By: Kennedy Pope and Abby Vance
OXFORD, Miss. – According to Pew Research, “the percentage of U.S. adults who say they regularly attend religious services has been declining, while the share of Americans who attend only a few times a year or never has been growing.”
However, with the population of Oxford steadily increasing, there has been a higher demand for more churches to serve the Oxford community.
St. John’s Catholic Church, located right off campus, started construction to expand its building due to an increased attendance.
“We did not have enough seats,” project manager Paul Behrndt said. “There would be times where we would be standing outside on Sunday mornings, so it was obvious we needed to expand.”
St. John’s has grown their sanctuary from seating 300 people to now seating over 600. They also offer a service for college students on Sunday nights.
“Our campus minister said we had about 500 students this past Sunday night,” Behrndt said.
Construction on St. John’s Catholic Church started last fall and is expected to be finished within the next six weeks.
“Whenever I go to St. John’s I know I have to arrive early to get a seat,” Hannah Suvall, Ole Miss student and church member, said. “A lot of people usually have to end up standing in the back along the aisles.”
Grace Bible, another local church that has seen an increase in numbers, has been in operation for 13 years.
For several years, Grace has been looking to purchase land to build their church, as they have been renting out space on Sunday’s at Oxford Middle School’s auditorium, which is the only auditorium in the district.
“We are still several years away from leaving the middle school,” pastor J.D. Shaw said, “but I would love if in the next year we would close and find a piece of property.”
Shaw also states that he is eager to one day having a place that he and his members can call ‘home.’
The church originally met at Oxford Conference Center but moved to their now ‘office building’ in 2009. They quickly outgrew that space and moved to Oxford Middle School in 2015 but still use that building for office space, Wednesday night church meetings and counseling services for those who are in recovery from addictions.
Grace Bible also has many students that are connected to Ole Miss Cru, an interdenominational Christian organization on campus that meets every Tuesday night.
“We have a lot of students from Ole Miss affiliated with Cru, so that has always been a natural connection with us and students,” J.D. Shaw said.
Lauren Simpson, an Ole Miss graduate student and member of Grace Bible, is hoping that Grace will eventually have their own building one day so that they can better serve the community.
“Because we rent space from the school, we have people setting up and tearing down for services every Sunday,” Lauren said. “So if we had an actual church building, their efforts could be going elsewhere to serve the community.”
Simpson also stated that the office building had a more ‘homey’ feel to it and is eager to hopefully finding that ‘connected’ feeling again.
“We just feel very disconnected in the auditorium,” Simpson said. “We’re so far away from the leaders singing and just feel a huge disconnect.”
In addition to Grace Bible and St. John’s, Pinelake Oxford has also been in the process of making room to accommodate their quickly-growing community.
In 2015, Pinelake Oxford began church services for the first time at the Oxford Conference Center. Over those three years, the attendance has increased from 325 to 1,425 people. They have even added a third service on Sunday’s that is geared towards college students.
Executive Pastor of Communications, Troy Page, states that the primary goal is to better serve the people of Oxford.
“Our intention is to always to have a permanent presence in the Oxford community,” Page said.
Grant Thompson, Pinelake church member, said, “I am excited for Pinelake to find its forever home.”
Pinelake Oxford recently purchased 12 acres of land across from FNC Park and is in the beginning stages of construction.
“Right now we are in the master planning process,” Page said. “Once we get that accomplished, we will have a better estimate as to when we can begin.”
“It is long overdue,” Thompson said. “I am looking forward to seeing how God’s going to work through Pinelake with FNC Park.”
More information about Pinelake’s construction updates can be found on their website at the following link: http://www.makingroom.in/oxford/