Church divided over spiritual leader’s departure

MyInKy.com, Nov. 4, 2002
http://www.myinky.com/

WARREN, Mich.- As best-selling author Marianne Williamson prepares to step down as spiritual leader of a megachurch here, congregants are blaming critics for chasing her away.

Williamson, 50, will leave the 2,300-member Renaissance Unity church in Warren Jan. 1, after making changes during her four-year tenure that upset some members.

Some were upset with the more gospel-oriented choir, but more disagreed when Williamson proposed changing the name Church of Today to Renaissance Unity and breaking with the Association of Unity Churches.

Members approved both, but a faction threatened to sue.

Williamson told the Detroit Free Press for a Monday story: “Hopefully, I’ve grown from this experience. In the final analysis, I feel grateful for the experiences I’ve had here.”

A native of Houston, Williamson is an author and lecturer best known for her lessons of “A Course in Miracles,” often used in teachings for recovering addicts.

Her first best-selling book was “A Return To Love,” and she is writing her sixth book, due later this year.

Her Warren church has drawn thousands of new members, along with a host of well-known media, political and entertainment figures, including Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler. Tyler surprised the congregation by showing up at a service one morning in the summer of 2001.

Williamson plans to remain in the Detroit area and lecture in other venues, thrilling fans but prompting fears that members will leave the church to follow her.

“The church’s survival is not going to be dependent on whether one person is there or not,” said Alan Semonian, a former church director and a member since 1986. “It’s going to be dependent on what the congregation is willing as a whole to do.”

Attorney and church member David Wenger led the group that threatened to sue if the church broke from its national association. Renaissance Unity stayed with the association.

Mullins said Williamson broke promises she made when she came to the church, including that she would be ordained a Unity minister and wouldn’t break with the association. Because Williamson is admired among members and feared among church leaders, she got her way, Mullins said.

“Part of the problem we have in the church is that we keep putting humans on pedestals and forgetting that they are human,” Mullins said. “I don’t worship any human, I worship God.”

Williamson countered she did not promise to become a Unity minister and doesn’t recall promising to stay with the association.

She said: “One of my favorite quotes is from Marlo Thomas: `For a man to be considered ruthless, he has to bomb Cambodia. For a woman to be considered ruthless, she has to put you on hold.'”

Church board members said the future of the church is largely based on its next senior minister, who has not yet been selected. But, they said, the church will continue a trend toward interfaith fellowship that Williamson started.

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On the Net:

Association of Unity Churches, http://www.unity.org/

Church of Today, http://www.churchoftoday.com

A Course in Miracles, http://www.acim.org/

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