By Renee Foose, Special to the AFRO
The late Rev. Dr. Johnnie Colemon is widely regarded as the “first lady of New Thought Christianity” and paved the way for women of color to enter ministry and pursue their calling. Her message of “teaching people how to live better lives” resonates with communities across the globe and locally.
“Rev. Colemon was an African-American womanist theologian who taught practical Christianity in a clear and understandable way for everyday life,” said Lameteria Hall, assistant minister of One God One Thought Center for Better Living (OGOT) in Baltimore, where the teachings of Coleman thrive.
The Rev. Colemon founded Christ Unity Center in 1956 with 35 members and over the next few decades would pioneer the New Thought movement, which uses a metaphysical interpretation of the Bible and focuses on healing, meditation and positive thought, in the African-American community.
Under Colemon’s leadership, the center Christ Unity Center grew exponentially into Christ Universal Temple, and built three churches, a theological institute and academy bearing her name. In 1974 the Rev. Colemon established a new denomination, the Universal Foundation for Better Living.
Today Christ Universal Temple is one of Chicago’s largest congregationsThe church, situated in the South Side of Chicago, sits on a 100-acre campus at 119th Street and Ashland Avenue, named Johnnie Coleman Drive in 1996, has thousands of members. The Rev. Colemon retired as the church’s senior minister in 2006.
“She was innovative and had a knack for making religion and theology simple,” said the Rev. Derrick Wells, senior minister at Christ Universal Temple, in a 2014 Chicago Tribune article. “She taught in ways that were relatable, and when she talked about what would normally be complex concepts, she made them easy to understand and even easier to apply.
The Rev. Johnnie Colemon made her transition from the world on Dec. 23, 2014 at the age of 94, following an illness. But her legacy lives on in over 20,000 members across the country who have embraced the New Thought Movement in their lives and worldly affairs.
Hall, of Windsor Mill, came to Maryland in 1991 after studying under Colemon in Chicago. She and a core group of like-minded devotees began study groups to spread the teachings of Colemon. After just a few years, and with roughly 250 people, One God One Thought Center was founded. The Center, which has seen the congregation peak with as many as 500 members, is celebrating 25 years. “Our challenge moving forward is to find more ways to spread our teachings to younger generations,” Hall said.
With a warm demeanor, a generous smile and calming presence, Hall is regarded as a thought leader by congregants. Her passion and ministry transcend her work at the Center. She is also an adjunct college professor and said students embrace the message of One God One Thought in the classroom because the teachings are user-friendly and are practical “life skills we use every day.”
“It’s a matter of teaching students how to take difficult situations and break them down into simple tasks, the things we do daily. I use short stories that illustrate topics and principles, then ask students to apply it in their lives on their journey to becoming masterful students,” said Hall.
“This is the first [place] where I learned what to do on Monday,” said Karen Clay of Odenton, Md. Clay has been a member at the Center since 2004. “This is where I learned Christianity should be something you are, not just something you do on Sunday,” Clay told the AFRO.
Bernette L. Jones, of Mt. Washington, is the senior minister of OGOT. Jones, a very energetic and engaging spiritual leader, is one of the organization’s founding members and is currently in her 15th year of service as senior minister. Jones said the Center is “not church as usual.”
“It’s a movement, started by Johnnie Colemon, to bring consciousness of love, peace, and joy to the world. It was the influence of Colemon’s spiritual activism for spiritual rights that created a pathway where I never allowed my gender or race to deter me from ministry,” Jones said.
Jones and Hall work together with staff to make One God One Thought a place for everyone.
“We want people to show up in the presence of God to deal with life challenges,” Jones said.
“Everyone can see themselves in our message, and that message is the legacy of Johnnie Colemon who inspired us, taught us, and who lives within us today,” she said.
In addition to weekly services, One God One Thought Center offers a variety classes, workshops, seminars, counseling, and activities to encourage involvement and promote spiritual growth.
The Rev. Johnnie Coleman made her transition on Dec. 23, 2014 at the age of 94, following an illness.
The One God One Thought Center for Better Living is located 3605 Coronado Road in Baltimore. For more ministry information visit www.ogot.org.