Education and empowerment go hand in hand with the principles of the Oxford Presbyterian Church located 8501 Stenton Ave. Under the leadership of the Rev. Ethelyn R. Taylor, Oxford Presbyterian is not only a place for worship, but also a place aimed for education and professional development.
On Jan. 20, 1867, Oxford Presbyterian Church was organized by the fourth Presbytery of Philadelphia and was then incorporated on March 11 that same year by the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The education focus that still lingers in the church today is deep rooted in the church’s history and origins. Oxford Presbyterian was formed from a Sunday school on the second floor of the Calvary Church in 1865. The school outgrew its location and was moved to the Wagner Institute located at the corner of 17th St. and Columbia Ave., at the Carmel Sunday School. From the positive response of the services from the community, the organizers then purchased a site on Broad and Oxford streets where a chapel was created.
In 1869, a church building was added and dedicated to the church but Oxford’s membership began to decline during and after World War I. In 1945 the Presbytery consented to Oxford’s relocation to its current Mount Airy location. The following year at this location, six and one half acre plot of ground was purchased and the basement of the new Oxford church was built.
The foundations of the church were built and many years later still serves as a place for peace, calmness and support for some today.
Julia Franklin has been coming to Oxford for more than 15 years and since her husband’s passing in 2007, she has especially found the church to be a place where she can look to for support.
“I’m a regular visitor of this church, and I come to this church because I respect Rev. Taylor with such high esteem because she is like an angel. She gives us a very spiritual peaceful, dedicated, fruitful message. I love Oxford Presbyterian Church and I always feel apart of the Oxford family,” she said. “When I come in the door, everybody welcomes me with open arms and when I want spiritual healing — I come here.”
In 1947, when Bethel Presbyterian Church, located at 19th and York streets, was also facing changes in their church, discussions on possibilities of a merger began. With the consensus that the two churches had a lot in common, the Presbytery agreed to purchase the Bethel church for national mission church work on Oct. 14, 1947. The articles of consolidation were executed on Jan. 13, 1948, and the merger was in place.
The church was completed and dedicated during 1949 and 1950 and eventually one half of its land was sold. Years later in 1956, the church made plans to complete the building with a pastor’s study, ladies parlor, three additional Sunday school classrooms, a church office, board rooms and additional lavatory and rest rooms. With the final additions to the church, it was completed to how it stands today.
With 10 pastors preceding her, Rev. Taylor was ordained and installed in the church in 1994 as the first woman to take leadership of Oxford.
“I started there in 1992 as a student intern and this coming October, I will be celebrating 18 years of ministry,” she said. “When I came to the church it was slated to be closed. I started out with 35 members — we have a membership of 200 now.”
Rev. Taylor spent 25 years teaching in the Philadelphia public schools and worked part-time at the University of Pennsylvania training interns to become teachers. With deep Philadelphia roots, the pastor is a graduate of the Philadelphia High School for Girls, known as Girls’ High, and studied at Lincoln University and Calvin College in Michigan. She received her master of divinity degree from Palmer Theological Seminary, The Seminary of Eastern University. She remains actively involved in the Presbytery, and in 2004 she was elected moderator of all the Presbytery churches in Philadelphia.
“Right now I serve on the strategy committee of the Presbytery which looks at the development of churches and the urban strategy of Presbyterian,” she said.
Catherine Adams has been a member of Oxford for approximately five years and feels the Reverend is a true “teaching pastor.”
“She wants her people to be in the know, she’s always teaching and always doing workshops,” Adams said. “Whatever she thinks is important to know she always gives you an historical background. She brings it around to today. She knows how to connect and she’s so welcoming — she’s just a wonderful, wonderful person and you step away from the podium and she’s very humble.”
Adams believes the various workshops and activities play a vital role in bringing the church together.
“I think it’s very close knit because we have activities,” she said. “You feel that you’re involved — it’s your church and when we say church family, it’s exactly what we mean — church family.”
The church is heavily active in reaching its congregation and community. It hosts Bible studies, a men’s’ ministry and an outreach ministry that has worked in various community nursing homes. The church has also hosted various clothing drives and has programs catered to children, one in particular called “Bridge Builders.”
Through the Bridge Builders program, the children are taught lessons on anger management and bullying. Additionally, the church holds a creative movement class, a theater group and zumba classes.
With the emphasis on professional development, Oxford orchestrates a program called “No Stranger Among Us,” where they bring speakers in various career paths such as, law, journalism and medicine, to talk about their careers and inspire the youth to strive for success. They host career development workshops every other month.
Rev. Taylor feels blessed for the opportunities Oxford provides and for the opportunity to pastor a church she truly believes in.
“I have a love for Jesus Christ who gives me the strength to do those things he calls me to do,” she said. “When I look back at my life I can see that God has been timing me to do what I do today — I have a love affair with the church and I don’t ask anyone to do anything I’m not willing to do first.”