Philadelphia Biblical University reaches out to Bucks community

University president Todd Williams with "Tree Grace II," by Makoto Fujimura. School galleries are open to the public.
University president Todd Williams with "Tree Grace II," by Makoto Fujimura. School galleries are open to the public. (BILL REED / Staff)
Posted: November 13, 2011

Tucked away behind Langhorne Manor Borough's stately stone homes, Philadelphia Biblical University's bucolic campus sits hidden from cars rushing to the nearby SEPTA train station and bustling Route 1.

Little do those motorists know what they're missing: 450 picturesque acres dotted by a pond, gardens, athletic fields, and historic and modern buildings. And the campus is completely open to the public - no guard shacks, security gates, or metal detectors.

"We want to be part of the Bucks County community," university president Todd Williams said. "We don't want to be the best-kept secret in Bucks County."

That's why Williams is inviting the community to visit the university's artwork, attend theatrical and musical performances, and play tennis on the new, lighted courts - free.

Even to walk the dog.

"The benefit to the university is that we should make a difference. By reaching out, we serve as a role model to students, to be greater than our own self-interest, to make positive contributions to society," Williams said. "As a university, we have resources. We're here - we ought to do something. We're not a cloistered community."

Williams, who graduated in 1992 from what was then the Philadelphia College of Bible, developed his commitment to community service at Temple University, where he earned his master's and doctoral degrees. He likens his alma mater's role in Philadelphia to what his employer can be in Bucks.

"Temple has a positive impact on the community," Williams said, "and Philadelphia Biblical University can make a positive impact here."

For one of the college's neighbors, Nichole Garonski, that means taking her 16-month-old daughter, Penelope, and her Shiba Inu dog, Suzy, to the pond on campus twice a day.

"There was a brown duck that had a hook in its beak," Garonski said on a recent rainy day. "Now, we feed the ducks."

Concerts and plays such as Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing are open to the public, and students and faculty members give music lessons to area residents. Though all of the 843 undergraduate students work toward bachelor's degrees in Bible studies, they also can earn degrees in music, business administration, education, and liberal arts.

The student body, which also includes 400 graduate students, brings cultural diversity to the community, with Thailand, China, Africa, Australia, and the United Kingdom represented.

Art is on display in every building and around the campus. Tree Grace II, a commissioned piece by Makoto Fujimura, hangs in the Biblical Learning Center. The Connie A. Eastburn Gallery, also in the main classroom building, features rotating exhibits provided by White Stone Gallery in Manayunk. And student works are on display in a new gallery in the Mason Activity Center.

Lectures and workshops, too, are open to the public, and the university hosts groups such as the county Board of Commissioners, the Lower Bucks Chamber of Commerce, and Red Cross blood drives. A career fair for students and residents looking for jobs is scheduled for Wednesday.

The site has a rich history, dating to 1682, when William Penn's commissioners laid out the tracts. It has been used as a farm, an amusement park, a home for orphaned girls, a summer hotel, and schools run by the Marist fathers. The Philadelphia College of Bible, which traces its roots to 1913, moved there from Center City in 1979, and it became a university in 2000.

As members of the community, students donate food to the Penndel food pantry, direct the homeless to shelters in winter, and tutor children. Last week, they cleaned up Mill Creek in Penndel.

The service projects are student-driven and are not done for academic credit, Williams said.

"College is not a parenthesis, that for four or five years it's not real life - you learn and then return to real life," he said. "It's a time for giving back to others as students. It's not a time-out, it's preparatory time. We push back on the idea that this is a holding place."

It is also a place that is throwing its doors wide open.

Williams has just one request: If you walk your dog around the manicured grounds, please clean up after it.


Contact staff writer Bill Reed

at 215-801-2964, wreed@philly.com, or @breedbucks on Twitter. Read his blog, BucksInq, at www.philly.com/bucksinq.

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