At University Baptist Church, we have always taken seriously the words of Jesus in Matthew 22:36-39:
“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’
This is the most important, the first on any list.
But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ “
In 1894, the campus of the University of Washington was moved from its original location in downtown Seattle to a new site on the heights above Union Bay on Lake Washington. A few years later in 1901, the Seattle Baptist Missionary Society saw the need to establish an American Baptist Church in this “new frontier” in NE Seattle. The Rev. George Campbell, a veteran missionary to China, built a house for his family near 42nd and 7th Avenue NE in the new “University District.” It was in the Campbell’s home on December 4, 1901, with 38 charter members, that University Baptist Church began.
Less than a year later, UBC called its first permanent pastor and plans proceeded for construction of the first sanctuary at the corner of NE 45th and Brooklyn Ave (where the Safeco Building is today). The UBC cornerstone was laid on May 31, 1904, and UBC grew in that place for the next two decades. When that original building became too small, UBC met for a time in the Neptune Theatre just across 45th Ave. Groundbreaking for their new building at 12th and 47th NE took place on July 4, 1925, and that building was UBC’s home until 2010.
UBC Actions Through the 20th Century
In the 1940s, UBC church members lobbied for the repeal of the racist Chinese Exclusion Act. All of these were actions of faith taken by Baptists who believed the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John: “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other.“
In the 1950s, members wrote letters and telegrams to the White House urging the president to back down from using nuclear weapons on China.
In the 1960s, the Rev. Dr. Ray Neilsen led the University Baptist Church in protests and campaigns against the Vietnam war and against the use of nuclear weapons and nuclear testing.
In the 1970s, UBC ministered to the uncertainty and unrest in the nation’s youth during this era in American history, opening a youth hostel that provided a safe and secure place for wandering youth to stay.
In the 1980s, UBC helped to house, protect, and transport illegal Salvadoran refugees, following Lot’s example of radical hospitality in Sodom.
Click here to read/listen
to a Jan-2017 KUOW focus story
on UBC’s sanctuary efforts in the 1980s.
UBC in The 1990s – Becoming A Welcoming and Affirming Congregation
The University Baptist Church congregation was led by co-pastors Tim Phillips and Anne Hall. Tim helped UBC clarify our beliefs regarding sex and gender – directly confronting the question of whether we should or should not fellowship with and put into positions of authority members of our faith who also happen to be gay or lesbian. UBC became an active part of a movemenet that formed a whole region of ABC churches known as the Evergreen Association, where our LGBT brothers and sisters could feel welcomed, loved, and safe about openly being the person God created them to be. We took seriously the teaching in Genesis that says “God created human beings in his own image,” and it led us to becoming the open and welcoming congregation we are today.
All of these actions that University Baptist Church has felt led to undertake, and our ability to find the inspiration to take action from the scriptures, didn’t fall out of thin air. Liberalism — the theological movement that said it was acceptable, even desirable, to examine the scriptures critically through the lenses of science, history, and archaeology — didn’t really start to be considered by American Baptists until after WWI, and its seeds didn’t really get planted at UBC until well into the 20th Century. Still, the debate caused by the movement kicked up a lot of dust and led to the beginnings of many “Conservative Baptist” and “non-denominational” churches who took issue with the fact that American Baptists would even consider allowing this point of view to be spread from their pulpits. Luckily, our American Baptist predecessors believed God gave us brains to use them.
In 2000 UBC sold the building we had occupied for 85 years at the corner of 12th and 47th NE in the U-District, choosing to become tenants (along with some two dozen other nonprofit organizations) in the massive historic University Christian Church – Disciples of Christ building located at 15th and 50th. As a congregation who is deeply passionate about mission, we realized that our own budget could be significantly reduced if we chose to lease our office, conference room, and sanctuary, and sold our beloved but aging building. Some proceeds from the sale of the building enlarged our endowment fund, while another portion of the proceeds was invested. With a heart for those living on the margins and a conviction that we are here to literally make a difference, the UBC community visits the topic of best use of our resources regularly at our church business meetings.