Welcome to the Unity Church of the Hills 25th Anniversary Walking Tour

Welcome, and thank you for participating in the Walking Tour for the 25th Anniversary of Unity Church of the Hills.

As you go through the 25 stops, the one prevailing factor is how much UCOH is our spiritual home and how God has worked in and through each individual and circumstance to bring us to this time of celebration. Know that with the stories you will be hearing, many of which we refer to as “God jobs,” there are that many more that could be shared. This community has been, and continues to be, blessed with rich and inspiring stories about its growth.

We sincerely hope you enjoy this walk through the history and growth of our beloved community.

In the Beginning

(at the plaque)
The beginnings of UCOH were not here in northwest Austin but rather began in Michigan with Fred & Joan Howes. Fred & Joan owned a printing business in Warren, Michigan and attended the Church of Today where Jack Bolan was the senior minister. It also was the church where Ron and Lenore Scott attended. Lenore was on staff at the church and Ron was the head of the usher team, among other volunteer duties. So, Fred & Joan and Ron & Lenore knew each other long before Austin, Texas came into the picture.

When Fred & Joan began to look for places to retire, they were drawn to Austin.

Joan Howes: We had looked around for a place to retire, and after checking many areas of the country, we decided upon the Austin area. It just drew us. Instead of waiting to retire, we decided why wait? We moved our entire printing business here so that we could look around and get accli-mated to a new location where we intended to spend the rest of our lives. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a church that truly fit our souls here. 

Not finding a spiritual home that resonated with them, they lis-tened to that voice within that guided them to consider starting a new church. They reached out to Ron and Lenore Scott, who were at that time in ministerial school at Unity Village.

God stepped in and after myriad phone calls, and many prayers, Ron & Lenore came to visit Austin.

Please proceed to Stop #2. 

The First Meeting 

Unity Church of the Hills, and everything you see here on this campus and during our walking tour, all started as an idea. Fred and Joan Howes, the co-founders, had the idea of a church that fit their spiritual needs. They thought of and connected with Ron and Lenore Scott, who were in there final year of minis-terial school to invite them to become the church’s pioneer minis-ters. Ron & Lenore knew it was something they needed to take into prayer to make sure it was a divine idea from Spirit.

Co-Founder Joan Howes shares her experiences around the initial meeting with Ron and Lenore in an interview with Rick Busby.

Joan Howes: We got a call from Unity Village saying, “Don’t do anything. Ron and Lenore are interested in what you want to do there, and they want to come down to take a look and see about the possibilities.” 

That was so exciting! So, I put that aside (the packet from UWM), got busy on the telephone because they wanted to meet with a group of people, and I got together 45 people we had met here who were like-minded. And, we got to-gether with Ron and Lenore; they came down. We went in his car to look around town and see what they thought, and kind of check it out. 

We had a very exciting first meeting at a separate room in a restaurant. 

So, they went back to Unity Village, and we got busy around our own business here. 

We got another call from Ron and Lenore, and they said, “Was that just a quirk, or is that really what it is like?” 

We said, “Well, come on back and find out.” 

So, we got together another large group of people, this time over 50, and they decided there was potential here because, you know, many Unity churches don’t have more than 50 members. And so, they thought, OK, maybe we can pioneer. 

Here is Ron & Lenore’s point of view on this first meeting.

Ron Scott: We set up a trip to come to Austin. I think it was in February or March of 1995. And, we met with a group of 30 people who Fred and Joan Howes had pulled together at the Doubletree Hotel off of I-35. And, at that time, we connected with these people and felt really good. Remember, Lenore? 

Lenore Scott: What they wanted to do was to see what it was that we would bring to the church. And, we wanted to know what it was that they wanted us to bring to the church. So, we had big sheets, all on the walls all around the restaurant. And so, everybody who had ideas for cer-tain things at the church, we would write it down. We took it home and we pulled it all together so we had what it was that they wanted. And if we came here, this is what we would do. 

It became clear that the Scotts were in alignment with the vision of the original founding members.

From the beginning, Unity Church of the Hills was a place where many points of view came together in a spirit of love, acceptance, and transformation.

Please proceed to Stop #3. 

Shopping Center Location & Beyond 

Reverends Ron and Lenore Scott began their ministry in Austin by giving classes on Unity principles. One of the congregants who was in real estate located and made arrangements with a nearby school to use their cafetorium for services.

The first official Sunday service for Unity Church of the Hills was held at the Grisham Middle School on Sunday, November 12, 1995.

From its very inception, Unity Church of the Hills has had a won-derful music ministry. Here is one reason why.

Roderick Sanford: My name is Roderick Sanford, and I officially started singing at Unity Church of the Hills the very second service that was held. And that was held in the Grisham Middle School cafetorium. 

The initial conversation with Ron was actually just via tele-phone. I got a random phone call one night. I was at home and I answered the phone and Ron was on the other line. He said, “Hi. My name is Ron Scott. I’m with a new minis-try here in Austin and we’re also starting this new congre-gation. And we’re looking for persons to come out and provide music during our services. 

I came out the second service and sang and talked with Ron and Lenore. They liked it and said, “Would you be in-terested in doing this on a more regular basis?“ 

And, I agreed to be a part of that, and once again, it just started rolling and rolling from there. 

The church continued to meet at the school for a few months, but the chore of carrying everything in and out each week was taking its toll. Besides interest in this new church was growing so quickly, it was obvious that a more official location was needed. Lenore Scott talks about finding that location.

Lenore Scott: I had a real curiosity about the other church-es in Texas, and what are they like and what do they say. So, on these Sundays that we had open for us, Ron and I would go to different churches and see what they were do-ing. 

Well, on this one Sunday, we were sitting there and the ser-vice was over and the minister said, “Now, remember, we have the groundbreaking,” he said. “And, you don’t want to miss that.” 

I looked at Ron and I said, “Well, if they are breaking ground, that means they are leaving here to go somewhere else and break their ground.” I said, “I wonder who’s going to have this church.” 

One of my Master Mind partners was in real estate, busi-ness real estate, and so, she got together with the friend 

she knew who attended this church. The two of them worked out the deal without ever… Coming to us, the whole deal was set where we would take over this church. 

This location is a little less than a mile away from here, in a shop-ping center on Anderson Mill, due west of where you are now standing.

The congregation continued to grow and expand, and the consen-sus was that everyone wanted to have our own property.

It’s obvious that that happened and you will hear more about how our current property was found and acquired at your next stop. But as you walk there, we want to share stories from some of our congregants about the move from the shopping center to where Unity Church of the Hills stands today. First is Michael Rhea:

Michael Rhea: When we were getting ready to physically move to the church here, Lenore wanted to hire a moving company to come in and move everything over here be-cause she wanted it professionally done. 

Now, I had spent a summer working for Allied Moving Vans in Houston as a summer job during college. And I knew just exactly how professional those people were. (chuckling) They were just gonna get a country guys off the street that couldn’t do it any better than us. So, I went in and pitched this to Ron, and said, “Hey, look, we can do this! We can move, we can move this church! You don’t need that.” 

Lenore said, “No, no, no. I don’t want anyone dinging up the furniture,” and stuff like that. 

And finally, you know, he had his way there, ‘cause it saved the church a bunch of money. 

What happened was that Heather Davies, who was in the role that Ellen had here for so many years, she was a coor-dinator, volunteer coordinator, she got…she/we put the message out about, here again, about two weeks ahead of time, and we had, I would think probably about 30 vehi-cles; pickup trucks, trailers, minivans. We had so many of them, that they were parked in front of the church, and then wrapped around to where Subway used to be, through the back alley that ran behind the shopping cen-ter, all the way back there. There must have been 30 of them. And, we had Ron here at the church, and he was directing people to take things, and whatever. We had Le-nore here at this church telling people where to put things. We had a crew that was simply loading up vehicles on one end, and another crew here at the church, just simply un-loading it and taking it to the rooms that Lenore pointed out. I think that we got the whole church moved in two hours. 

Cliff Mark talks about moving one of the most important pieces from the shopping center location to our current church – the cross that looks over our sanctuary:

Cliff Mark: One of the things I remember…I don’t know if this story has been told yet…but from the shopping center church, which is about ¾ of a mile away, they had one thing from that church that they wanted to bring over here which is that cross that hangs in the sanctuary. So, we took it out of that (church), a couple of us carried it, and we had a little parade one Saturday morning to move our church from there to here. 

Please proceed to Stop #4. 

Finding the Property & G.O.D.

The church had a five-year lease at the location in the shopping center, and the congregation knew that they wanted to find something that we could call our own. Knowing that we wanted to stay in the same general area, the early search began with a five-mile radius, looking at existing buildings and possible sites that could be turned into our permanent location. Nothing was found, so the search was broadened to a 10-mile radius. Still nothing was located.

Bob and Susan Heinrichs, who dealt in real estate, were asked to put their efforts toward the search.

Bob Heinrichs: Ron and Lenore Scott asked Susan and I…gave us, you might say, our walking papers to go find a new location, a permanent location for the church. Others had looked for months and months with no good results.

To sum it all up, Susan and I looked ourselves for several months until such time as I saw a small sign that was hanging on a gate that looked into a 14.6 acre property for sale. I, of course, looked up the person who owned it. I negotiated with that individual, and with contract, purchased the property.

It was a goat farm, and we negotiated a successful contract, purchased the property from a gentleman whose name was Guthrie O’Donnell, whose initials are G.O.D.

When Ron and Lenore came to look at the property and meet Mr. O’Donnell, they all agreed to gather back at the church office at the shopping center to discuss the purchase of it.

Ron Scott: As he was about to leave, I said, “Was your name Guthrie McDonald or Guthrie O’Donnell?”

And his agent said, “Guthrie O’Donnell. I have his name on my rolodex…G.O.D.”

And so, I thought to myself, oh my goodness, we’re being offered this church property by G.O.D.

Bob Heinrichs continues…

Bob Heinrichs: And, there’s no doubt in my mind that this is a God-given property. All the experiences that we underwent from time one to the present time all indicate that there was a God influence in each and every step.

From a hidden goat farm to the beautiful campus we enjoy today, this property has always been and continues to be a blessing to us all.

Please proceed to Stop #5.

Electronic Message Board

Unity Church of the Hills is situated on one of the busiest streets in northwest Austin. In fact, in 2006, when Rev. Ron Scott approached John Davidson about championing the fundraising for the Electronic Message Board, the number of cars that drove past the church was estimated at a whopping 35,000 per day. Today, 14 years later, one can only surmise that the number has increased sizably. The idea for an electronic message board had been from an early congregant and Rev. Ron had caught the vision. Despite the arch and our beautiful campus, many people had no idea that there was a church down the drive. John agreed to champion the cause and got to work. When the Scott’s resigned to return to Michigan, John wanted to continue the fund raising because the sign was such a good idea.

John Davidson: During that interim period when we didn’t have a minister, I still thought it was a good idea, so I went the board about it and met with them. They all liked the idea as well, so they green-lighted me going out and coming up with a program to raise the money.

We had an initial infusion of cash that put us in a pretty good spot, but from there, we created a United Way board with all these little boxes on it for hearts, little red hearts. The board itself had 4600 lights on it, and we were going to raise $46,000, so each,…we called them “points of light”… and each box with a heart, we put a heart in there with a sticker, to fill up this board eventually when we raised the money and reached our goal, those were all $10 apiece. So, we had 4600 times 10 is $46,000. So, we raised a total of $46,000 in about two months.

With the money raised, the team discovered that there was a problem with permits and where we would be allowed to place the sign. The city wanted us to place it back behind the arch; we wanted it in the triangle of land next to Anderson Mill Road. It took some time, but…

John Davidson: Next thing you know, we were able to find some little, strange clause. Because back in the day when this property would exchange hands, that section of land was like someone had just written a note and they just sold it to someone. That’s how far back it went to the wild west kind of stuff. So, Williamson County, they agreed to abandon that land and designate it that way. Then that freed us up with the city and freed us up with Travis County, as well.

This Electronic Message Board has served us well. Because of it, not only are we able to publicize events, but we bring the Unity message through the Daily Word to tens of thousands of people as they drive past each day.

Please proceed to Stop #6.

The Arch

One of the most iconic landmarks in northwest Austin is the Unity Church of the Hills arch. This arch was the brainchild of Bob Heinrichs. Susan tells us about Bob’s vision…

Susan Heinrichs: I remember how it started and then Bob can tell you. We were talking about the church and things as we were doing those days, what’s going on? What’s happening? And he said, “I think there should be an arch at the entry.” It was a vision and idea that he had.

I never will forget when he presented the idea to Fred Howes and some of the others, Fred thought that was a great idea. And he said, “Oh, yeah, there’s one up in Georgetown, kind of like that that would look good.” We knew what he was talking about and it was a very small archway to a graveyard. (laughter) We said, “No, that   wasn’t quite the vision that Heinrichs had.” That’s how it started. He had the vision and it went from there.

Bob Heinrichs: The arch was intended to be a symbol of who we are and where we are, and to be seen for miles and miles around.

Susan Heinrichs: We wanted it to be something that would welcome people to the facility, to the campus.

Indeed, Bob’s vision was much greater. The arch is 100 feet across and 45 feet tall. It was constructed by the same contractors who were building the church. It  is made of a metal frame and wood, and is covered in a stucco-like material. Bob dedicated the arch to his parents and there is a pedestal on the right as you exit the property with the dedication plaque. 

We know we have arrived at our spiritual home when we pass under the arch. It symbolizes leaving the rest of the world behind and entering a sacred space. It welcomes newcomers to the church and lets them know they are at the right place.

The height of the arch reminds us that “The sky is the limit” when we join our will with God’s will.  What a perfect way to arrive at this wonderful church home!

Please proceed to Stop #7

Pet Garden

The idea of this Pet Garden evolved when several congregants had lost beloved pets.

All beings are valued, appreciated, and supported here at Unity Church of the Hills. We honor all forms of life and all pathways to God. That includes our furry, feathered, and scaly friends as well! 

This is evident because each year in the fall, we offer a Pet Blessing at our church, where folks are encouraged to bring their animal friends to be honored and blessed.  It is a fun and time-honored tradition. 

Here are Bob and Susan Heinrichs in their interview about the Pet Garden.

Bob Heinrichs: You could take your pet blessings, and so forth, and spread ashes.

Susan Heinrichs: It’s a very peaceful spot to go and sit out there and be under the arch, by the arch.

Bob Heinrichs: Most people don’t know that it is there.

This Pet Memorial Garden is here so that anyone can come and have a place to spread the ashes or have some form of a memorial to their beloved pets.

Please proceed to Stop #8.

Mary Curtis Painting

As you make your way back to the main area of the campus, you are invited to stop here and look toward the buildings and try to imagine the land as it was when it was part of the goat ranch belonging to the O’Donnell family. Here is Jim Skaggs talking about the land.

Jim Skaggs: Mary Curtis, a local artist and member of the church, had painted many scenes of Austin, downtown Austin, and so forth. I’ve got them hanging on my walls today, in some cases, all the way going back to the horse and buggy days, and downtown Austin and so forth. When we first bought this property and the piece of land where this church is, I brought my camera out one day. I got a spot where I could take pictures, and I took…I don’t know how many it was…maybe five pictures to get the whole scene. And then I had a computer program that would meld those together into one photograph.

As the church was built, in the foyer entrance, there was a wall where it was obvious that it needed something. Jim approached Mary Curtis, a member of the church as well as a well-known and very-talented local artist, to propose the idea of a painting.

Mary used the panoramic photo that Jim had taken and painted the picture that hangs high in the foyer above the doors into the sanctuary today.

The next time you go into the church, we encourage you to take some time to pause and appreciate the talent of Mary Curtis, who has since passed, and the progress and growth of our church.

Please proceed to Stop #9.

The Chapel

One of the most beloved and frequently-visited areas of our church home is the Twelve Powers Chapel, also known as the Peace Chapel. 

Prayer is at the heart and foundation of the Unity movement, and so when this church was built, we knew it would be important to have a special place set aside for people to pray. Sitting inside the Chapel    instills a sacred and reverent feeling. Circular in shape, the Chapel derives its name from the 12 stained glass windows. Each window represents one of the Twelve Powers – spiritual tools and attributes that were exemplified by  Jesus the Christ.  The Twelve Powers are also associated with the 12 disciples of the Bible.  

Here is our co-founder Joan Howes, to speak about the chapel,

Joan Howes: A very dear friend, Jodie Harber, she did stained-glass work as a hobby, and she did beautiful work. There was a thought, I think Lenore suggested having the Twelve Powers in stained-glass, and approached Jodie, and she said, “Oh, I’ve never done anything like that. I don’t really think that is in my bag of tricks.” So, Fred talked with her and said, “Jodie, there’s a need for it at the church. You can do it.” And she listened and she took it on and this is the beautiful result.

The vision from the very beginning was that prayer would take place every day at this church, and that still holds true today.  We have a daily prayer service at 11:00 a.m. in the Chapel every Monday through Saturday.  We also hold our Wednesday night Prayer & Meditation Service here, as well as other special programs and sacred events. The Chapel is where the annual 24-hour Prayer Vigil is held in conjunction with the World Day of Prayer. For 24 continuous hours, people come to pray.

Having this designated and sacred space for prayer was and continues to be very important to all who come here.

Please proceed to Stop #10

Ladybug Garden & Other Memorials

So many wonderful people have walked through the doors of our church – whether it be to visit a class, go to a meeting, attend an event, or enjoy one of our worship services. And, as it is with life, there are transitions. There are several memorials around our grounds and in the Sanctuary.

On the backs of two separate pews in our sanctuary where they always sat, are small plaques with the names of Gilles Desjardins and Roger Storer.

On this sidewalk, toward the front of the Church are memorial bricks dedicated to other congregants who have passed.

Lenore shares a story about one such memorial.

Lenore Scott: Jan Estlow lost her husband, and she wanted to go (spread his ashes) on the new ground…we had not built that final church yet, but we were there cleaning the grounds and preparing for it. So, she asked her friends and us to be there and to pray on that spot where her husband would be. When we got there, as we pulled up to that particular spot, there were butterflies, just mobs of butterflies, so thick you couldn’t put your hand through them. Butterflies had always been very special to him. We never saw butterflies on that property after that.

Here at this stop, we honor Sarah Lemire, one of our young members. Although she made her transition early in life, her memory lives on.  Here is her mother, Stacey Lemire, telling the story of the Ladybug Garden.  

Stacey Lemire: In 2008, Sarah tragically died. We decided that, if the Church would let us, we would be honored to build a memorial garden in her name because she just loved that church so much.

The reason it’s a ladybug garden is because Sarah was a red-head, and her third grade teacher had started calling her “Ladybug;” kind of a cute little nickname. So, she adopted that nickname. Nobody really called her “Bug,” except me, but she would draw little ladybugs everywhere. We dedicated the garden to ladybugs everywhere.

When we dedicated the garden, we put in a plaque with her picture and her dates and a little ladybug that she had drawn, a rendition of her drawing. Then, I think, a year later, one of her close, close friends had a little stepping stone painted with a ladybug in the middle of a vine in the shape of an “S” for Sarah. So, that’s why it is a ladybug garden.

We honor all who have passed who have brought their love and energy to this spiritual community.

Please proceed to Stop #11.

Bell Outside Staff Door

This bell is one of the more recent additions to the UCOH campus. It was donated by Mills & Mary Spangberg in May of 2016. They were in the process of building a new home in 2008 and had found the bell on a trip to a class reunion in Illinois. They toted it all the way back to Austin where it had a home in their yard for several years. When they decided to downsize in 2016 and move to a smaller home, Mary approached Rev. Steve Bolen.

Mary Spangberg: So I was contemplating what to do with the bell, and I said, you know I said to the Church, “Would you like the bell?” And so, yes, they would. So, the bell ended up out there. I know there are some people that every time they come in, they ring the bell. So, if it brings people joy, I’m happy about that.

The platform where the bell sits was built by John Camden.

The “some people” who Mary referred to who would ring the bell every time they come into the church, is A.J. Elliott. Each night when he came to volunteer as our Facilities Person, he would religiously ring the bell.

Feel free to ring it yourself…you know you want to. 

Please proceed to Stop #12.

YFM playground

The playground before you is actually playground number two. The original playground was on the property where Unity Oaks now sits. Many children, and probably even some adults, have enjoyed the use the playgrounds. Bob Heinrichs is responsible for both playgrounds. Bob has always loved the children of the church and it was his way to give back to them.

When plans were being formed for the new building, it was obvious that the playground would have to be moved. Once again, Bob’s generosity made it possible to move the playground to its current location.

Bob Heinrichs: Playground #2 was constructed under very stringent restrictions by the city, because at that time, they had introduced a lot of “you can” and “you cannots” insofar as the construction of playscapes were concerned. Now, it conforms to all the city requirements.

The playground is well-utilized today by the children in our Wee Wisdom Preschool as well as others attending our church. Thank you, Bob, for your love and generosity toward the children of Unity Church of the Hills.

Please proceed to Stop #13

Meditation Garden

A common theme in our church’s history is people banding together to bring their inspiration into reality.  We can see this evident in our beautiful meditation garden, which Cliff Mark, who was instrumental in its creation, speaks about.

Cliff Mark: I thought we needed a meditation garden. You see it now, but it was just raw then. You talk about a project. That got the people out, too. We had a little committee. We designed how to make it and everything. Then, I had to go to the board, I had to take pictures of other meditation gardens around the world. I made a big ole four by six picture board, took it to the Church and said, “Hey, we could do this if you guys would give us a little money.” Mary Spangberg was on the board at the time as well as others, and they said, “OK, we’ll fund your little meditation garden, buddy.” 

So, we went out there and they paid for the pavers and some of the concrete and the sand and stuff, but otherwise it was all volunteers. And I think we had as many as 30 people, 12 Saturdays in a row, lifting those little pavers and putting them in place, making the patterns and doing all those things. It was a fun little project.

Cliff created the stones at the intersections that represent the five core principles of Unity. Years after, the trellis and benches were added.

Of Unity’s Five Principles, Principle number 4 states, “Prayer and meditation keep us aligned with the one great power in the universe.” 

If you wish, please pause for a meditation here at our Meditation Garden.  When you are ready, please…

Proceed to Stop #14.

Unity Oaks & Pavilion

At this stop, you are invited to find a chair in the Pavilion and rest as you hear about the Unity Oaks building. Bottles of water are available for you as you relax and listen.

In 2009, we were experiencing a real growth spurt in church attendance, and as a result the Youth Wing was overcrowded. We needed more classroom space. Frank Phelan talks about how and why the project for a second building began.

Frank Phelan: In 2009, when we were putting the project together, it was really necessitated by a couple of things: 1) the utilization of our existing classrooms that we have in the Sanctuary Building wasn’t sufficient. We were busting at the seams at that point and needed to have more facilities for meetings, for workshops, for classes. And, also, 2) our fellowship hall had limited capacity, too. So, at that time, we were looking to expand the facilities to provide these additional rooms and spaces for all sorts of things.

We once again engaged Heimsath Architects, the designers of the Sanctuary building. Teams were formed to address the needs of each area of the new building. After multiple meetings and visionings, Heimsath came back with a design for a building that complemented the structure of the Sanctuary building.

Initially, the building included a huge, enclosed fellowship space and a commercial grade kitchen. However, due to the economic downturn nationwide, we found it necessary to create a phased building plan. Phase 1 was the classrooms and the building as you see it today.

The “Love Is Building” campaign kicked off in November of 2009 to raise funds for the building. We broke ground on Sunday, January 9th, 2011 and construction began.

Each week during construction, the contractor provided updates and photos of the progress. During the entire construction phase, only two days were missed due to weather. Believe it or not, it snowed on one of those days and it was icy on the other. The building was ready in August.

As unprecedented as it may sound, the contractor completed the job early and under budget. We dedicated the building in early 2012.

The name “Unity Oaks” came about in an interesting way. Listen while Rev. Steve Bolen tells how we came up with the name Unity Oaks. He refers to the picture of the  Angel Tree hanging in the  lobby of Unity Oaks.

Steve Bolen: There’s a little bit of an interesting story around the Angel Tree, a beautiful gift given to UCOH by Jim & Betty Skaggs. Betty located that image and thought it would be a nice addition to what became, at the time,  Unity Oaks. We named it as a result of that picture, and a result of all the beautiful oaks on the campus.

The Unity Oaks building has six classrooms, each named for individuals well-known in the New Thought movement.

Frank Phelan: We’ve got six classrooms in the Unity Oaks building. We’ve got the Emmet Fox Suite, Emilie Cady, and Eric Butterworth, which are all about 550 square feet each. And, then we have the Legacy Suite, which is a flexible space, that is named for Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, that has about 1300 square feet in it.

And, then there is the Pavilion area, which is outside. There is a roof section over it and a temporary mud slab they poured down so there was a usable surface underneath that.

Today, Unity Oaks has become a multi-purpose building, providing classrooms and space for events such as classes, meetings and our 8:00 a.m. Contemplative Service. Frank Phelan speaks to one such group that is near and dear to his heart.

Frank Phelan: One of my volunteer activities at the Church is to be the church liaison to the Boy Scout Troop, the charter representative for Troop 162. It’s a good-sized troop. There are 80 to 100 scouts in the troop at any given time. I’m also active with the troop in their Eagle Scout programming. We maintain a list of Eagle Scout projects on the campus that are available. The Troop generally has Eagle Scouts doing projects to the tune of about seven to ten scouts a year are conducting Eagle projects. Now, not all of them occur on this campus, but we like to give them that option. It’s a wonderful, beneficial relationship. They have something they can do in the space that hosts them, and it benefits the congregation, it beautifies the space. There are pathways out there that have been built by the scouts, drainage improvements, landscaping projects to beautify the campus. At Unity Oaks, they put an enclosure around one of the mechanical facilities to provide some safety and beautify it a little bit.

So, there are a lot of activities that go on in that space that are really beneficial to the community.

In addition to the Scouts, there are recovery communities, Weight Watchers, Power for Parkinsons. That space has been instrumental in changing many peoples lives. So, we are grateful for that.

There are still plans to eventually complete the second phase that would enclose the pavilion and build the kitchen. However, we have grown very attached to our open-air pavilion, so it may be necessary to revisit how it is finished. Frank Phelan shared his vision.

Frank Phelan: It’s this beautiful, almost entirely glass-enclosed space with a white ceiling and indirect, ambient light, and maybe white curtains, and a huge set of sliding glass doors at the east end that opens up and looks out  onto the labyrinth and the open space there with all the beautiful oak trees and so forth on the eastern part of the campus.

We encourage everyone to hold a vision for the completion of this wonderful facility. It has added so much depth and diversity to the life of Unity Church of the Hills.

Please proceed to Stop #15

The Labyrinth

From the time we, as a church community, moved onto this property that is now our campus, there was a desire to have a labyrinth. There were several attempts to get something going, but the plans never got off the ground and the funds never manifested.

It was in early 2015 when Penny & Allen Seay approached Rev. Steve Bolen again about the idea of a labyrinth. Penny & Allen had just returned from attending a labyrinth seminar in California, and they were excited and ready to make it happen. Rev. Steve asked Bob Withrow, the then assistant to the senior minister, to head up a planning team. He gathered a team of nine congregants and they met for the first time in March of 2015.

Bob Withrow: I remember the feeling that I had, and I think each of us had, that the question wasn’t can we build a labyrinth? It was we are building a labyrinth. It is going to happen. So, we never went through a questioning of should we, how would we. It was we will.

Within a month, we had a complete plan of how we wanted to proceed. And, like I said, it was a God-thing from the beginning. We were divinely guided to have a master labyrinth builder come here to the site, and we made the unusual decision to make the center of our labyrinth one of the beautiful oak trees here.

This tree which is at the center of our labyrinth has a very special story of its own. Rev. Belinda Lightheart, who was one of the members of the original team, shares it.

Belinda Lightheart: That particular tree has a sentimental value to me. The City of Austin has required that certain sized trees be recorded so that we’re not eliminating one of our natural resources unnecessarily. And, each recorded tree has a tag on it. This particular tree is #42.

So, a sidebar…for those of you who are familiar with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you may know the number 42 is the answer to life and the meaning of everything.

So, we found a lot of joy in that particular reference when we were building it.

It was evident that the time for the labyrinth had come, and it showed in the ease with which the funds were raised to build it.

Bob Withrow: When we announced this thing, we were out in the foyer several Sundays after service, and literally, people stood in line after all three Sundays which we were raising funds, to give what they could to build this labyrinth. It was magical! It wasn’t we … people wanted it, and that’s why we knew this was a Unity Church of the Hills thing. It’s time.

We had a couple of very generous donors along the way, so before we knew it, we had raised beyond our expectations the amount of money for the labyrinth project. Long story short, from that very early meeting in February/March 2015, the labyrinth was dedicated on June 14, 2015. Three months, beginning to end, and it was not a surprise to any of us that it happened that way because we knew we were all guided from the beginning.

The uniqueness of our labyrinth goes beyond Tree #42.

Belinda Lightheart: There are three stone benches around that tree, three places to sit and reflect. And, that is a manifestation, a physical manifestation of the Unity trinity…mind, idea, expression.

There are also 12 specific stones that surround it for the Twelve Powers, not unlike the powers that are portrayed here in this beautiful Chapel, from Faith in January all the way through Life in December. We celebrate a power each month that aligns with one of the 12 apostles.

When construction on the labyrinth began, there was a time-lapse video of the building made and later showed on June 14, 2015, the Sunday when we dedicated the labyrinth, a mere three months from the first meeting.

Prior to the dedication, John Camden, along with Jon Edwards and others, built the kiosk to the side of the labyrinth that holds literature and plaques with the names of all the donors to the project. Kay Martin created the beautiful mosaic of the Unity wings that hangs over the arch at the entrance to the labyrinth. Work parties were held to complete the landscaping. So much love and energy went into the planning, design, building and completion of our beautiful labyrinth.

Meditation is one of the cornerstones of our Unity movement, and the labyrinth provides an opportunity to engage in a walking meditation.

This labyrinth has provided a place for so many, especially during the pandemic, to step away from the concerns of the world and connect with Spirit and their own divine nature. The labyrinth is available 24/7/365 and you are invited to come enjoy it at any time.

Please proceed to Stop #16.

Pregnant Cows and the Baby Calf

When this property that is now our campus was first acquired, it was an overgrown goat farm. Lots of landscaping and manicuring needed to be done on the land in order to prepare it for the church’s construction. The decision was made to bring in some special help to take care of the grass.

Mary Spangberg: Shortly after we purchased the land for our new church home, we realized that the upkeep of the grass growing around here was going to be difficult to maintain. So, in a conversation about the problem, my husband, Mills, said, “We have a neighbor who is raising cattle on the land. I’ll ask him if he would be interested in bringing some of them to the property.”

Well, the owner said, yes, he would. He brought four springers, which are actually pregnant cows, to the property and they were very happy to be here. Our neighbor in the back was delighted to have the cows there, and he brought some special feed for them and kind of looked  after them actually.

After a few months, the time came when the builders were ready to clear the property for our new church, so the cows had to go back. We called the owner, and he came with his trailer. The cows all walked on to it, and off they went to their previous home.

The next morning, Revs. Ron and Lenore Scott got a call that there was a calf on the property, and he was pretty upset, and he was crying out for his mother.

Apparently, the calf had been hunkered down in the back of the property and was very quiet, and the owner was not aware that he had even been born.

Here are Ron and Lenore telling that story from their point of view:

Lenore Scott: The grass was so high that they needed to have it cut and they used to talk about goats being there and all. Well, we didn’t want goats. So, a friend of a friend of the Church offered to give us cows so that the cows could eat the grass down. So one day, they came with their truck and they opened the back and a half a dozen cows got out. They just loved that field and they just ate off that field. But, we noticed that they were getting awful big, awfully fast. And, sure enough, they were pregnant cows.

Ron Scott: When the owner of the cows opened the truck and said, “All you cows who want to go, get in.” And he said that all the cows that got in were pregnant. (laughing) They were pregnant cows, ready to have calves.

Lenore Scott: We used to laugh that it was a pregnant idea. They were pregnant ideas they were bringing to this church. As we were walking around, we saw this little, tiny little baby cow.

Ron Scott: We actually got a call from a neighbor who said,…

Lenore Scott: That’s true. “They forgot one.”

Ron Scott: “They forgot one of the cows when they took them away.” And, there was a baby calf that was still there.

Lenore Scott: And that was just the most charming, beautiful sight. Just fun!

Ron Scott: Yeah, that was fun.

Lenore Scott: It was like God just provided miracles the whole time through this whole process; the first five years, the second five years, the third five years. It was like God was just giving us these wonderful gifts.

Please proceed to Stop #17.

Community Garden & Hobbit Tree

The Community Garden story is much like the story of the labyrinth. Many people had the idea and desire for a community garden space on our campus, but it was only when someone with the passion, drive and tenacity stepped up that the idea became a reality.

It was during the Path Class which he and Amy Keillor attended in 2019, that Kelly Logue was inspired to pursue the creation of a community garden. In April of 2019, Kelly proposed a plant sale to generate funds for the garden. The idea location was found. The approval of the board was obtained and work began to create the space. Jack Frick, one of the early volunteers, shares more of the story about the creation of the garden.

Jack Frick: We had to dig almost 40 yards of solid rock with a pickaxe and jack hammer in order to get irrigation line down that turned out to be so important to go to the garden, as well as power.

Then we wanted a fence. Once again, we had to dig through solid rock and burn up another jack hammer.

Then there was a neighbor who had helped us who was from Eastern Europe. His property adjoins ours and he could tell we didn’t know anything about it. He has built with stone and grew up working with stone as people in that part of the world do. So, he came over and showed us how to split rock, how to dig a trench, and then we got the garden started. 

They are a wonderful team! They are here, they plant the crops. They harvest, they weigh, they measure. That food is put in our lobby. People that don’t have food, that want to come, if they want to make a free-will gift, they can. Other people depend on the garden now for fresh produce and make a love offering.

This first year of the garden has been prolific thanks to a team of wonderful, dedicated volunteers.

We recently dedicated the Garden and there is a special heart-shaped stone just inside the entrance expressing the gratitude to all who were involved.

Jack, in his interview, wanted to bring special recognition to one of the most important members of the garden team.

Jack Frick: I come during the week when there’s not a lot of people out there. So, I see the garden at a different time. If people have noticed, I’ve heard several comments, “You know, we are really lucky that we don’t have a lot of rats that have come in to the produce, you know, the garden.” Nobody has ever seen a rat out there.

This brings us to the most important member of the Garden Team. We have got a beautiful bobcat that lives out there.

A few years ago, the Boy Scouts built a platform up in a monstrous oak tree. It’s up there. The bobcat, most of the time, stays up there. He’s got a 360 view of the property. And, as he gets to know you, for example, when I walk under the platform, he doesn’t even run. He sits up there. He actually, one day, stuck his head over to look down at me to see what I was up to. The bobcat, we think, is responsible for the luck that we don’t have rats here on the property. So, he’s been doing a really good job.

As you stand here facing the garden, and you look to your left, you will see a very special tree. Many call it the Hobbit Tree. It is estimated that this tree is over 400 years old. It is so large that it looks like an entire grove of trees from Goggle Earth. It is believed to have been a landmark in the early days of Anderson Mill Road during the Civil War.

This tree, and the property around it, was recognized to be something very special by the dowser that the church engaged before the construction on the Sanctuary building was ever begun. Lu Goodwin-Mark, who was so involved with the landscaping of the property early on, shares her memory of it.

Lu Goodwin-Mark: And we walked the whole property and he was telling me where the sacred places were. Over by this large, we call it the Hobbit Tree, out front, he decided that was sacred land that had been used by the Indians as a spiritual area for many, many years. So, I’ve always felt like that area shouldn’t be touched. We just need to protect that.

When the garden team was clearing the land for the garden, they also cleared out around the tree so today we might all enjoy it.

Please proceed to Stop #18.

The Bridge

As we walk along life’s path, we often cross and come across unforeseen challenges. As the church was built, a wrinkle with the land drainage became apparent.  And so, even though it was not part of the original plan, the bridge you see here became a beautiful addition to our church.  Here are Lu and Cliff Mark, the couple responsible for the creation and construction of the bridge, speaking about the bridge:

Lu Goodwin-Mark: It was bothering me that it was flooding over there and it wasn’t draining right and didn’t seem like it had been built just right. So, I talked Ron into letting me build the drainage ditch over there.

Tony Allevato offered to drive the ditch-digging machine that made the place, and we showed him where it needed to go. Then we went and collected large boulders and rocks to put in the sides of it so it would stabilize it and not wash away. And, it was quite, I thought it was quite pretty. But, it did end up being very deep ditch at the end, too deep to cross if there was water in it. So, Cliff and I decided to build a bridge across it which Lenore loved.

Cliff Mark: Lu was really the one who initiated that bridge and that little drainage way, but it turned out to be a great idea. Like she said, when we got to the end, it was too deep, so we had to make a bridge. And, I knew enough about building that in my garage, I built forms for the bridge and I had that whole thing formed in an arch all made out of wood. We brought it over here one day and it fit. And then we just put some steel rods in there, poured some concrete. Then Lu said, “Let’s put some little, tiny rocks in there and we’ll make it look like a little river.” And, that’s why that thing looks like it does today.

As you continue to the next location, you may wish to reflect on the unexpected challenges that you have encountered along life’s path, and the beautiful effects that have come forth as a result of meeting those challenges.

Please proceed to Stop #19.

Wee Wisdom Preschool

One of the many ideas for the future of UCOH, once we had moved into the new building, was to start a preschool. However, Revs. Ron & Lenore did not feel that it was the right time for the church to take on a project like a preschool, so the idea got put on the back burner.

Some time around late 2009, we were approached by an existing Montessori preschool, unhappy with their current location, looking for a new space. A contract was signed with them and that preschool occupied two of the classrooms for a year. When the owners had purchased their own property and moved out, the experience with an on-site preschool helped to fuel the need to create our own.

The name, Wee Wisdom, was chosen to honor Myrtle Fillmore and her early and memorable work with the children’s magazine of the same name.

The first director of the school, Martha Garcia, was hired and the school opened on May 3, 2011 with four students.

The school was established with a “best practices” approach, combining Montessori with traditional teaching methods. The hours for the school were and continue to be part-time, Monday thru Thursday for half a day. Parents have the option of two, three or four days.

Sharon Rogers, who served on the original Advisory Board and continues as a board member today, shares what the vision for the school has been from the beginning.

Sharon Rogers: When we talked about Wee Wisdom, we called it a “boutique” nursery, or preschool because we weren’t interested in making lots and lots of money, but we wanted the best services and that service of knowing  kids were loved and cared for. We wanted all those things to be part of our Wee Wisdom school. So, when we got started in that, we’ve transitioned, we’ve made a lot of changes in it, but we’ve always had that core group of really strong people that ran our Wee Wisdom group and had our     philosophy in mind of children being important and the love being as important as learning and doing it in a way that the children would learn the Montessori type…everybody talks about Montessori; it’s kind of a nebulous thing…but we wanted that type of thing, the hands-on, not just sitting there listening to somebody.

When Martha Garcia took a full-time position with a school district, Lisa Hammel replaced her as the school’s director. The school grew and expanded very quickly under Lisa’s leadership.  We added a third classroom that was classic Montessori. Lisa stayed on for a little over a year and then Carrie Monk joined us in July of 2013 as our third Director.  Carrie has brought great stability, consistency and leadership to Wee Wisdom over the past 7 years and continues to serve as our wonderful Director!

The school continues to operate year-round, bringing a much-needed service to many families. We are grateful for Wee Wisdom school.

Please proceed to Stop #20.

Stop 20 - The Path to Discovery Class, Bench & Brick

by Kate Price

The Path to Discovery Class, Bench & Brick

Many people have, since 2010, attended one of our Path to Discovery New Member sessions, a 5-week class unique to Unity Church of the Hills. In the first 15 years of the church, the new member class consisted of a 2-hour meeting where the minister talked a little about Unity and Unity Church of the Hills. But there was a desire by staff and others to have something more. Mary Bolen, who answered the call of Spirit, tells her story.

Mary Bolen: A little bit about the Path class, because for me, that was a very significant time of my time there at Unity Church of the Hills. 

Back in 2010, we visited San Diego, a Unity conference there, at Wendy Craig Purcell’s church. And, while we were there, we were given the tour of her admin wing. And, in there, I met another woman, and I noticed her title was Director of New Member Development. For the past couple of years since we had been there (Austin), I had really been searching for my gift, what I could give to the church. When I saw that, it was just like lightening, an instant download of “this is what you’re to do, Mary.”

I got so excited, I had to run to my senior minister…and my husband…and say, “Look, this is something I really want to do. What do you think?”

He and Ellen both felt that same kind of calling.

So this was in August, and by the end of September, we had had our first “Path to Discovery” class.

Since that September 2010 inaugural class, we have held two or three Path classes each year. Both individuals new to UCOH and those who have been a part of the church for a long time have attended. When Mary and Steve moved back to Georgia, Bob Withrow took over the class.

In the earlier sessions, it was customary for the class to gift something to the church. The bench that is represented at this stop in our Walking Tour was one such gift.

Mary Bolen: And, it has an engraved plaque on it that says it was donated by a Path to Discovery class. And, that particular bench and engraving was made possible by the late Roger Storer.

Another class participated in the fundraiser for Unity Oaks and purchased one of the bricks on the walkway to the Unity Oaks Pavilion.

Mary Bolen: Inscribed on the brick, “A Path to Discovery 2011.” You can see that there with other beautiful names of people that have donated for that walk.

The Path Class continues today, although the most recent one was done virtually, with Bob Withrow and Tammy Lorraine leading it. If you have never attended the Path class before, you might consider it in the future.

Please proceed to Stop #21.

Scripture on the Balcony

As you look into our beautiful sanctuary where so many lives have been touched, one of the most noted spots about the Sanctuary is the scripture on the balcony. According to Betty Skaggs, when she and Jim interviewed with Rick Busby, it was an idea presented by Lenore Scott.

Jim Skaggs: When she presented that as an idea, there was just immediate acceptance of it because that’s really…from where we had come and the experiences we had to that point, that saying was perfect.

Rev. Ron Scott adds more detail about this story.

Ron Scott: When the church was ready to open, just a few days before, Lenore said, “You know what? We need some message up there on that mezzanine that when people turn around to leave, they have a message that they carry with them. And, it needs to be ‘With God, all things are possible.”

This scripture is from Matthew 19:26. Almost every speaker we have had in this Sanctuary throughout the years has referred to this scripture. And, it is a great reminder to us all that no matter where we are in our lives and what we might be facing, we can always know that “With God, all things are possible.”

Please proceed to Stop #22.

The Cross

Unity is a positive path for spiritual living, based upon the teachings and example of our wayshower, Jesus the Christ.  Although we are not fundamentalist or dogmatic in our approach, we do honor the roots of our understandings as having come from Christian soil. 

Remember the original shopping center location we discussed at the beginning of the tour?  The cross that overlooks the sanctuary was gifted to us by another church, who left it behind at the shopping center location. 

Here are Ron and Lenore Scott to tell that story:

Ron Scott: When we had moved into church in the shopping plaza, the church that was leaving left a wooden cross up on the wall behind us. And we had thought, you know, that might not fit right there. So, we took down the cross, but it was so implanted behind it that the figure of the cross was there anyway. So, we put the cross back up there, the wooden cross. And then people fell in love with this cross, and by the time we left, everybody was saying, “We have to take the cross with us.”

We just loved the cross and we spoke to it on the first Sunday of the new service there of how the cross has the symbolism in so many ways of crossing over from where you were to where you want to be.

The day that we moved, there were a couple of guys who, when we took the cross down, carried the cross down the street to the new facility. And, all of us together, on that last Sunday at the church in the shopping center, walked down the street. We all moved down the sidewalk to the new facility. That was a memorable time.

So many aspects of our church’s history seem to have been meant to be from the beginning, and our cross is no exception.

Please proceed to Stop #23.

Writing on the Floor

Hidden under the carpet in the Sanctuary is the next topic in our tour.

As construction of the Sanctuary building was nearing an end in 2001 just prior to the carpeting, Michael Rhea called Rev. Ron Scott with an idea.

Michael Rhea: I was sharing with my brother, Don, who lives in the Fort Worth area, about the excitement of doing our church. And he said, “You know, I heard a story at our church was that when they were building the church that they’re in, that the minister invited congregants to come in and write Bible verses on the floor so that you would literally be standing on the word of God.”

And I thought, wow, that is a great idea, you know! So, I called up Ron, and told Ron Scott, our minister at that time, about this idea that this church in Fort Worth had done.

And, he just thought it was great! He said, “Let’s not just do scripture. Let’s use Course in Miracles. Let’s use songs, let’s use hymns. You know, anything; poetry that you feel inspires you. And, let’s get the whole congregation involved.”

And in a very short period of time, I would say from the time the idea happened to when it was actually put into place, I think it was two weeks at the most.

Rev. Ron Scott picks up the story from here.

Ron Scott: The sanctuary was ready to be carpeted. We told everyone, “Before the carpeting goes down, we want to invite everyone in the church to come up and write out, we’ll have magic markers, write out your favorite Bible verse. Then, we will be walking always on the word of God.

Through the years this story has been shared. Everyone loved the idea so much that when Unity Oaks was nearing the end of construction, we once again invited congregants to come write scriptures, poems, etc. on the concrete before the flooring was installed.

When we are able in the future to once again meet together, we invite you to imagine what might be written on the floor beneath your feet.

Please proceed to Stop #24 at the front of the Sanctuary building.

Peace Pole

Positioned directly in front of the Sanctuary building, in what is often referred to as the circle drive, is the Peace Pole. Here is Rev. Steve Bolen speaking about the Peace Pole.

Steve Bolen: I think you would be interested in knowing that this particular peace pole, which of course says “May Peace prevail on Earth” in four different languages, was a gift by an anonymous donor, a lady who was born and raised in Asia and had a lot intention for peace in the world, much like Unity and especially Unity Church of the Hills has. So, she decided that it would be a nice thing for her to donate that to the church. We had a planting ceremony around it; it was a beautiful experience. And, of course, It is a center piece in the church area as you drive in. It sits out in front of the sanctuary.

Please proceed to Stop #25, the final stop, our Prayer Station

Prayer Station

This is the final stop of the 25th Anniversary Walking Tour. We sincerely hope you have enjoyed this stroll through our history and been inspired to continue supporting the work we do here at Unity Church of the Hills.

Our church was founded in prayer and continues to be immersed in the practice of it. You are invited to take a few moments of quiet contemplation here at this final stop, remembering your own personal journey with this community.

Following this time of quiet, please take a few additional moments to write out your vision for our church home for the next 25 years. Because this church began this way, we want to continue our work with the vision of all who love and call this their spiritual home. Paper and pens are provided.

When you are done, you can simply place your sheet under the rock in the basket on the table. Our plan is to archive these so that we might revisit them on the occasion of our 50th anniversary.

We are also providing a keepsake for the 25th Anniversary; an ornament with the anniversary logo. Please take one with you to remind you of this very special place.

Every day from Sunday, November 8th through Friday, November 20th, there will be one hour when a prayer chaplain will be available to pray with you, if you so desire. Monday through Saturday a prayer chaplain will be on-site from noon to 1:00 p.m. On Sundays, they will be available for an hour following the Service.  The final day of the Walking Tour, Saturday, November 21st, prayer chaplains will be available from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., which coincides with the Market Day hours. You are invited to come and pray with them at anytime.

Thank you again for participating in the Walking Tour and may God bless you throughout the coming days.

Let us know that you were here for the Walking Tour and leave your intentions for the next 25 years in the comments below.


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25th Anniversary Walking Tour