she became the first African-American president of the
Association of Unity Churches.
The following year, however, Colemon decided to
leave Unity because of lingering racial attitudes that
she continued to see in the organization at that time.
Renaming her church Christ Universal Temple, she
also founded the Universal Foundation for Better
Living (UFBL), an international organization of New
Thought churches and study groups. In August 1985,
she built the first megachurch building in Chicago,
which seated 3,500 congregants and had a membership
list of 30,000—the largest New Thought congregation in
history. Colemon’s boisterous, energizing, spirit-filled
services became legendary.
Colemon was first and foremost an apostle of
practical Christianity. She was comfortable with the
stories and symbols of the Judeo-Christian Bible and,
like Charles Fillmore and Myrtle Fillmore, she used
“Jesus language” freely.
When presented with a young man with a badly
infected wound, for example, Colemon went to the
Source. “I spoke the word, in the name of Jesus, for life
to manifest in every cell, organ, and fiber of the infected
area,” she wrote. “The young man began to tremble all
over … I told him to thank God for his healing every
time he thought about the injury.” The man’s doctor, who
was considering amputation, was soon astounded to find
the infection healing properly, declaring that prayer had
worked a miracle.
Colemon considered healing prayer a natural force, not
something miraculous. “Because you are a spiritual being,”
she wrote, “the prognosis can only be perfection, health,
and wholeness. That is the nature of the Life Principle
resident within you.” She was totally grounded in the
fundamental principle of New Thought Christianity: There
is only one presence and one power in your life and in the
universe, God the Good, Omnipotent.
Colemon’s influence spread beyond New Thought to the
wider community, and not just in religious matters. She was
director of the Chicago Port Authority and commissioner
of the Chicago Transit Authority Oversight Committee.
She was declared one of Chicago’s Living Legends by the
Institute for African American Youth Development and
honored by DuSable Museum as an African American
One of her great friends, actress Della Reese of Touched
by an Angel fame, became a UFBL minister and founded a
successful church in California. Reese credited her recovery
from a ruptured brain clot to Colemon’s teachings.
I got to know this gracious, loving, and unassuming
woman personally in 2000 during the year I served as
UFBL’s assistant executive director. The memory of her I
carry is one of warmth and energy. I was in awe. After all, it
isn’t every day you get to meet a grand lady Moses, who led
so many people out of bondage and whose spirit continues
to lead the way for all of us.
In 2016, two years after her death, people from around
the world came to Unity Village to celebrate a special day
in Colemon’s honor, including an afternoon service in the
Silent Unity Chapel and the dedication of a plaque and
paver in the rose and prayer gardens.
Rev. Shirley Lawson, a minister at Christ Universal
Temple, summarized the importance of this gathering:
“It means an acknowledgment, a ‘thank-you’ from Unity
Village, and all who have been blessed by her courage,
strength, and perseverance. This day is honoring the
first African-American woman who broke chains of
segregation, became a great leader and builder of people
Rev. Derrick Wells, spiritual leader at Christ Universal
Temple, praises Colemon as a legend, icon, and pioneer:
“In 1955 Rosa Parks sat down to combat inequality and in
1956 Johnnie Colemon stood up to teach us how to liberate
our minds. As a visionary leader, she taught us principles
and perseverance, and her fingerprints have been indelibly
impressed on our souls.”
Colemon never forgot that Christianity began as a
healing movement, and she challenged us to remember that
as well in these words from her book:
The healing power of God did not originate with Jesus
and it has not ceased with you. It is at work right now.
Open your mind to the allness of God that you are.
This is all that is needed to break the bonds of pain,
suffering, sickness, and affliction from life, world, and
affairs of all God’s children. It works for me. It will
work for you … Health is your birthright!
“BECAUSE YOU ARE
A SPIRITUAL BEING,
THE PROGNOSIS CAN
ONLY BE PERFECTION,
HEALTH, AND WHOLENESS.”