On Sunday, Oxford Presbyterian Church was the site of “Injustice for One is Injustice for All,” a celebration of African American Presbyterian heritage. The church, located at 8501 Stenton Ave., was filled with parishioners and guests elated to celebrate Black History Month at a cultural institution with more than 150 years of history.
To begin the service, the “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” resonated throughout the space as the church choir led the congregation in a triumphant praise and worship.
From tributes to “living legacies,” church elders with resumes of exceptional work, to lively call and response with the church congregation, the spirit of the ancestors seemed to fill every inch of the sanctuary.
One of the living legacies honored was the Rev. Ethelyn Taylor. A Philadelphia native, Taylor is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and a graduate of the Philadelphia High School for Girls. The Temple University and University of Pennsylvania alumnae has devoted much of her life to teaching and helping others as a member of the Presbytery.
The focal point of the day’s proceedings was a captivating sermon from guest preacher the Rev. Jimmie Ray Hawkins. Hawkins works in Washington, D.C. as director of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Office of Public Witness.
“It is quite an honor for me to be here today,” Hawkins said amidst loud applause. “This is the birthplace of African American Presbyterianism.” He was referencing First African Presbyterian Church, the oldest African African Presbyterian church in the United States.
Philadelphia also has history in connection to the Underground Railroad. Hawkins emphatically discussed activist Harriet Tubman’s work in helping lead slaves to freedom.
“Her first entry point to freedom was in Philadelphia at a Presybterian church,” he said.
Hawkins also spoke out against the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for the debilitating effects the organization has had in separating families and subjecting people to subhuman standards.
As a parting gift, the clergy at Oxford Presbyterian Church gave Rev. Hawkins some of the most fitting items possible: Tastykakes butterscotch krimpets and Utz potato chips, two enduring snack brands beholden to many Philadelphians.
Regardless of one’s personal faith, Oxford Presbyterian Church’s Black History Month program affirmed the greatness of Africana people. That is something that any person with African roots can appreciate.