By Kedrick Nettleton, Faith Editor
For students at Oklahoma Baptist University looking for a church congregation to be a part of, home could be found just across the street.
University Baptist Church’s history has been deeply interwoven with OBU, and the church continues today to be a powerful partner in the spiritual development of students. The communities of the church and university overlap, and the result of this overlap is a congregation that enjoys welcoming the young people who come to Shawnee through the university.
Justin Dunn is the pastor of University Baptist Church, and he’s thankful for the connection that the church has been able to share with OBU.
“In the past, and in some ways today, the church being across the street from campus was convenient and helpful for students who didn’t have cars or were saving on gas money,” Dunn said. “At times the church has hosted OBU events and different organizations in our facility. A couple of times over the past ninety-eight years UBC has held services on the campus during times of construction or special occasions.”
The fact the church congregation is peopled by many from the OBU community – both students and faculty – allows connections to be made beyond the school, and sometimes beyond the time of service.
“Through the years there have been many from the OBU community that have remained in the church long after graduation or retirement from working at the university,” Dunn said.
University Baptist Church has a rich history in Shawnee, being founded in 1921 as North Church.
“In those early days of 1921 the church met in a home with around 20 charter members,” Dunn said. “Much of the leadership, from a ministry student as pastor to two young women leading music, came from the student population at OBU.”
A few years later, the church building was constructed – which still stands as part of the facility today. In 1931, ten years after the church began, it was decided to change the name to University Baptist.
As pastor, Dunn is especially proud of the church’s social conscience, and the way that it has guided the congregation through the years.
“The church has had a history of taking stands on social issues of the time,” he said. “This has included racial equality and fair housing practices. Believing strongly in the autonomy of the local church, UBC has a long history of upholding the role of women in ministry. As such, women have the opportunity to serve in the role of deacons as voted on by the church.”
That strong social conscience still exists in the church.
“Today UBC continues this legacy of seeking Christ and being Christ in our community,” Dunn said. “Our ministries include partnering with Mission Shawnee in serving lunch once a quarter through H2O, hosting families through Family Promise, and many partnerships with the work of Community Renewal.”
UBC hosts two worship times every Sunday, a traditional service and a contemporary service. Dunn is quick to point out, though, that these are not separate groups – they are all expressions of the one body. The many generations served by the church add a richness to the congregation.
“We come from various backgrounds and there exists within the church a healthy theological diversity,” Dunn said. “We have various ministries, various interests, and various perspectives, but there isn’t a different place for each of those groups. They are all a function of the one church.”
Dr. Canaan Crane, associate professor of psychology and one of two worship leaders for the contemporary service at the church, echoes this.
“I think UBC is a great place for students who want to find ways to serve and who also want to interact with all ages and generations,” he said.
Dunn’s first advice for any students looking for a church is to take the decision seriously.
“It may sound typical, or ‘churchy’ but I would honestly first encourage them to pray,” he said. “Then, I would ask them to consider that just as they are a member of the OBU community, that plugging into a Shawnee church could be their opportunity to broaden their community and enhance their time not just on Bison Hill but in Shawnee… At UBC you will find a place to expand, explore, and strengthen your faith. Our community is flexible, free, and open to people at all stages of their faith development to come add to the ongoing conversation of knowing Christ and displaying Him in our lives. Any student that is considering a church home should check out UBC.”
This aspect of the congregation, the ability to add to an ongoing conversation, is what Crane points out in his own life.
“It’s a place where I’ve been challenged to grow in faith and to follow God’s call on my life,” he said. “We are a thoughtful congregation that believes we are God’s people doing God’s work in God’s world. We seek to deepen our relationships with each other and this also challenges us to live lives that reflect Christ to the world.”
Dunn, perhaps, sums it up best: UBC can become a home.
“UBC has become a home for me and my family,” he said, “and I want people in our community to know it may be a home for them – for a season or for a lifetime.”