Hilda Louise Eilers
Unity Library and Archives Photograph
First Unity Church was originally called the Southside Unity Society
of Practical Christianity. It was founded by Hilda Louise Eilers.
The group began meeting in 1924 in a room in the Kingsway Hotel.
Mrs. Eilers attended Unity Training School and completed the Correspondence
Course. She became a Licensed Teacher about 1935. She received training
from Charles Fillmore, H. B. Jeffrey, E. V. Ingraham and Cecelia
Ayres at Unity and Dr. Schroeder and Rev. E. Nordmann of Divine
Science. Mrs. Eilers was ordained as a Unity Minister June 30, 1937.
She also received a Doctorate from the College of Divine Metaphysics
in Indianapolis, IN.
An excerpt from a speech given at the dedication of the remodeled
church at Grand and Bates in December, 1970, states:
"In 1924 Mrs. Hilda Louise Eilers, a very beautiful, gifted
and profoundly dedicated young woman started the first Unity movement
in the city of St. Louis in a room of the Kingsway Hotel.
"She was ably assisted by her husband, Fred Eilers and other
loving associates. She was studying for the ministry through the
Unity School of Christianity, Lee's Summit, Missouri and she was
also steadily employed by Famous Barr.
"There were evenings when she simply felt too weary to go
out again to teach her class; but through strict self-discipline
and true to her inner light and divine guidance, knowing she had
the message of Truth to bring to others, she went. She never failed
Mrs. Eilers hosted services in her home at 1118 Dover Place for
several years; the adults met in her parlor, and the children had
Sunday school in the basement. She trained other women who started
churches in the St. Louis area. Among her students were: Julia
McKee, ordained in 1949; Florence Schaefer, ordained
in 1952; Kate Evans, ordained in 1953; and Louise Lawrence,
ordained in 1961. The four women founded Unity centers in Lemay,
Ferguson, Overland, and mid-town St. Louis, respectively.
As the congregation grew, they moved from Rev. Eilers' home into
rented storefronts, including one on the corner of Grand and Fillmore
in south city. The first mention of the center in Unity Magazine
appeared in July, 1932. In 1941, they purchased two lots and commenced
plans to build their own church, and it was completed in 1942. The
church at 3616 Bates served the congregation well for over fifty
years, until moving to St. Louis County in 1993.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the church had one of the largest
youth groups in the Unity movement. At one point the YOU and Sunday
School had an attendance of 130 children with 21 teachers, a superintendent
and an assistant superintendent.
In the early 1950s, Rev. Eilers lost her husband but continued
to lead the church. She later married a business man named Westermeyer.
After Mr. Westermeyer died, Rev. Westermeyer (previously Eilers)
continued on. In 1967 she decided to retire, and in February, 1968,
having served as spiritual leader for the center for approximately
44 years, she retired. She made her transition a few years later
in June 1972.
The church legally changed its name in the late 1950s to South
Side Unity Christ Church. Also in the 1950s, the church was incorporated
as a non-profit organization. In the 1960s, it became a member of
the Association of Unity Churches.
Unity Library and Archives Photograph
Rev. Phil Nicola, who served from April 1968 to January
1973, replaced Rev. Westermeyer. Under his leadership, the congregation
began to grow again. Early in 1970, a need surfaced to either remodel
or build in a new location. After much thoughtful consideration
and prayer, the decision was made to remodel and to stay in the
same building. By the fall, a contractor was chosen and work began.
The beautiful, newly remodeled sanctuary was used for the first
time in a meditation service led by Rev. Nicola on December 23,
Rev. Jack Dolen
Photo from Phil Rimmer
Rev. Jack Dolen succeeded Phil Nicola in June 1973 and led
the church for almost four years. Rev. Dolen was an intellectual
who consistently filled the church. During his term, the church's
name was changed to its current one, First Unity Church of St. Louis.
The church celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1974. In November
1976, Rev. Dolen resigned to pursue counseling.
Rev. Brendan O'Keefe took leadership March 1, 1977, but
was only there a short time.
Reverend Leila Fischer was hired in November 1978 and became
a beloved leader. She had a very strong ministry, increasing membership
and creating a substantial building fund. The church was so crowded
she began holding Saturday evening services. A prayer circle was
created, called the A S K prayer circle: A S K stands for ask, seek,
knock. That same prayer circle continues to this day. Rev. Fischer
began to battle cancer, and she resigned in late 1989. Rev. Orville
Grove served as interim minister from October, 1989 to June,
1990. Leila passed in March 1991.
A new minister, Rev. John Pearsall was hired in June,1990;
however, he only stayed several years. He left for another church
in the area.
Rev. Randy Schmelig was hired in April, 1994, and he did
a great job of completing the building of the new church, as well
as ably performing his role as minister. The new church was built
at 4753 Butler Hill Road, and the first service was held in the
new sanctuary in November 1998. It is a beautiful church, and it
has become a favored wedding spot. Rev. Schmelig retired from First
Unity in August 2015. Now serving as Minister Emeritus of First
Unity, Rev. Schmelig and his wife Faye live in Florida.
In May 2006, Rev. Sharon Allmond began serving as the associate
minister. She implemented and oversaw the chaplain program, as well
as serving as back-up for Rev. Schmelig. In September 2011, Rev.
Sharon Allmond left First Unity Church to become minister of the
Jefferson City, MO Unity Church of Peace. Rev. Allmond now serves
as minister of Unity
Church of Light in St. Charles, MO.
Rev. Jan Mourning was hired to replace Rev. Randy Schmelig
when he retired from First Unity on August 31, 2015. Rev. Mourning
previously served as First Unity's assistant minister and head of
the church's Chaplain Program.