University Episcopal Center gets new, five-story home

After the University Episcopal Center’s members spent a year as guests of the University Baptist Church, the center achieved its third incarnation on the University campus.

The University Episcopal Center has been on campus since 1907, first as a house, then as the former University Episcopal Center – built like a student center with a large cafeteria on the lower level, a lounge, meeting rooms and worship space upstairs.

However, about seven years ago church administrators decided it was time for a change.

“The building was designed as a typical ‘Canterbury Club,’ ” Mary Shepard, a longtime member of the church, wrote about the old building. “(However) the idea that students from out of town would automatically gravitate to a church setting to find … friends and … a spouse was no longer viable.”

Also, rising maintenance costs and an increasing lack of funds meant that the center would have to seek another option if it was going to stay on campus, Mary Shepard wrote.

Thus the church, led by then-chaplain Janet Wheelock, embarked on a project with the Dunbar Development Corporation and the nonprofit Wedum Foundation in a venture that would result in not only a new center, but 44 housing units for University students to rent as well.

The old building was razed, along with a recently purchased building next door. The church moved into the nearby University Baptist Church.

“We had a very warm welcome,” said the church’s chaplain, Neil Elliott. “We worked together with the Baptists.”

Meanwhile, over the 2002-03 school year, Dunbar Development Corporation built the new building, said Jean Westberg, the church’s former executive director in charge of overseeing the project.

The corporation completed the project in time for the beginning of the fall semester.

The five-story building owned by the Wedum Foundation is composed of four upper floors of student apartments and the first floor leased by the church. However, the property itself still belongs to the church, and after 60 years, ownership of the entire building will be transferred to the University Episcopal Church, Westburg said.

The new center has a chapel, meeting and meditation rooms, offices, a lounge and a kitchen area.

“I’m delighted with how everything turned out,” Westburg said. “It’s a comfortable, warm, inviting space, with interesting modern architecture.”

A new feature of the center is its intentional faith community, consisting of 12 apartments that also occupy the first floor of the building.

The 12 students who live there make no other commitment than to form a community. The church does not require the students to be a part of the church, Elliot said.

Junior Nathan Handel, who lives in the community, said this was a good stance for the University Episcopal Church to take.

“The UEC is approaching it from a very positive manner,” Handel said. “They are there if we need them, but we are not required to stop in. It works out better than if we were forced.”

Handel said only one of the 12 renting students is an Episcopalian. The others come from diverse faiths and ethnic backgrounds.

Because the church did not set guidelines, Handel said the community got together and made their own. Now they eat dinner together once a month, hold a weekly prayer and planning session and go out together.

“People learn and grow in a community, and this is a way to accomplish that,” Handel said. “By providing this building and opportunity, (the church) is allowing us to define what worship and community will be in our lives.”

Samuel Stewart is a freelance writer. The freelance editor welcomes comments at [email protected]