Photo courtesy of Unity Temple on the Plaza
Last weekend, Unity Temple on the Plaza hosted their 75th anniversary celebration. The celebration included music, group yoga and meditation, activities for kids, but most importantly, they brought back their free weddings for a few hours on Saturday—something they haven’t done in over three years due to COVID.
Senior Minister Reverend Duke Tufty started doing free weddings for couples on Valentine’s Day back in 2000. When he was providing counseling to couples, he noticed how much stress wedding planning put on relationships.
The only requirements are a quick registration process, a meeting with a priest, and a marriage license. Each wedding takes 15 minutes, and couples are allowed to include their personal touches, such as choosing readings, vows, music, their own minister, and inviting their families and friends.
Unity Temple also offered holy unions for same-sex couples before marriage was legalized, and the temple has long been inclusive. Since legalization, Unity Temple has been a popular spot for LGBTQ+ couples to get hitched.
“We’re not a church, and we’re not religious because I had such a resistance to that,” says Tufty. “So I changed it to a center for well-being, which is all-encompassing and body, mind, and spirit. And I also at that time decided we’re going to be spiritual and not religious, and the big difference is religion impacts you with do’s and don’t’s, doctors and creeds, dogmas, and they also judge you and they determine your worth for you, your value based on what you do.”
Unity Temple has had a Buddhist program, the Temple Buddhist Center, since 1992 and many of its teachings are Buddhist-inspired, but it does not specifically identify as a Buddhist temple, and it is closer to being a community center. They welcome those from all religions, or no religion at all.
Though the Plaza location is celebrating its 75th anniversary, the Unity movement began back in 1886, with its previous brick-and-mortar location being at 9th and Tracy. Its founders, Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, initially started Unity to bring all religions together, hence its name.
Jazz concert at Unity 75th anniversary celebration // photo by Emily Jacobs
Tufty has been with Unity for 34 of those years, and interestingly, is also celebrating his own 75th birthday. Originally from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Tufty grew up in a family that owned a car dealership. When he was 23, his father passed away, and he moved to Kansas City to purchase a dealership. He became addicted to cocaine and was inspired to turn his life around after he overdosed.
“After I’d gone to ministerial school, I cleaned up my act and got involved in Unity,” says Tufty. “And I was really impassioned with it because, for the first time, it made me feel like I was a whole person, like I wasn’t defective, like I didn’t have to change to meet all these other expectations and requirements of me. I could just be who I was, and that was such a relief that I decided I wanted to be a minister and help other people that I knew they were in the same spot. And so I did. Everything has just been fabulous. I love my job. I love everything about it.”
Tufty speaks one Sunday per month and spends 25 hours preparing each speech. He does a significant amount of behind-the-scenes work to keep Unity Temple running. Aside from free weddings, Tufty also enjoys doing funerals.
“I don’t know what it is, but it’s wonderfully fulfilling for me to be with people at this point,” Tufty says. “That is really going to make this experience that they’re going through less laborious.”
Unity Temple is also known for its counseling programs, specifically for AA, with group meetings and individual counseling. They allow people to fulfill community service hours with them by having them do work around the temple, and they help out the homeless population by giving out backpacks with essentials such as aspirin, ibuprofen, nonperishable foods, water bottles, and warm clothing.
In terms of its Buddhist aspects, Unity Temple offers group meditations and Buddhist 12-step recovery classes—which are designed for drug, alcohol, or behavioral addictions.
The temple has hosted many concerts and speakers over the years, including Chessy Prout and Stephen King.
As for future plans, Unity Temple is trying to get back on its feet after COVID. Many programs went away with COVID and have not yet returned, including kids’ programs and a preschool. They’re working on an event space in the basement that will have a movie theater. But they’re not stopping there.
“Now that we’re moving into our 75th anniversary, it’s time to determine where we’re going for the next 75 years,” says Tufty.
For more information about Unity Temple on the Plaza, visit their website.