Highlands Church Celebrates Centennial

by Ellen Nagy

Hello, Highlands Neighbors.

University Baptist and Brethren Church

There is a Centennial Celebration going on in the Highlands neighborhood this year! One of your neighbors—the University Baptist and Brethren Church (UBBC) —is turning 100 years old.

The Beginning

UBBC was founded in 1922 by a small group of local residents who wanted to establish a Baptist Church in State College. Around this time the town’s population was about 2,500 but was increasing rapidly with the influx of young men who had served in the military during World War I.

The church founders were a dynamic and progressive congregation from the start. Many of them were affiliated with the local college, which was then known as Pennsylvania State College. However, faculty and staff usually referred to it as “the university.” Thus “University” became part of the church’s name—University Baptist Church (UBC). After months of planning, the church became official in September 1922. The congregation had a special concern for college students’ spiritual needs and wanted to provide a home away from home for them. During the following forty years, one of the church’s main missions continued to be helping Penn State students.

For six years the congregation met in private homes and classroom buildings on campus until they could establish their own church building. They purchased an empty lot on the corner of South Burrowes and West Nittany in 1923 for $2,620. The white stone colonial style building was dedicated in January 1928. Over the years there have been several additions to the church facilities, including an education building and the purchase of three other properties on the block which UBBC uses for outreach.

Welcoming a New Congregation

Forty-plus years after the Baptists met to form UBC, another group of people in State College began to discuss forming a Church of the Brethren. Like the Baptists, most were affiliated with Penn State, and they initially met in private homes. But their numbers were fewer, they didn’t have much money, and by then the town already had many churches. So they decided to “shop around” to see if they might mesh well in terms of character and values with any of the existing churches.

After visiting many local churches, they decided that UBC had the most similarities in faith and practices, a common emphasis on character and missions, and firm commitments to community outreach, service, and social justice. The Baptists agreed, and in the 1960s’ ecumenical spirit, they invited the Brethren to join their congregation through a dual affiliation. The first official combined service was celebrated in November 1968. Ten years later, the members agreed to change the name to University Baptist and Brethren Church—UBBC.

Helping those in need locally and abroad has always been a major part of UBBC’s commitment. When there were rapid social changes in our country and around the world in the 1970s, UBBC became even more involved with outreach efforts. The UBBC Refugee Resettlement Committee helped to sponsor seven refugee families from Vietnam and others from Burma, Cuba and Romania. In 1989 UBBC also helped families from Russia find a new life in State College. During our Centennial year we are partnering with other local faiths to host Afghans and Ukrainians in need of resettlement.

UBBC local outreach includes establishing the Community Alternatives in Criminal Justice which continues to operate out of one of our properties which we purchased and renovated as part of our local mission commitment. The goal was to offer office space at a rent much lower than market price to local not-for-profit social service agencies. In 1982 we held the first UBBC Alternative Christmas Fair, which over 38 years has raised and distributed $830,800 to dozens of local, national, and international social service programs.

“Centre Safe (formerly the Centre County Women’s Resource Center) has had a long and fruitful partnership with UBBC. From the very start, we have been beneficiaries of the Alternative Christmas Fair. But perhaps even more profoundly has been our partnership with UBBC in providing housing to survivors fleeing abusive situations. UBBC allows us to rent a church-owned house at considerably below market value for domestic violence victims to live in, to stabilize their lives, and to create a home for themselves and their children.”
 –Anne Ard, Executive Director, Centre Safe

UBBC collaborated with other community groups to establish the in-patient psychiatric unit at Centre Community Hospital, the Volunteers in Prison program, the State College Food Bank, and the first Habitat for Humanity affiliate in PA. Outreach to other local faith communities included a shared ministry, joint task forces, and occasional joint worship services. These efforts fostered a greater appreciation and respect for other religions. This ecumenical approach continues to enrich our congregation while also serving the community.

UBBC’S Centennial Theme: A Welcoming Community Woven Together in Faith, Love and Service

This theme describes the rich history of UBBC perfectly.  Believing that God’s unbounded love and grace are offered to all and meant to be shared and celebrated by all, UBBC embraces persons of every age, race, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, ethnic and religious background, and economic means as vital and integral members of God’s family.  We welcome EVERYONE to participate in all aspects of worship, membership, and the life of our church.  Fellowship is the gift UBBC members have received from each other as we have continued to work together in strengthening our faith, sharing our lives with each other, and serving others through our local outreach and national and international missions. 

For the last 100 years, UBBC members have tried to be good neighbors to residents of State College and surrounding communities, but especially to our neighbors in the Highlands.  We welcome you to join us on Sundays at 9:30 a.m.  To learn more about UBBC, please visit our website at www.UBBCwelcome.org           

University Baptist and Brethren Church
411 South Burrowes St. 
State College PA 16801
Sunday Services 9:30 a.m.

Ellen Nagy and her husband Carl moved to State College in 1999 from Dallas, Pennsylvania where Ellen used her skills as an English teacher while working in health care communications for a nursing home, Visiting Nurse Association, and Northeast Regional Cancer Institute. Their two adult daughters (both of whom graduated from Penn State) and their husbands were living in Central PA and urged them to “just pick up and move” to State College.  At that point the lure was just one grandchild, but to the delight of the proud grandparents, three more grandchildren came along quickly.  Ellen enjoyed working at Penn State Outreach Marketing for two years and as Marketing Manager at Penn State’s Student Health Center for five years. But the opportunity to help their daughters and spend more time with grandchildren was just too good to pass up, so Ellen retired early from Penn State.  She has never regretted it as she has been blessed with wonderful memories and close relationships with her grandchildren who are now ages 18 to 25. She is a member of University Baptist and Brethren Church where she is a Deacon and active with the planning of the church’s Centennial Celebration.