'New Love Express' band energizes church crowd on Sundays

4/5/2014
BY TK BARGER
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
The New Love Express in performance at Unity Church.  Unity of Toledo,
The New Love Express in performance at Unity Church. Unity of Toledo, "A positive path for spiritual living", at worship.

“Rock your Sunday” is the tag line for a new commercial on Toledo 5, Toledo's CW cable station, an ad placed by Unity of Toledo. Its members say to rock your Sunday with progressive spirituality, meditation, youth programs, and the New Love Express—the church's band. Music from the New Love Express's first CD, released in 2013, plays during the commercial.

Two and a half years ago, Unity's Sundays were rocky, not rocking. “Our finances were very low,” said Curtice Hopkins, a church board member for seven years, who has been part of the congregation for more than 35 years. “I said, 'If we don't do something very quickly, we'll be broke.'” Some board members, but not Mr. Hopkins, wanted to sell the church. The board asked the minister, the Rev. Lynn O'Dell, to resign. “We were down to, like, $40,000 totally. If she would have continued to stay here, it would have been closed,” Mr. Hopkins said. Rev. O'Dell is now director of credentialing at the home office of Unity Worldwide Ministries in Lees Summit, Mo.

The church, at 3535 Executive Pkwy., held on for two and a half years, hosting a stream of guest speakers, and during that period, two major steps helped to reenergize the congregation.

First, New Love Express stepped up. Recording the CD “was the thing that started the ball rolling,” said Christine Potter, a band vocalist and the new public relations chairperson for the church. She has been going to Unity for six years. “Our whole goal was, if we could just make Sunday as inspirational and fun as we could,” then that would make a difference.

“I think we did have to take it upon ourself,” said Mark Mikel, Unity's music director and a New Love Express member, “because there was no minister, and we saw that we were the only thing that's constant every Sunday.”

New Love Express plays “a lot of the '60s and '70s music that all pertains to the peace and the love and the harmony of the world,” said Linda DeMarc, a congregant for more than 10 years.

“But that said,” Ms. Potter said, “we do more contemporary stuff, too.”

“You can't get more contemporary than our own [music],” said Mr. Mikel. “If it's written and we're playing it the next week, it's as contemporary as you can get.”

So the band took care of reenergizing the people.

The other reenergizing step was outside. “We sold some property,” Bonnie Shrider, the band's drummer and a Unity member since 1971, said. Senior Star at West Park Place, situated on land previously purchased from Unity, bought more Unity land.

“That's how we have the money now to make commercials and try to put our name out there in the public,” said Doris Burkes, who has been at Unity more than 30 years.

Church band, The New Love Express,  clockwise from left: Bonnie Shrider, Christopher Joseph, Christine Potter, Ellen Pizza, and Mark Mikel.
Church band, The New Love Express, clockwise from left: Bonnie Shrider, Christopher Joseph, Christine Potter, Ellen Pizza, and Mark Mikel.

A transition minister, the Rev. Nat Carter, started in March and will leave in May. He came from Denver, where he served as a minister for 10 years before he retired. He is helping with some restructuring and “board training, clarifying the church's identity … we're getting a year's worth of stuff done in a couple of months,” he said. Then the congregation will search for a permanent minister.

Unity's slogan is “a positive path for spiritual living.” It is part of the International New Thought Alliance and is Christian. “We take a more metaphysical approach, a more parable-like approach to Bible stories,” said Ms. Potter.

“I think part of the vision of [Unity],” Rev. Carter said, “has been to change people's lives to show them the possibility that people have every day to live in connection with each other in the presence of God within you, and taking the responsibility for being a created activity of God, that that message makes a difference in the world.”

“I know that Jesus Christ is not going to walk the face of the earth again,” Mr. Hopkins said. “But some people, some religions, say he's coming. That ain't going to happen. … This is why we say that Christ is within us.”

“My vision is that they will grow back into the kind of church that they had been just six or seven years ago,” Rev. Carter said. “When they hired their last minister, they were getting 100 people on Sunday. Ten to 15 years ago, they were getting 200 to 300 on Sunday.”

“People are really starting to get energized and excited,” Ms. Potter said. “Whatever is going to happen is what we make happen.”

And TV is part of the happening. Two ads will be airing. “The hope is that this is something that people see and go, 'Wow, these people look like they're kind of fun,'” Ms. Potter said. “'Maybe we should try them out.'”.

Contact TK Barger @ tkbarger@theblade.com, 419-724-6278 or on Twitter @TK_Barger.