Unity Church

Freelance Newspaper Articles about Spirituality, 2008

This article was published on May 17, 2008.

Countryside Presbyterian turns 20

Countryside Presbyterian Church turns 20 years old this week, which is a major milestone in this church’s life. But, noted Pastor Gary Marshall, “celebrating a birthday is just the beginning.”

“They said it couldn’t be done,” recalled Fenton Overly, a founding member. “In a short 20 years, it’s been a miracle.”

The church began with 50 founders and little money. Now, Overly said, the congregation has about 400 members ranging in age from 28 to 99 years old; there are a few children who attend services while visiting grandparents or going to Vacation Bible School in this southwest Ocala community.

At 10:30 a.m. Sunday, the church will hold its anniversary service led by the Rev. Alisun Donovan of St. Augustine, with Marshall assisting. Under the direction of JoAnn Shaw, the church’s chancel choir is scheduled perform “I Will Praise You, O God” and “Christ, the One Foundation.” A catered lunch for members – paid for by an anonymous member – will follow the service.

“This church, to me, is full of wonderful people. It’s very busy and dynamic,” said member Kaye Long, who helped plan the anniversary luncheon.

Led by the late Rev. Robert McGirt, Countryside was chartered on May 15, 1988, at First Presbyterian Church in Ocala, where – incidentally – Marshall served as associate pastor before coming to Countryside in 2001.

The new congregation started holding services in what is now Roberts Funeral Home on State Road 200.

“This church began 20 years ago in a funeral home, and the journey continues,” Marshall said. “We are watching God’s plan for Countryside come true, and we just help enable it.”

What makes this church special, he said, is nearly every member is from somewhere else.

“We are developing our own traditions as we go, and since our members’ family members are hours away, this is more of a church family,” he said. “Our recent church picnic felt like a Marshall family reunion to me.”

“This does become your family,” said Pamela Murray, who joined Countryside three years ago and takes care of its publicity and marketing. “There is a large social life within this church. We reach out to people.”

Substantial growth along the SR 200 corridor west of Interstate 75 has added many new members in recent years. In 2005, the church completed a major expansion that included a new sanctuary with a modern sound system, offices, nurseries, meeting rooms, classrooms and Founder’s Hall, which served as the sanctuary from 1990 until the expansion was complete.

Countryside’s outreach ministries include food drives, as well as support for medical missions to Jamaica and a family of missionaries who have worked in Ethiopia. In addition, the church hosts an annual concert series in the sanctuary; the series starts in September and runs through spring.

The following article was published on December 16, 2008.

Meditation can hold stress at bay

What would make your life better? Would you wish for more time, better organization or more harmony with your personal and professional relationships?

Would you like to feel more spiritually connected or more relaxed overall?

A typical day involves traffic, work, family, stress, and noise. From the minute the morning alarm buzzes to the last time the phone rings at night, most people find themselves surrounded by chaos – some good, some bad, but chaos nevertheless.

At the holidays, this stress can be amplified by additional deadlines and obligations that must be met. Meditation provides some relief to this sensory overload by allowing the mind to be quiet. Getting the mind to rest takes some practice, but it is worth it.

Jerry Joiner, who is a member of the Unity Church of Ocala, believes fully in the benefits of meditation. “If you don’t go within, you go without,” he quips.

Unity’s Rev. Bill Dodd adds, “Meditation is the center of what we do.” Their church services, which combine Eastern and Western philosophy, are Christian and meditation-based.

Bob Estling, the head minister of the Seraphim Center in Gainesville, notes that if prayer is for asking, meditation is for receiving. He also says that it doesn’t take that much time to quiet the mind.

“Some people put it off because they don’t have 30 or 40 minutes to devote to it, but I find that I can have a successful meditation in three to four minutes,” he says.

Often times, the most stressed-out people don’t find the time to meditate, but they are the ones who need it the most. Richard Masla of Ayurveda Health Retreat & Spa in Alachua, who leads classes in meditation, likes to quote Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “If I didn’t take two hours to pray every morning, I don’t know how I’d find time to do everything I do.”

“For people that might not find time to go to a [meditation] class, they can take 10 minutes before bed to relax, sit and be still- follow the breath coming in and going out,” Masla adds. “By doing that, you are able to settle your mind and be still. Just by being, you find yourself having that inner peace.”

Like prayer, meditation allows us to concentrate on one thing at a time and send positive thoughts to the people and circumstances in our lives. It also allows us to visualize that which we’d like to bring into our lives and reinforce affirmations of health, wealth and happiness.

Meditation doesn’t have to be anything fancy, either. Certain physical activities, like walking, running or even knitting allow the mind to be clear while the body is engaged in the task. Simply setting aside a few minutes per day to take a walk or work on a creative project can provide a physical and mental benefit.

A trip to the library or bookstore allows you to learn more about meditation as well as try different methods.

For example, guided meditations on tape and CD provide instructions to visualize a scene of peace and tranquility. From there, you are encouraged to imagine something, such as a perfect job or a harmonious relationship. Finally, you are guided through a set of affirmations that reinforce positive thoughts. These recorded sessions, which typically last about 30 to 45 minutes, allow listeners to concentrate on these positive concepts. It is most helpful to listen to these recordings at either the beginning or the end of each day.

Those who practice meditation reap major benefits, such as stress reduction and increased concentration. Meditation can help you center yourself, which can help you find the energy you’ll need to complete all of your tasks this holiday season. In short, meditation could just be the best gift you can give yourself.