Get To Know Your Friendly Neighborhood Dorito Church
Grace Lutheran Church, aka the Dorito Church, is one of the most iconic buildings in State College. Along with Old Main, Beaver Stadium, and Canyon Pizza, it distinguishes itself from the Penn State community with its snack-like architecture.
The Dorito Church is known to many as the landmark in town that helps inebriated party enthusiasts realize where they are. While many students know the church as a landmark, not many know it on a personal level.
Grace Lutheran Church was erected in its current location in 1965 and the iconic church was designed by Pittsburgh-born architect Harold Wagoner. According to the Daily Collegian archives, the church had a former location before its move to Garner Street in 1965.
Wagoner, who is known mainly for his work with churches, designed the iconic building with some core Christian ideals in mind — the church was not intended to resemble a triangle corn chip, even if Doritos were introduced a year before the church’s move. It’s triangular shape actually has a greater significance and some Christian symbolism.
“There’s two things, the idea is that the outside of the church looks almost like a ship and that’s a Christian symbol,” Pastor Steven “Dorito Man” Lynn said. “The inside of the sanctuary is more nature. Stars up in the ceiling, honeycombs for the organ sound, a big pillar which we call ‘the tree of life,’ and clouds above the choir loft. He wanted to make it a creation kind of narrative.”
Pastor Lynn is a Penn State graduate and has been the pastor of Grace Lutheran Church for 12 years. From the class of 1976, Lynn graduated and became a geriatric social worker, and from there he went into ordained ministry.
Pastor Lynn gained the nickname “Dorito Man” after a group of young men and women helped push his car up an icy incline to get him to church one day. They group called Lynn “the Dorito Man” and he has since embraced the nickname. He and his congregation also embrace the Dorito Church brand.
“It’s unique, it’s a landscape, it’s an icon; it’s iconic,” Pastor Lynn said. “People who are now 25 or 30 who’ve been away from Penn State for five, six, seven years will call me and ask me to do their wedding. They ask me because they met here on campus and the Dorito Church is a place that they knew about. We’re happy to embrace [the name].”
Many Penn State students may know the church mainly as a landmark and State College compass, but in reality, there IS a church inside the unique structure. The popularity of the building can sometimes overshadow what its purpose in State College is. However, even when some students see it only as a landmark, others use it for security.
“Kids see us as an iconic building and kids use us as their landmark, not always for such good reasons,” Pastor Lynn said. “Because of that, when college students are all of a sudden in a crisis and they need security, they’ll come here. Not because they know me, but because they know the church.”
Pastor Lynn also said that his church does three things very well: they worship, support the community, and provide a nice place for youth and families. Grace Lutheran Church contains a preschool that began in 1966 and holds about 125 kids, which is a service that the church and Pastor Lynn hold dear.
Some other examples of community service that the Dorito Church provides are the CROP Hunger Walk and the Out of the Cold program, where churches take in homeless individuals when the Centre House Homeless Shelter is full from October 27 to April 27. While Grace Lutheran Church does so much for the State College community, its reputation for Penn State students will always be as the Dorito Church.
“My guess is that if we weren’t the Dorito Church, and if we weren’t so close to campus, most students wouldn’t be here,” Pastor Lynn said. “We did a building program in 2009 where we added a gymnasium and a youth addition, an accessibility component, a new entrance, we added more classrooms, and other things. We did that with the knowledge that we could sell the building for a lot of money.”
“We decided to stay here because of the iconic building architecture and because we’re close to students and we want to be here for students,” Pastor Lynn said.