The Spiritual Growth Institute was first gathered on June 1, 2013 by a group of Ministers and Practitioners who represented a variety of Metaphysical, New Thought, Spiritualist, Sufi, and Pureland Buddhist Backgrounds. Prior to this, the Rev. Dr. Kyle Burch, being a university professor and education specialist was invited by the Universal Church of the Master (UCM) to conduct research and teach a History and Polity course for the UCM. Dr. Burch was also the vice president of the Universal Church of the Master Board of Trustees at the time.
Dr. Burch conducted significant primary research into the early formation of the UCM and the life of the then mysterious “founder” of UCM, the Rev. William H. Briggs. Rev. Briggs was a prominent Freemason in the state of California during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Dr. Burch, also a Freemason as well as an academic, was able to access the archives of the Grand Lodge of California as well as the archives if the State of California Department of Education and the many libraries in the region. These resources along with many hours of personal interviews with the Rev. Robert Ferguson, third president of UCM, revealed a heretofore unknown story of not one, but TWO Spiritual Leaders in the middle of an exciting time of spiritual revolution in the United States. The lives, legacy, and spiritual mission of the Rev’s William and Jennie Briggs re-opened a new vista of spiritual growth that had been lost in time.
The group that gathered in 2013, decided it would let a new organization be born from the original ideas of The Rev. Dr. William H. Briggs (1853-1933) and his life partner, The Rev. Mrs. Jennie Owen Briggs and those early Metaphysicians who taught, influenced, and motivated them from the years 1880-1930. Eventually, this new Spiritual Organization, now known as the Spiritual Growth Institute was incorporated under the laws of the state of California on May 11, 2015. During these years of formation, the Reverend Robert A. Ferguson, third president of the Universal Church of the Master, was a great friend and source of historical information. Rev. Ferguson gave the Spiritual Growth Institute a reliable source of historical data, prior to the Fitzgerald years (Byron Fitzgerald was the second president of UCM). Rev. Ferguson remained a good friend and transferred his ordination to the Spiritual Growth Institute prior to his passing in 2018.
How it all began…
William Briggs came to California from Springfield Illinois shortly after he was born (August 9, 1853) by his parents, Elijah Briggs (1826 - 1908) and Lucinda P Mosier Briggs (1832 - 1920), who arrived during the California Gold Rush. The family originally headed for San Francisco but Elijah Briggs was a blacksmith by trade and men in his Masonic Lodge encouraged him to go to Stockton, California, which was starting a ship manufacturing industry and needed good metal workers. The Briggs family moved to Stockton and had membership in the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Both Elijah and Lucinda became elders in the church. Elijah was an active Freemason and William followed in his father’s footsteps. In education and career, however, he followed in his mother’s footsteps. Lucinda was educated in a Women’s Seminary in the Midwest, her father was a Methodist Minister and she was groomed to do the work of a Christian school teacher. At that time, married women could not become school teachers and her career goals changed when she met the strong and handsome Elijah at an outdoor Gospel Meeting associated with the Stone-Campbell Movement that became the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ. The two were married and decided to move west to California and help establish a civilized Christian society in the Wild West.
So, William Briggs grew up in Stockton, California. His parents sent him to Hesperian College in Woodlawn California. It was at Hesperian College that he met his bride to be, Miss Jennie Owens from Sacramento, California. Jennie was the daughter of a Methodist Circuit Rider and was boarding at Hesperian when she met William. After Graduation, the two were married and they both took teaching fellowships at Washington College in Irvington (Fremont) California. They both earned their Masters’ degrees while teaching at the College. William taught science and the Bible while Jennie taught poetry and music. William also attended the Homeopathic Medical College of San Francisco in the late 1880’s, which is why he is often referred to as “Dr. Briggs” but there is no record of him practicing in a clinic or office.
When William and Jennie Briggs went to work at Washington College they became close friends with Annie Rix Militz and her sister Harriet Hale Rix (Home of Truth, Alameda CA). Through their friendship with the Rix sisters, the Briggs became students of Mrs. Emma Curtis Hopkins. The Briggs’ became members of the Hopkins Metaphysical Association and met Charles and Myrtle Fillmore. Through their association with Mrs. Hopkins, they also became friends with the Rev. Malinda Cramer (Divine Science) in San Francisco.
After Washington College, William, already a Disciples of Christ minister was appointed as pastor of the First Christian Church, (Disciples of Christ) in Stockton, California from 1895-97. It was during this time that Rev. Briggs started taking correspondence courses from William Walter Atkinson’s New Thought Association and the American University (not associated with the current American University in Washington D.C.). He took courses in “Mental Science” and “New Thought.” Sometime after the 1906 earthquake Rev. Briggs, a very active Freemason met Charles F. Haanel through his Masonic Lodge. Charles Haanel had written and published The Master Key System in 1912 as lessons then as a book in 1916. It was originally intended as a lecture series offered to the Masonic brethren through the lodge system. Rev. Briggs strongly supported Brother Haanel and became a lecturer for the course.
The Master Key System by Charles Haanel remains as the prominent textbook for the Spiritual Growth Institute. It is a prerequisite study for all SGI Students prior to licensure as a minister, teacher, or life coach/practitioner.
When the course became a public offering in 1912, Jennie took the course and convinced
William to consider the two of them taking to the lecture circuit and preach this New Thought
to the people. Jennie, being the daughter of a Methodist circuit preacher always enjoyed travel.
Her education and skills in music (voice and organ) also helped to open many doors in many
communities throughout California. Jennie was as popular as her husband with the
couple earning the title of the “Evangelists of Encouragement.”
The Briggs’ became “New Thought Evangelists” and they traveled up and down the state of California to give lectures or to provide music for other New Thought teachers and events. The Briggs’ were known for their warmth and kindness. They believed in the empowerment of all people regardless of race, religion, or sex. During a time when Chinese and African Americans were horribly treated by the dominate culture in American society, the Briggs’ were known for their close friendships and ministry with all people regardless of race, color, or creed. Dr. Chang Chung was a Buddhist scholar who traveled with the Briggs as a Spiritual Healer. They viewed each stranger as “a friend we haven’t met yet.” At the height of their traveling ministry, Dr. Briggs was asked to be the pastor of the Universal Church of the Master in Los Angeles. It was an independent New Thought Church that also taught Spiritualism. Eventually, other ministers wanted to join the charismatic couple and requested to have their ordinations transferred to the Universal Church of the Master.
As William and Jennie grew older and many of the local members moved on or passed away, they moved the UCM Church to Oakland California and were able to travel back and forth from Stockton to Oakland. The years passed and the Briggs’ decided to retire and stay in Stockton after the passing of their parents. In 1930 Dr. Briggs sold the UCM Charter for $500.00 to the Rev. Byron J. Fitzgerald, a railroad telegrapher and part-time Spiritualist minister who owned the office building where the Universal Church of the Master held their meetings. Rev. Fitzgerald and his mother were Spiritualists and took over the ministry upon the retirement of the Briggs’ from public life. The Fitzgerald’s moved UCM into a very different direction. They replaced The Master Key System and the Judeo-Christian Bible with a revisionist bible called Oahspe: A New Bible. Later in the 1950’s, Rev. Fitzgerald hired a ghost writer from Los Angeles to write a new text book and ceremonies book under his name to replace Oahspe. Dr. William H. Briggs passed away in 1933. It is said that his partner in life and love, the Rev. Jennie Briggs, sang the hymn “Spirit Divine, Inspire Our Prayer” by Andrew Reed to her beloved William as the angels came to greet him.
In 2013, after studying and researching the history of The Rev’s William and Jennie Briggs and studying The Master Key System by Charles Haanel, the small group of ministers wanted to continue the work and legacy of the Briggs. There was concern that Jennie’s considerable contributions and the fact that she was a highly educated ordained minister in her own right had been lost in history. Even the Briggs’ strong commitment to racial, gender, and religious equality was lost to time. It was truly unfortunate that such a rich and wonderful history was not known and essentially lost. This is probably why many people in New Thought today have never heard of William and Jennie Briggs, let alone from within the church which claims Rev. Briggs as its founder. (Actually, Rev. Briggs was not the “founder” of UCM. All historical evidence shows that the first Universal Church of the Master was gathered by a small group of Spiritualists in Los Angeles, California and called Rev. Briggs to conduct monthly services and help them to apply as a religious organization with the state.)
So, the Spiritual Growth Institute sees itself as the modern spiritual great grandchildren of Rev’s William and Jennie Briggs, and we have gathered together and to make a new work. SPIRITUAL GROWTH INSTITUTE, is committed to the renewal of the Briggs’ intentions of racial, gender, and religious equality as well as the virtues of kindness, generosity, cooperation and friendship with others in the New Thought ministry.
Spiritual Growth Institute respects the work of our brother and sister New Thought organizations and opens their community to those who seek safe harbor. Spiritual Growth Institute is committed to helping everyone who comes to them to develop spiritually in an environment that is safe and welcoming.