By Rev. Greg Klimovitz
“When you get here, you feel it,” remarked one of the mid-week Bible Study participants at Oxford Presbyterian Church. The “it” felt by those drawn to Oxford, located at the intersection of Gowen and Stenton Avenues in Northwest Philadelphia, is the in-bringing spirit of love, hospitality, and empowerment that inspires and equips the next wave of church visionaries.
Rev. Ethelyn Taylor, pastor of the Oxford church for over two decades, grinned with gratitude as she highlighted approximately 75% of those involved in Oxford’s ministries live within the immediate Mt. Airy neighborhood and as much as 85% of the congregation are new to the Presbyterian tradition. Rev. Taylor continued, “We gather people where they are.”
Oxford Presbyterian Church not only gathers their neighbors together, but also empowers each generation for the mission of God in their local community. The congregational emphasis on teaching and leading God’s people has ultimately birthed a strong and healthy reputation both in the Presbytery and local community. Incorporating nearly 45 teachers, two doctors, and four lawyers into their membership, the collective leadership implements training events for elders and deacons at least twice a year and navigates what it means to be a faithful, intentional, and mission-minded Presbyterian Church. As they encourage one another for public witness, these leaders link arms with both the congregation and community to offer five different Bible Studies each month, open the doors to local youth recreational and mentoring programs, collect items for care packages to be distributed to local shelters and rehabilitation centers, and host an annual Jazz, Joy, and Jesus picnic for the neighborhood. Last year’s event, which incorporated dance, music, food, and steamed crabs, welcomed over 125 young people. In essence, the ministry of Oxford has moved from pulpit to pavement as they extend and expend themselves for the benefit of their neighbors in Mt. Airy.
The abundance of Christ-centered ministry initiatives, while supported and celebrated by Rev. Taylor, are primarily imagined and implemented by the congregants at Oxford. It is not uncommon to see youth or adult members of Oxford teaching Sunday school classes, coordinating a Vacation Bible School activities, delivering Sunday morning children’s messages, leading in worship liturgy, or even talking with folks at the local grocery store about the weekly sermon. Keith Hodges, student at Lutheran Seminary and intern at Oxford, says this is the result of a “you can do it” mentality that draws people of every age in and sends them out to practice “longevity in grace.” Another church member commented, “When you get here, [the leadership at Oxford] puts you to work.”
Rev. Taylor and the leadership at Oxford will also equip these workers who gather at Oxford. Whether through workshops hosted by the stewardship and mission ministry, trainings offered on health, education, and evangelism, or new members classes for those looking to covenant with Oxford, the faithful in and around Oxford are “called and sent in the name of Jesus.” The teaching and equipping spirit at Oxford has led the likes of Helen Harper, moderator of Oxford’s Board of Deacons, to celebrate the church as “the greatest learning experience in my church life.” Harper smiled as she continued, “We get so much joy [and] a great reward knowing we are doing what God has called us to do. We enjoy work inside [the church]. We love it outside.”
Prior to ordination, Rev. Ethelyn Taylor assumed she would devote her entire life to public education. “I was going to go from the classroom to the graveyard,” Rev. Ethelyn Taylor commented. “But God had other plans.” If you speak with those who worship, serve, and participate in the many programs offered at Oxford alongside her leadership, Rev. Taylor’s commitment to education has not wavered; the congregation has merely become the classroom. “We train our folks at Oxford,” Rev. Taylor frequently declares. “We don’t want any pew sitters.”
As Presbyterians, we believe “as the church ministers to people who are discovering Christian vocation, so it offers nurture to those who are living out Christian vocation in public active life.” (BOO 140).
Oxford Presbyterian is a bold and thoughtful witness to what happens when the preaching, teaching, and hospitality of the church nurtures every generation for mission and ministry in their community. We give thanks for the ways the faithful of Oxford encourages one another to live into the good news of Jesus beyond the pews and in their public, active life. It is evident these disciples have been mentored by a wise and gifted teacher who also serves as their faithful pastor.