The Rev. Mary Lou Houllis used to work as a travel agent, a substitute teacher and a window decorator, but she continued searching for a life of deeper meaning.
"I was always on a spiritual quest," said Houllis.
Then one day about 15 years ago, while sitting on the living room couch in her Tarpon Springs home, Houllis said she was reading the Bible and had a vision. She saw herself as being part of the Bible, that it was actually within her, rather than just being a book filled with words.
You are the book, a voice told her.
"I had an illumination of the Bible and started to see the interconnectedness of all humanity," recalled Houllis.
A native of St. Petersburg, Houllis was ordained in the late 1990s by a ministry out of Niagara Falls. After more searching, she put her epiphany into action: Eight years ago, she started New Beginnings Ministries, a nondenominational church that sits off the beaten path on Bonita Road in Hudson.
"We reach out in oneness," she said. "We celebrate the oneness of all people."
Next Saturday, she and more than 30 volunteers will host the second annual World Day of Peace at Sims Park in downtown New Port Richey. Leaders and followers of different faiths, including Christians, Jews, Native Americans, Muslims and Buddhists, will again come together to pray and socialize.
More than 500 people attended last year's event at the church in Hudson, so this year organizers have expanded it to a public venue.
During the free event, different spiritual leaders will say prayers throughout the day, and bands will perform. There also will be Native American drumming, children's activities and even a Michael Jackson impersonator.
Pam Hadesty and her husband, Mark, attended church with Houllis before and were on the same sort of search. They helped her start New Beginnings and now serve as the "music pastors."
"This is our dream and our vision for peace and oneness," said Mrs. Hadesty.
She said the church is a "oneness ministry" with the goal of taking down the walls that separate people — including race, religion and politics.
"We've got a big vision," Mrs. Hadesty said. "We see it as a day when everyone comes together."
Houllis said the overall goal of the ministry and of the event is to help people set aside differences and divisions, and to join people from all religions and all walks of life.
"There's an awakening happening at this moment in history," she said, adding that the Bible, the Mayan calendar and many other religious and spiritual texts point to this.
"We're in the greatest shift that the world has ever experienced," she said, a shift from the old ways based on greed, money and power toward a new paradigm built on love and unity.
Marilynn deChant, a former New Port Richey City Council member, is on the planning committee for the World Day of Peace. She helped organizers navigate the often-complex regulations and paperwork required for such an event.
"I have a new-thought background," said deChant, who was raised Catholic. She attended the event last year, and that's where she met Houllis.
"When you learn about other cultures, you realize how things come together," deChant said.
The Rev. Drew Willard, pastor of the United Church of Christ in Holiday and chairman of the West Pasco Ministerial Association, said Houllis' concept of oneness with one another and with God is akin to one of the main teachings of the Bible and his church: "That they all may be one."
"I'm very grateful for her participation. … We all need to work together," said Willard, whose ecumenical organization brings together different churches in the area.
"She has made that happen with the event and brought a lot of people of good will together to pray" Willard added. "It's a very courageous position to take in these times."
Houllis knows that what she is doing can be considered controversial by some religious organizations, but it hasn't slowed her down.
"We've shaken some of the mainstream up because we're doing things outside of the box," she said.
"Faith in Motion" is a weekly feature about an individual or group doing something inspiring in the course of a spiritual journey. Story ideas are welcomed, via e-mail. Send them to Mindy.Rubenstein@me.com.