University Presbyterian Church began in worship at the home of Bill and Florence Antablin, in 1968. Pastor Antablin and a group of adventurous souls chartered the congregation in May 1969; they viewed the congregation as a mission on the northern frontier of Fresno, ministering to the community springing up around the new site of Fresno State University and beyond. The congregation initially met in ecumenical partnership with the Wesley United Methodist congregation. A sense of partnership with area churches has marked us ever since. On September 10, 1978, our first service was held on our current site.
Today, we have grown to host three worship services on Sundays—a traditional service; a contemporary service designed for young families, young adults, and youth; and a service for Lao-speaking immigrants. We’ve added new staff positions in children’s, youth, and college ministries, and enjoyed outstanding interns in several areas. We also help form new pastors, counselors, and missionaries through our partnership with the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary. With a large number of our members who work in local schools and universities, and by being heavily invested in the camping ministry of Calvin Crest Christian Conferences, our congregation takes seriously our vocation to form disciples of all ages for Christian service no matter what career they choose to pursue, no matter where God’s sends them in the world.
Years ago, Francis McConnell, a teacher and a visionary disciple, began bringing some of her students with her to worship. Hers was a vision for a church that represented the fullness of the Kingdom of God. With these students, she helped form God’s Asian Youth Group, and later, when the Rev. Sharon Stanley joined UPC as our parish associate for multicultural mission, the seeds were planted for an expanding multicultural ministry. In 2001, we began a strategic partnership with the Lao Evangelical Church (Laos); we’ve sent mission teams and have brought Lao pastoral leaders to Fresno to help develop this partnership. In 2007, we commissioned two Lay Pastors to shepherd our Lao Ministry, which has shown tremendous growth in conversions and new church membership.
The stories of ordinary people who have done extraordinary things are legion. Cordie and Deborah Qualle helped initiate the Walk to Emmaus renewal ministry here in the Central Valley. Tina Freedman, Becky Bartsch, and many others have kept us passionate about our neighborhood ministries, and Phyllis Neal helped us sponsor literacy programs for non-English speaking immigrants. Zillah and Bill Turner and Margil Vanderhoff inspired a denominationally funded computer-based tutoring program for kids living in the apartments around us. In addition, UPC was a founding member of the Faith in Community organization, which seeks to extend biblical justice to issues of housing, healthcare, and poverty in our city.
We gather for worship on a piece of land that we increasingly recognize serves as a neighborhood park, oasis, and healing place in the midst of a diverse, exciting, dynamic, and sometimes troubled community. A few blocks away over 22,000 students are busy trying to find a path for their lives, and 3,000staff and faculty seek to help them. Across the street is a growing immigrant population of people from various racial, ethic, and language groups. The area around us is in transition. Many days it can feel the effects of rising crime and an array of social problems. These and other conditions urge us to ask, “How is the church that worships at Cedar and Roberts called to love God and love our neighbors and seek God’s Kingdom in this place, for these people, and with this community?”
We’re not sure we have the answer, but we are sure that God will show us the answer as we worship, pray, and serve together. We sense that this answer will have something to do with becoming a catalyst for fostering real, human connections between families who live in suburbia, coming-of-age university students, refugee families, and neighboring apartment residents. We believe this answer will have something to do with creating a sense of sacred space where ordinary people of many walks of life can find and grow in hope and faith and love. The answer will come as we work together to overcome isolation and poverty, crime and neglect, injustice, and pain for the sake of the common good.