University Baptist Church celebrates a century in Shawnee

Tina Bridenstine
The Shawnee News-Star
The groundbreaking for the church’s current sanctuary took place in 1955.

Shawnee's University Baptist Church is celebrating a major milestone this weekend with a service observing the church's centennial anniversary.

According to Pastor Justin Dunn, there will be a meet and greet beginning at 9:30 a.m. and services at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, June 27.

Dunn said three of the seven living pastors for the church will return for the service, and there will be a celebration of the diversity of leadership styles and differences in expression of worship through the years. A picnic lunch will follow afterward.

The church has also commissioned a mosaic made by Shawnee resident and former Oklahoma Baptist University art professor Julie Blackstone, which will be presented to be permanently displayed in the church building.

University Baptist Church is celebrating 100 years in 2021.

According to updated information from a 1996 booklet that celebrated UBC's 75th anniversary, the church was founded in 1921. Originally called North Church, the name was changed to University Baptist Church in 1931, due to the original name leading to confusion about whether the church was associated with the Northern or Southern Baptist Convention.

When families who lived on what was then the north side of Shawnee found transportation to downtown churches too difficult – with a streetcar from town to OBU that was too inconvenient and expensive – a meeting in June of 1921 led to the organization of the church.

Reverend J. L. Guthrie, Reverend J. E. Akin and Reverend William Whicker met at Guthrie's home, located on what was then 310 W. North Street (now MacArthur). The Guthrie home served as the meeting place – relying on an old gas lantern to light services since the home had no electricity – through the remainder of the summer and into the fall. About 20 people signed the church charter, and Guthrie was elected the first pastor.

The groundbreaking for the building that never was. Plans for a $50,000 sanctuary never came to fruition, despite a ground breaking for the building in 1938.

Rita Collier Hedges of Lyford, Texas, said the first baptism took place at a pond owned by L.M. Collier, located one mile north and 1.5 miles west of OBU. She and her sisters, Rita, Novella, and Marie, as well as their mother Pearl Collier, were among those baptized.

The church has seen several changes over the years.

The first building took shape in the autumn of 1921, when volunteers erected a crude tabernacle with a dirt and sawdust floor and homemade benches at 2613 N. Kickapoo.

In September of 1928, the tabernacle was torn down and construction began on a three-story building, with services held in the auditorium of Shawnee Hall at OBU in the meantime. Today, that building is the north education wing, though the third story was removed during a renovation in 1976.

A groundbreaking took place in 1938 for a proposed $50,000 brick sanctuary, but due to financial concerns, volunteers built a temporary wooden tabernacle in 1939 instead.

The Kiddie Kottage served as a daycare for many families from when it was built in 1948 until it closed in the late 1970s.

“The concrete of our patio area was the floor of the white wooden tabernacle which extended to the east edge of our fellowship hall,” the booklet said. “Originally it was to be the basement floor of the proposed sanctuary.”

Under the tenure of the church's tenth pastor, Dr. T. Grady Nanney, who served from August 1945 until his retirement in 1956, the church built a Kiddie Kottage child daycare facility and started construction on a new sanctuary.

The Kiddie Kottage, built in 1948, kept children of ministerial families, allowing mothers to attend classes at OBU, until the service ended in 1978. The current sanctuary was ready for use by the end of 1957. And in 1988, the sanctuary was renovated, adding a new sound system, stained glass windows, better lighting, a new organ and refurbishing the interior.

Pictured is the outside and inside of University Baptist Church’s tabernacle building.

The church has seen a great number of pastors, congregants and deacons in its hundred years as well.

Among those is the church's longest standing pastor, Dr. Bob Searl, who served for 15 years starting in August 1996. Searl was UBC's 19th pastor.

Current pastor of UBC is Dunn, who became the 21st to lead the church when he began his tenure in May of 2018 with a Mother's Day sermon.

UBC's first female deacon was Cathy Manuel, who began serving around 1997, though the church gave its approval to allow women to serve as deacons almost three decades before.

It has seen many other changes as well over the years, from the decision to take on divorced persons as full members in the 1930s, to the creation of a women's handbell choir in 1976, to the participation of multiple and varied ministries through the years.

University Baptist Church was founded in 1921, originally called North Church.

The church began a contemporary worship service in 2003. Currently, UBC offers a traditional service at 8:30 a.m., a contemporary service at 11, and a Lay Led service that was adopted in 2013.

The church has also faced challenges and changing times with the COVID-19 pandemic that struck the country in 2020. Sunday School was discontinued from March 2020 until June 2021. The church transitioned to pre-recorded and live streamed worship services in March of 2020 until in-person services resumed in April 2021. And UBC also started a small food pantry ministry with a “give and take” shelf outside of the church's main entrance during that time.

“For 100 years UBC has moved forward to love God and love others,” the booklet said. “From the earliest days to the present, UBC seeks to love each other and show the love of Christ to others.”

Find out more about University Baptist Church at

Tina Bridenstine is a reporter for The Shawnee News-Star. She can be reached at or 405-214-3934. Follow her on Twitter @tbridenstine1