Oxford is home to different churches with different denominations, but the city is seeing an increase in the number of non-denominational churches opening around town that meet anywhere from homes, hotels and buildings around town.
Covenant Church of North Mississippi and Grace Bible Church are two of the non-denominational churches that have drawn in members of the Oxford community over the years.
In 1978, Dr. Carroll Stone, a retired physician in Oxford, became an ordained minister over a prayer group that met at his home. In 1988 the prayer group was recognized an official church in the United States. With more than 50 members gathering in his home on Sunday mornings, the church expanded to other meeting places such as hotel meeting rooms and the North Mississippi Regional Center.
“Right now we meet back at my home because people just liked and wanted a more intimate setting,” Stone said.
Stone and his wife, Althea, were members of the Baptist denomination before Stone became an ordained minister and started the non-denominational church. Stone was in the military and he and his wife helped in churches all across the United States.
“I laugh when I tell people that I have had every position in the Baptist church around the United States except for two positions, the pastor and the chairman of the women’s ministry,” Stone said. Stone believes the interest and increase in non-denominational churches could be that some people do not feel spiritually satisfied at an organized church setting.
“I believe when people come together as brothers and sisters in Christ, they are not just there to be listening to a lecture (or sermon),” Stone said, “but they want to share something and listen to what others in the group are doing and we do that.”
According to Stone, a typical Sunday service is flexible in schedule. Members arrive at his home on Sunday morning to drink coffee. Service starts at 10:30 a.m. with prayer and worship.
“Right now we do not have a pianist, but we do have a classical guitarist that plays songs found from the Scripture,” Stone said.
After worship, Stone gives people a chance to express any interesting spiritual experiences or talks they have had over the past week with people or a time to voice prayer request. After the time of expression, Stone delivers a sermon, and the church takes communion.
“Sometimes I do not deliver my sermon and sometimes I do,” Stone said. “Sometimes people have a lot to share about their spiritual experiences from the past week, and we’ll spend time discussing those.”
The doctrine Stone uses in his teachings is from the Bible and the Reformed Doctrine, which focuses mainly on the teachings of Jesus Christ. According to Jim Davis, an elder and pastor at Grace Bible Church, his church leans towards the Reformed Doctrine of Jesus Christ’s teaching as well. Grace Bible Church started as a non-denominational church in 2005 when a handful of men from North Baptist Church in Oxford decided they wanted a new way of church. Davis described the founding members as people who wanted an expositional style of preaching.
“Expositional preaching is just walking people, or exposing them, to the many books of the Bible,” Davis said. “Though there are some issues, such as how the world will end, that some of us may disagree on, we are all united in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
According to Davis, Grace Bible Church joined the Baptist Southern Convention, a Christian denomination in the United States two years ago.
“When we joined the Baptist Southern Convention, nothing really changed at the church, except that we could now be networked with other churches,” Davis said.
A founding member, Chris Teague, remembers when the church opened in 2005. There were only a handful of members that gathered every Sunday.
“Grace Bible Church, like many churches, started in a home off of highway six towards Pontotoc,” Teague said, as he was preparing sweet tea for the church’s Wednesday night service.
Grace Bible Church has grown from a handful of founders into 218 members and 600 regular church attendees on Sunday morning. With so many people flooding the sanctuary on Heritage Drive in Oxford, the church will start meeting at the Oxford Middle School auditorium starting on Jan. 11, 2015.
Unlike traditional churches, Davis said that their church does not have a head pastor. Instead, there are 11 elders that lead the church. As an elder-led church, Grace Bible Church has eleven men that serve as pastors of the church that are called elders. J.D. Shaw is one of the pastors that does a lot of the teaching on Sunday mornings.
“I think what draws people to Grace Bible Church is that they really like hearing J.D. teach” Davis said.
Drew Narmour, a graduate of the University of Mississippi and intern at Grace Bible Church, believes that Shaw’s teachings on each Book of the Bible are what keep people coming to the church.
“Say what you want, but J.D. and the pastors are why the church is growing,” Narmour said.
Narmour started interning with Grace Bible Church this year, and he occasionally teaches at the church. Narmour preached his third sermon Wednesday for the weekly Bible study the church has every Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. The church has two services on Sunday morning; one service at 9:00 a.m. and one service at 10:30 a.m.
Although, different in size and locations, Covenant Church of North Mississippi and Grace Bible Church both share the same principles of teaching in that they believe Jesus Christ is the center of their church. Members may come from different backgrounds, but they all share the unity that Jesus Christ is the base of their faith.
Emily Newton is a managing editor and reporter for HottyToddy.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.