|In 1969 Rev. Alan Dan Orme (retired, July
of 2008) left his seven-year calling as the Dean and a teacher at Carver
Bible College in Atlanta to pursue a 4th and 5th academic degree in further
preparation for a ministry of training men for the ministry. After
a year and a half working on an M.A. in Greek and Greek Classics in the
University Classics Department, he enrolled in the Ph.D. program in ancient
and medieval history. In the intervening time he had become aware
that there were no area churches clearly preaching the gospel and specifically
geared to a university-educated constituency.
He determined to remedy the situation by starting a church that would be evangelical, reformed, Presbyterian and geared to university students, faculty and other educated people. The Southern Presbytery of the Reformed Presbyterian Church (E.S.), in which he was a minister, gave him permission to start a church in Athens. In view of the fact that the RPC did not even have another church in Georgia, the presbytery gave him permission to "labor outside of the bounds of presbytery," as Presbyterians call serving a church not under the control of presbytery.
The University Church (TUC) was thus founded in August of 1970 on the campus of the University of Georgia. It soon took up residence in Memorial Hall. It was only the third church started on the campus in its 200-year history. In the early 19th century the Presbyterian and Baptist churches had been started on North Campus. More than a century later TUC followed.
The first organization was loose. A committee made decisions. The plan was to keep the church simple, and at the end of 4 years of doctoral studies, Dan Orme would pass the leadership on to someone else, or the church would be disbanded. As it turned out, the church prospered and Dr. Orme realized his real calling life was church ministry. For several years, however, he taught part-time at places in Atlanta: a seminary, a parachurch staff school and an institute related to Georgia State University.
Soon, two of the members of the church bought a 1920's house on Milledge Ave, a main street in Athens, in an area filled with fraternities and sororities. In fact, the house was purchased from a veterinary fraternity. It was a sizable, 10-room house with a garage that was converted into living space.
In 1983 that house was first rented, and later sold to a sorority. The church decided to move into Dr. Orme's 1896 home which was eventually to contain 17 rooms. The church flourished again as it had in the 70's and began slowly to gather a more stable constituency, a mixture of students, faculty and non-university people. The church house at present has 3 levels with 9 public rooms. It has adequate off-street parking, room for guests and residents and has the capacity for separate areas for such things as classes, nursery, cooking and social activities -- all going on at the same time.
This Church Street house was the second home in a residential environment for the church, but because it was less institutional than the Milledge Ave. property, something else happened. The church gradually became aware, as early as 1974, that TUC had really been a kind of "house church." Especially in the new house there was no attempt to make it look like a church with a sign, church furniture, platform or rows of chairs.
This consciousness grew as the years multiplied. The University Church was a "house church," joining the hundreds of thousands of churches in China, North Korea, Viet Nam and in the Arab countries -- and, historically, in the New Testament century. It appears that every New Testament church about which we have information was a house church. We can identify as many as 6 or 10 of them. At the same time we see no hard evidence that there even were such things as "building-churches," though no doubt there were some former synagogues that converted into Christian churches, and perhaps other "building-churches" that are not indicated in the text of the New Testament.
TUC, however, was destined to be quite different from most other American house churches, which are totally unorganized and unstructured groups -- rather like fellowship groups meeting on Sunday mornings, with no membership, no teachers, no leaders, no doctrine and no mission, other than to have fellowship with other believers.
TUC was to take the best of historic, reformed Presbyterianism and combine it with the New Testament example of house churches to make a unique combination. It has a membership admitted by examination, observes the sacraments, has elders and deacons, has a children's Sunday school, and an organized Sunday worship service with discussion and study groups following. But like the house church that it is, it has emphasis on fellowship, with members sharing a meal twice a week, and with serious involvement of the congregation in the worship and discussions. It is a kind of synthesis of the New Testament house-church tradition with the post-Constantinian tradition of "building-churches" that dominates the mentality of western churches today.
Typically in morning worship, one of a dozen persons is assigned to lead the worship, and the congregation itself is allowed to participate in expressions of worship and in petitionary prayer. And at the end of the more formal time of worship and preaching of the Word, individuals are invited to give reports of spiritual matters or to exhort the congregation, as the New Testament Christians almost certainly did.
The actual worship service of the church embodies multiple-person leading in prayer, with a fairly traditional service that uses historical hymnody and observes a dignified and reverent demeanor appropriate for the worship of Almighty God. Typically there are God-centered, theologically astute hymns, responsive readings, confession of faith using a creed, prayers of worship and petition, and preaching of the Word as parts of the service.
The mission of TUC is, first of all, "the communion of the saints," which is confessed in the Apostles' Creed. God intends for his church on the local level to be a fellowship, a "communion," or, as it might be described, as a family. The family gathers for worship of the gracious and holy God who has saved them through the atonement and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Second Person of the Trinity.
Its mission is furthermore to be a witness on earth of the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of God's children, and to be an encouragement as they live their daily lives involved with non-Christians, or with Christians who have varying degrees of understanding of what constitutes Christianity. This is a major external ministry of the church.
Furthermore, TUC has a more formal external ministry. Church Planting International represents TUC in various countries of the world, such as Myanmar, Uganda, Russia, Germany, and England. Also many scores of people have gone out from TUC into the ministry of the gospel in foreign lands, in pastoral ministry, and in eldership of churches. These have most often been in PCA churches, but many others have gone out to minister in parachurch ministries. Hopefully, in all of these cases, TUC has contributed to their preparation for ministry, and to their understanding of Christianity and what church life is about. At the local level, numerous members of the church are typically involved with external ministries in various capacities.
TUC was thus started through the clear circumstantial leading of God. It continues, trusting in God's supporting and sustaining grace, and will continue as long as God blesses it. It intends to be a ministry and example to the church universal for as long as it exists.
University Church Meets At:
397 South Church Street
Athens, Georgia 30605 USA
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