BETHLEHEM TWP., NJ - The route to becoming a church minister was not a straight line for the Rev. Carmela Vuoso-Murphy, minister at Unity Spiritual Center in Asbury.

Instead, it was a diverse set of experiences that led her here.

“I had no intention of being a church minister,” she admits. Growing up as the daughter of a strict Italian Catholic father - who was prone to violence – didn’t inspire such an idea.

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“The god of my youth was not presented in a way that supports my beliefs today,” she said. “He was one that judged, sent plagues and pestilence, and bargained with people in terms of covenants.”

That changed in high school, Vuoso-Murphy said, when the teachings of Jesus came to the forefront.

“I used the joke, ‘I went to 12 years of Catholic school and it took me 12 years of therapy to get over it,’ ” she said. “But it wasn’t the religion that was the issue; it was the strict Italian culture.

“When I got into high school, and the priests were all Irish, it was wonderful. That’s when I first realized that there was a difference. They were teaching the same thing, but their way of addressing it was different,” Vuoso-Murphy explained. “One was very strict and limiting and one was very open and loving. That was my experience. It was loving and accepting rather than ‘you’re going to be punished.’”

When Vuoso-Murphy married and had children, her family returned to the Catholic church.

“My in-laws were Irish Catholic and it was important to them that we continue the tradition. We were part of a Catholic community and it was wonderful. It was a loving community; there was a young priest who was very progressive. I was able to reconcile my childhood thoughts about what Catholicism was. I realized the difference was in culture and presentation, not the religion itself.”

Vuoso-Murphy began a process of self-healing in 1978, developing an interest in metaphysical and spiritual teachings. She became a MariEl practicioner, which is a form of energy therapy, and a Reiki master, but “I would feel this churning deep within me - I knew there’s something really, really important I have to do, and I had no idea what it was.”

Following a serious injury to her four-year-old son from a bad fall in which he had a fractured skull, a subdural hematoma, and a possibility of brain damage and seizure disorder, she did a lot of soul searching and praying.

“One day I was on my knees praying in the kitchen. ‘Please God, tell me what to do’ and the phone rang. It was a friend calling about the seminary. And that was it.”

Vuoso-Murphey had a need for healing, from which came her original pursuit of her search for spirituality.

“I grew up in a violent environment and that was the basis for my need to heal. It was a process and everything built on the next and the next,” she said. “I owe my life and my sanity to my father because he was the reason I needed to do this deep healing. This was a man who was tormented.”

That, she said, is what she needed in her life to bring her to where she is now. Without her childhood experience, she believes the life she lives so joyfully today would not have been possible.

“I could not be effective today had I not gone through the process and had the willingness to do that deep inner work that allowed me to heal,” she said. “It allowed me to develop my empathy.”

Vuoso-Murphy graduated from The New Seminary in Manhattan in 1988, and soon thereafter was introduced to Unity, a prayer ministry begun in 1889 by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore following Myrtle’s recovery from tuberculosis, which they believed was cured through spiritual healing.

“Charles Fillmore studied every religion out there, and he settled with the Bible and the teachings of Jesus as being that which best represented the commonalities between all religions. He focused on what was the same, and said it was personified with the teachings of Jesus,” Vuoso-Murphy said.

“I got involved in Unity when I saw an article in the paper for abundance classes being held at a Unity church in Boonton, which is where I lived at that time,” said Vuoso-Murphy. “That was in June of 1998. I hit it off with the teacher, who was attending the same seminary I attended.”

Her relationship with the teacher led to Vuoso-Murphy teaching “A Course in Miracles,” then to giving a “talk” at Sunday services. At Unity, there are talks rather than sermons.

“I was a wallflower; no way I was going to stand up in front of a bunch of people and talk. That was what I thought in the summer 1987.”

Then, in November of 1988, Vuoso-Murphy did her first talk at Unity Church in Boonton, and that’s how she began her relationship with Unity.

The teachings and philosophy of Unity are in line with Vuoso-Murphy’s ideas and beliefs. It is a religion that claims no dogma and no creed. Her purpose and hope is to, “Empower people to be the best they can be, to accept and own their own divine nature. We can dream and go after that dream. If they have that dream, there are inner qualities that will support them in achieving that dream.”

The relationship between Jesus and God is the same that we all have, according to Unity. “He was the son of God as we are all children of God,” she said. “The same qualities that Jesus expressed fully are in all of us. He was the first to reach his full realization. We’re all on that same path to get to the same level of realization and we have the potential to achieve it. Within us, it’s just potential. Within him it was fully realized.”

For more information about Unity Spiritual Center, visit its website.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify Vuoso-Murphy's reliance on therapy.