On July 27 2013, I attended a gathering of mystic seekers at the First Unitarian Church which is located at 22nd and Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. This meeting was held in a room adjacent to the chapel and sanctuary. This was my first time in this structure and I sensed a fair amount of energy as I walked through it. At the time I knew nothing at all about this denomination, but later I would find it to be a hidden treasure amongst an array of defunct Church organizations.
Upon entering the adjacent room in the back of the building I went into a vision. I saw rows of single beds lined up like a hospital ward. I saw a couple of men wearing light blue pajamas with bandages on various parts of their bodies. Mentally I was being told by the spirit realm that this was a visual memory from the past. This scene lasted a couple of seconds and the room went back to normal.
Right after this vision I decided to exit the room so that I could write it down. I did not want to draw any attention to what I was doing so I headed for the hallway leading to the restrooms. As I jotted down the vision I heard a spirit proclaim “come in here.” Looking around I spotted an open door which I found to be the chapel’s entrance. Upon entering, I experienced another vision which lasted far longer than the first.
This chapel was full of empty rows of pews and at the far end an altar area. As I was staring at the altar from a distance an open casket appeared. As I got closer to investigate I saw that there was an older white man in a greyish dark suit lying inside. At this point I heard a commotion behind me and as I turned around the previously empty pews were now filled with people. They were dressed in turn of the century garb as though for a funeral. The women wore black dresses with wide rim hats and the men neatly collared suits with white carnations pinned to them. Then I heard a spirit say “who is this man” at which point the vision vanished.
Being astonished by this rare back to back vision I quickly jotted everything down before returning to the meeting room. After these two encounters I took a seat among those who had arrived early for this gathering. As I was waiting for the meeting to start another vision occurred that was quite different from the other two.
As I was sitting in a row of chairs in a circle I all of a sudden was transported to the center of the room and viewed its surroundings from an area close to the ceiling. No longer was the present setup of the room visible, it was now divided in two by a pair of curtains. And I saw that on each side were rows of pupils sitting before school desks. On my right were teenagers and on my left were young children. Both classrooms had teachers standing before chalk boards next to large desks. This vision came to a close as I saw someone enter the present room and heard a voice address the crowd. Yes I was still in the same seat but now the circle of chairs was filled and so the meeting commenced.
As this meeting progressed into the second hour I again experienced another vision which was shorter than the rest but proved the most interesting. Again I was transported to the center of the room but this time I was not hovering in the air. I saw a black woman sitting in a chair surrounded by four black children who were all facing her. She was staring at me with a smile as though she could see me. Then I heard her say “who am I”?
All of the events of this day were written down with the intent of just keeping a diary. At that time this was just another story among others and they all could have been a result of an over active imagination or the effects of sobriety. But it would take a couple of years before I pushed myself to investigate the history of the Unitarian church in order to find an answer. The haunting riddle that stayed in my head like an echo was the challenge laid before me “who am I?”
The Unitarian Church was founded in the UK by Joseph Priestly in the 1790’s. He was a theologian and scientist who discovered oxygen. He was a free thinker and a progressive who was not popular in his day. He refused to conform to religious acceptable norms and was forced to flee to America for his personal safety. He settled in Pennsylvania and eventually died in 1804.
On June 12, 1796 the First Unitarian Society of Philadelphia came into being. Under the profound teachings and influence of Joseph Priestly the Philadelphia branch flourished. It was a beacon for progressive thought which helped spread social justice, woman’s rights and emancipation. It has occupied three church structures at two locations in its history with the current one being built in 1885.
The first official minister of the Church was Rev. William Henry Furness (1802 to 1896). He was appointed in 1825 and dedicated fifty years of serves to its growth. He was a staunch abolitionist who presided over the casket of the deceased body of fellow abolitionist John Brown (1800 to 1859) as it passed through Philadelphia on its way to New York.
A key influential member of this Church at that time was Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825 to 1911). As an African American woman born free in Maryland, she was an outspoken abolitionist, social activist and author. She was a supporter of John Brown and often wrote him letters of encouragement in his personal war on the system of human profiteering (slavery). In 1860 she married a widower with three children and not long afterwards gave birth to a daughter. He would later die in 1864 leaving her to care for four children on her own. She always pressed forward regardless of circumstance. Her focus was on quenching the inner desire for human evolution based on successful progression. She was an eye witness to the demise of the system of slavery and she help found an organization (NACWC) to combat the shadow system that keeps it alive.
There is more to these visions than one can comprehend at first glance because they are intertwined with the Unitarian Church’s legacy. This Church heals the wounds of ignorance by keeping its doors open to all. It has honored those who have sacrificed all in the name of justice and social progress. It has been a nurturer of education through the idea of unrestricted possibilities to spiritual growth. It has been a launching pad for those who seek human evolution and elevation.
In my research of the Bible through dissenting scholars and personal dissection I have come to believe in its fallibility. I believe it is not God written nor a total fabrication but a work of man inspired by paranormal experiences and individual fantasy. In the end what matters when it comes to any religious belief is the inner intent of the individual. I believe that any group formed for the pursuit of spiritual growth that is centered on a progressive morale purpose is on the right track no matter what they call themselves. But also I believe that any group restricted by human contrived walls of ignorance is bound to be forever stuck in a self-defeatist cycle of decay.
The relationship between the higher powers and lower mortals cannot be contained or restricted to what someone did or wrote thousands of years ago. If we believe in intelligent design and that everything in nature evolves over time then we as logical progressives must not accept a belief system that is stuck in time. Why should anyone allow their spiritual growth to be stunted and bound by the limitations placed upon it by illogical deceased theologians?
Rational logic must prevail over emotions and the feelings of loyalty that accompany the traditions of past generations. Our reality must conform to a changing world that is altered by the expansion of science and by logically correct focused analysis. Our spiritual elevation depends on the inner intent of our existence. If we persevere in our commitment to use logic to progress then we may one day in the future pierce through the invisible veil and declare “who am I”?
Copyright 2015 Edward M. Bartlett Jr.