internationally known speaker and was already booked for teaching-tours for the next year. The second problem was that by this time in Unity of Sedona’s history, the Members and attendees had become divided between “traditional” and “progressive” people, which meant the choice of a new minister would not come easy. If they were going to have a traditional church, they would then need a traditional, ordained Unity minister. But if they were going to be a progressive church, they could then invite a non-Unity, but suitable, spiritual leader. So the Board at Unity decided to have a vote of its Members to see which direction (traditional or progressive) they would like to go. The vote ended with over 90% voting for a progressive approach for the future of Unity of Sedona. Therefore, once Michael was able to alter his touring schedule, he was selected as the new Spiritual Leader by the Unity Board of Trustees and by an overwhelming majority of the Members and attendees.
The small majority of people who preferred the traditional approach, and/or were resistant to the coming changes, began causing quite a stir and ended up departing from Unity of Sedona and becoming part of another Unity in the region. But hiring Michael Mirdad as the new Spiritual Leader [for a minimum of a few years] immediately resulted in the attendance in Sunday services rising from 50 people to over 250 people. The number of committed “Members” also grew within one year from 30 members to 150 and the mailing list grew from 100 people to 2000 people.
The benefits and transformations that came as a result of having Michael Mirdad as the new Spiritual Leader are numerous enough to fill a small book. What’s even more astounding is that the majority of the changes all took place within the first several months of his being at Unity. He attributes this success to what he calls, “Living Mastery,” which means shifting from “talking the talk” of spirituality to “living it” in mind, body, and soul.
To begin with, Michael transformed the sanctuary from an old, rustic room into a bright sanctuary. He then upgraded the Café and Chapel, as well as the entire grounds and did so by accumulating extra donations specifically for this purpose. He also transformed a large cluttered office space into a beautiful and successful bookstore. The outside renovations included a new parking lot and the addition of many statues, plants, and flowers, as well as the creation of trails to walk through the property. An entirely new patio was also created as an extension of our Café. Lastly, a beautiful new labyrinth and shaded, grassy picnic area were created.
He then created his own customized Chaplain Program and graduated over 100 Chaplains, which is a larger number of Chaplains than any other Unity church in the world. He created jobs and volunteer positions for several of our attendees and personally refined all of our programs, policies, and procedures—even encouraging the development of a new Children’s Program. One of the most incredible things Michael accomplished in all of this is that nearly everything was done with such a spirit of fun, love, and collaboration. He taught everyone involved to become more empowered, as well as learning to follow the Voice of Love and Self-Worth within—asking everyone to do their best to offer love and support to the ideas and visions of each other. Michael also encouraged the leaders and attendees at Unity of Sedona to participate in several community outreach programs. This resulted in Unity giving an art scholarship to a high school student and donating several thousand dollars to various community programs. Unity also became the primary sponsor and creator of one of Sedona’s largest spiritual events ever: “The Sedona 2012 Festival,” which was a hugely impactful event to herald in the “Now Age.”
All of these external changes, however, paled in comparison to the internal effects of Michael’s presence. People are constantly awestruck by what they “feel” during our Sunday services, as well as during Michael’s ongoing Wednesday night classes on “Advanced Spirituality.” His teachings focus on how to connect more deeply with God on a day-to-day basis, thus allowing the awakening of the Inner Christ. His messages, healings, diversity of topics, and style of working with people are considered to be the highest anyone had ever seen, which created a huge wave of excitement and inspiration throughout Sedona. His level of integrity and love for others has actually caused confusion for some people because they’re not used to seeing such authenticity in spiritual leaders and ministers. The strength of his spiritual principles have proven to be inspiring to some but intimidating to others—especially when he encouraged people to set healthy boundaries when dealing with hurtful people—which is something that had not been practiced enough at Unity. Sadly, however, all of this success also attracted people who attempted once or twice to take over the church—particularly by slandering its leaders—fortunately to no avail. Miraculously, however, challenges such as these only strengthened the courage and spiritual principles of everyone at Unity of Sedona and Michael Mirdad remains the Spiritual Leader.
Beyond: As with any other church with over a 45-year history, the background of Unity of Sedona will continue to be rich and diverse. As with any organization, there have been ups and downs but, as the focus remains to be on nurturing the Presence of Christ within us all and holding to the statement, “There is only One True Power in the Universe, God the Good, Omnipotent,” Unity of Sedona will continue to grow and change but is certain to continue to bless and be blessed. And so it is!
NOTE: The history of Unity of Sedona was mainly written by Marjorie Muro (a long-time attendee and Board Member) but is also a collaboration between several former and current Board Members.* We’ve done our best to note only the essentials and tried to be as accurate as possible. There is less available information on the older dates due to a lack of records. If you know of any vital pieces of history that seem to be missing, please notify our office with your suggested additions.
*Many thanks also to Nonda Kellogg, a member since 1990, who filled in many of the pieces of history.