It’s All God, All the Time
Dr. Marj Britt Stands at the
Heart Center of Unity of Tustin
By Judy DePrete and Lauren Maddison
“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
Ten years ago, a tiny church with a core group of dedicated souls struggled to find its spiritual identity—its mission and vision. After moving from place to place as its membership ebbed and flowed, the church found a home on an old property on Prospect in Tustin. But what it still needed was a minister. Little did they know the person they chose, Dr. Marj Britt, did not come to simply teach, but to transform. She appeared at precisely the right moment in the evolution of Unity of Tustin, and set to work raising consciousness and dissolving boundaries.
Marj Britt knew God had led her to this place, and she immediately set to work to build a spiritual community. She looked around at the weed-choked grounds, the old Victorian house, and saw not what was, but what could be. She’d had a vision years before, just as she was finishing seminary. It was a place “near the ocean” and there was an old Victorian house. She had looked for it for several years and then let it go. As she drove onto the Prospect Street property and smelled the orange blossoms, she knew she was home. Today, the campus and meditation gardens of Unity form a spiritual haven that daily draws many people to its paths, fountains, statuary, sacred labyrinth, and quiet nooks.
Still, she insists it was not her personal vision that guided the transformation of the church and its grounds, but rather the collective vision of all those who were committed to the spiritual community. She says she simply holds the sacred space. She led visionings, taught classes, and on Sundays she lifted hearts. The membership increased to 100, then 200…300…400 and it became necessary to expand the small sanctuary. In the meantime, the church “happened” in an enormous tent there in the orange grove, through the seasons and changes in weather. Nothing was too difficult, no problem insoluble because, as she taught, “everything is perfect, no matter how it appears on the surface. It is as it is.”
Marj is, however, no Pollyanna. She did not come to a place of spiritual awareness without facing challenges in her life. Yet from light to dark and back to light, and everything in between, she sees it all as necessary parts of her journey. “How could I say, ‘I wish that hadn’t happened, or I hadn’t made this choice?’” she reminds her students. “Every step was one that brought me here, and here is where I am supposed to be.” So how did Reverend Dr. Marj Britt get to this place at this time?
She was born into a family of devout followers of the Seventh Day Adventist path. Raised in an atmosphere of fundamentalism, she nonetheless knew within her heart a deep love of God. And in that setting her deep love of the Bible began. To this day she quotes many Scriptural passages from memory. But it was more than the words themselves that drew her. It was the meaning she knew behind the words, the meaning for which she would continue to search until she stepped onto her true path — that of seeker and mystic.
However, there were some forks in the road before that happened. You see, she did not set out in life to be a minister. Seventh Day Adventist women are not allowed to become ministers. Marj married and was gifted with a wonderful son. But neither good intentions nor a beautiful child made the relationship work.
Leaving the marriage was a process filled with pain and guilt. The decision met with strenuous disapproval from her church. Divorce was not acceptable in her faith. As she emerged from the other side of this painful transition, she felt lost, adrift and yet filled with hope.
Marj Britt is clearly a bright and talented woman, and she put her mind to the test, earning her doctoral degree in the highly competitive graduate program at the University of Massachusetts. Encouraged to design portions of her doctoral studies, she found herself wanting to learn everything possible. She completed twice the hours required for her doctorate in Education. Her focus in curriculum, counseling and psychological education would flow into a developing consulting practice. Still, she felt that inner yearning, a thirst which knowledge alone could not quench. She attended different churches and one day a ski club friend said, “Marj, there is this church you would just love.” It was Unity.
Then came the moment when she saw a workshop advertised and read the words “Once I have accepted God’s plan as the one function I would fulfill, there will be nothing else the Holy Spirit will not arrange for me.” Marj now says, with more than a touch of irony, “I had a long list of things for the Holy Spirit to arrange for me. But back then I still thought I would be participating in the planning.”
Marj’s next major life experience reminded her that dark nights of the soul can crop up when you least expect them. She met her husband-to-be at a conference at Unity Village. “He was in seminary, and I had been praying for a holy relationship. I started praying for it. Very soon, within weeks, I met him. One week later he asked me to marry him. He was a minister in training.” This, she knew, must be the answer. It all felt perfect.
Marj says, “I had my life so neatly arranged, everything placed perfectly in a lovely basket. Then that lovely basket got turned upside down and all the pieces dumped out.” After two years, her husband announced that he no longer wanted to be married.
“That news was the most devastating heartbreak I could have imagined, and it catapulted me directly into the dark night of the soul. I didn’t know how I could possibly go on. I went to Unity Village for a counseling session relative to what was happening.
When I arrived, I went to the prayer chapel and sat there looking at the words on the wall that say ‘Peace, be still.’ A Bible verse from my childhood came to me: ‘Ask in my name, and you will receive.’ I remember clenching my fists and asking in the name of Jesus, “Show me what to do.” Tears began streaming down my face, and I suddenly realized that it was time for the appointment. I stumbled through the beginning of the time with the person I was seeing, hoping to find my way through my marital difficulties. And without warning, the quality and color of the light in the room changed. I heard a voice that said, ‘Close your eyes, Marj.’ It was not the voice of the other person in the room.
I closed my eyes, still aware of the radiant light in the room. The voice again spoke. ‘If you could do anything in the world, what would you do?’ A thousand emotions rushed through me as I heard myself speaking the words, ‘I would be a minister.’ Tears again flowed down my cheeks.”
Marj now looks back on this very clear ‘voice and light’ experience with awe. She says she had never, not even once, thought about being a minister. And the words came out of her mouth anyway. Then the voice of the person speaking with her broke through the haze and said, “Do you mean that? Because if you do, go down to the admissions office today. The deadline for applications is only three weeks from now.”
During the next several days she spent every waking moment focused on the process of preparing the Unity School application. There was a great deal of writing to be done, much soul searching and hours in silence and prayer. The glimmering light of personal revelation began to fill her heart and mind—an undeniable sign that she was on her true path. For the next two years, she completely immersed herself in the life and learning of Unity Village School of Ministry.
Is the Marj Britt of today different from that divinity student? “Yes,” she says, with a smile and nodding of the head. “For that matter, I’m different today than I was last year, or even yesterday. That’s the point — evolution of our souls. I never stop learning. I read voraciously. I continue to study and absorb the holy scriptures of many traditions, and weave the works of master teachers into my Sunday talks. We have so many of these teachers coming to our campus now that the opportunities to learn never cease.”
Marj isn’t exaggerating when she talks about the master teachers who visit Unity of Tustin. Her vision is of a campus of consciousness. Their School of Light calendar listings for the past year, and into the coming months are a veritable who’s who of the leading masters and mystics of our time: Adyashanti, Andrew Cohen, Ram Dass, Ron Roth, Leslie Temple Thurston, Mary Manin Morissey, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Andrew Harvey, Doreen Virtue, Mark Victor Hansen, Byron Katie, Rocco Errico, and many others. But why do they come to this place in Orange County? To a sanctuary that seats only about 220 people? Many of these speakers can fill theater-size venues.
Dr. Marj believes they are drawn by the energy of the mystical spiritual community and the deep love and commitment to Spirit the members share. “This is truly sacred space, a place where the Beloved embraces the beloved,” she says, with a wave of her arm that encompasses the entire campus. “Our mission is healing lives, building dreams, and realizing God.” She pauses for a moment. “That’s realizing with a capital ‘R’ . . . it isn’t enough anymore to simply know about God. What we practice and teach here is living the Presence, being Divine Love in our lives. We focus on dissolving ego-centered illusions that we are somehow separate from each other. We aren’t separate at all.”
While the new catch phrase, “Many Paths, One God,” is in evidence at many spiritual conferences these days, Unity of Tustin, under Marj’s loving guidance, has come to exemplify the spirit of these words. The membership includes followers of Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Twelve-Step tradition and other paths, as well as those with no particular path except a desire to know God. They come to love and be loved in conscious awareness.
Marj says, “To me, being a minister doesn’t mean recycling the same messages year after year, or holding on tight to the past. It is about consciousness revealing Itself… We have a dynamic and wonderfully conscious board of directors. We welcome not just new people, but new ideas, new approaches.”
When asked about the “team” concept that prevails in much of the staff and volunteer activity, Marj explains that “volunteer” isn’t a word in use at Unity. “It’s ‘selfless service,’ and the preference is not just about semantics. There is a resonance and spiritual strength in true selfless service. It isn’t about getting spiritual ‘brownie points’ or recognition. Service is, in itself, a spiritual path, one that is undertaken without expectation of any outcome. It is heart-centered, not ego-centered. And it is because of those who serve that we can accomplish our vision.”
On the topic of teams, Marj says, “we aren’t terribly concerned with hierarchy around here, although we certainly have good people in responsible positions, and our board makes the big decisions about financial and policy matters. But to accomplish all that we do here, we need teams of people who work together, teams that are facilitated, not dominated, by a team leader.”
As the church grows, Marj knows she isn’t the one doing it. The staff expands in response to membership needs. The School of Light has become a full-fledged administrative department booking speakers and classes that keep the campus hopping as a seven-day-a week ministry. The Institute for Spiritual Leadership, founded by Marj, is in its third year, and will soon graduate its first class of lay ministers. Unity of Tustin is also a satellite campus of Emerson Institute, which offers degrees in Religious Studies. Where the music ministry was once the province of a single regular performer, there is now a music director, choir, and music ministry team.
A Sunday visit to Unity of Tustin tells a newcomer a great deal about what makes this church tick, and it isn’t just an engaging, knowledgeable, highly enthusiastic minister on the platform, though Marj is clearly at the center of its spiritual identity. Everywhere you look, people are smiling and greeting, business is brisk in the recently remodeled Bookstore for the Miracle Minded. Selfless servers are dashing about putting out food for hospitality, tidying the grounds, answering questions. It’s apparent that one could collect more hugs in an hour there than one could find anywhere else in a month. But it would be possible to skip the human hugs, and still feel embraced by the sheer power of Spirit that dwells there. It’s so real you can breathe it in.
When asked what she loves most about the work she’s doing now, Marj’s response is unhesitating, “Being part of the process that is leading people into becoming who they truly are. What a joy it is to look around on a Sunday morning and realize that over there is someone who will one day be a senior minister, another who is teaching in our wonderful Family Ministry and Sunday School, and yet another person who is taking her awareness of Spirit into the workplace every single day. Only a year ago, a member of our board was named as CEO of Unity School of Christianity in Kansas City. He’s the first person outside the founding family of the Unity movement to ever hold that post. These are all miracles, and I’m blessed to witness them.”
Dr. Marj’s life has changed remarkably during this past decade, and those changes are mirrored in her vital and dynamic ministry. She spends less time administering the daily business of the church than she once did, and even more time in prayer, meditation, and teaching. She spends time with her husband, Rev. Paul Tyman, who leads silent intensive meditation retreats in Estes Park, Colorado, as well as at the Tustin campus. She has finally seen the manifestation of that ‘holy relationship’ for which she prayed. Though the responsibilities of leadership remain substantial, Marj doesn’t see it as work. “This campus is a divine playground,” she smiles. “Whether we are happy or sad or confused or joyful, it doesn’t matter. It’s all God, all the time.”
For more information about Unity of Tustin and their many programs, please call (714) 730-3486 or check out the website at www.unitytustin.org
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