Note: This article was previously published in The Oxford SO & SO.
In recent years this church building was used as an office by Oxford resident and novelist, John Grisham. When Mr. Grisham moved back to Charlottesville, Virginia he donated it to the Oxford Heritage Foundation and the Oxford Development Association. These two organizations joined forces to restore this historic building. The restoration was completed several years ago and now serves as a museum with emphasis on African American history in this area.
Burns Methodist Episcopal Church (the original name) was organized on its former site, Lot #472 on Jackson Ave, which was then known as Depot Street in Oxford, Mississippi in 1870.
At its inception, Burns was a white frame building with a light blue ceiling. It was torn down in 1910 and a new brick church was built. The idea of a new brick church was presented by S.T. Taylor on February 7, 1910. Although W.R. Boles was the primary financier of the construction, many members mortgaged their homes for the loan and on April 6, 1910, construction began.
The total cost of the church was approximately $3,000. While many men of the church donated their time in hauling materials, making mortar, and carrying bricks, the ladies busied themselves with the preparation and delivery of baskets of dinner for the working men.
The same 12 inch pews were used in this church building. The church bell was also transferred to the church’s belfry, but its use was discontinued. This bell was once rung for Sunday School, church services and tolled mournfully when a funeral procession was approaching. Although ringing or tolling the bell has long since become a thing of the past, those of us who remember this bell believe it would be better if this practice were revived. It was a reminder of God’s call to worship. Probably many would heed the sermons, even today.
Two large, potbellied stoves, one on each side of the sanctuary, served as heating units. There was a foot-pedaled organ whose melodious sounds were heard well in advance by persons who approached the church.
The west side of the sanctuary was known as the “Men’s Amen Corner” and the east side was the ladies’. These were the pews nearest the pulpit and were always filled.
The Ladies Aid Society took care of the incidental expenses. Beautiful kerosene lamps hanging from a chain on a hook from the ceiling provided the lighting. The janitor cleaned the chimneys and filled the lamps each week. The lamps were made of brass and were extended from the ceiling by chain pulleys. Electric lights were installed in 1914.
When a piano replaced the foot-pedaled organ, many of the older members were distressed. Many objections and complaints were voiced in the board meetings. The piano was called the “Devil’s Music Maker.”
At that time, churches were the only source of social activities for the younger people. There were box suppers, feasts in the wilderness, and church plays. These were gala affairs. The boys carried the girls to church in shiny buggies drawn by beautiful horses with fancy harnesses.
There were no theaters or recreation centers, so the church afforded the social activities. On Sunday nights the girls were escorted to church by the boys. Here they would sit together and it was custom for the girl to hold the boy’s hat on her lap.
Collection time was a pleasure. The boys and girls would march to the table while the organist played a hymn suitable for marching. During those days, the churches were filled every Sunday night for evening worship services.
At that time the church was in the Holly Springs District of the Upper Mississippi Conference. Burns was blessed with a series of great leaders and administrators. The church’s primary ministries were concerned with personal conversions and concerns for members and other persons in the community.
We would pause to salute the pioneers of that day: Bishops, superintendents, pastors and laity, who, without a doubt, put God first in spite of small financial gains and were able to press ever forward.
In 1954 the growth of the old church necessitated a move, primarily because of a lack of parking space and educational facilities. Thus the congregation considered a plan for another church building that would accommodate the needs of its congregation. So, after many years of planning and preparation, the present site was purchased and the building proposed by Rev. W. N. Redmond, Jr. was given consideration.
The present site was purchased under the pastorate of Rev. J.W. Richmond during the years 1955-1965. The cornerstone was laid under the pastorate of Rev. J.H. Marshall. Our first clergies of the present sanctuary were: Mack B. Stokes, Bishop; M.D. Conway, District Superintendent; and Rev. J.H. Marshall, Pastor.
Since the completion of the present edifice in 1974, the membership has continued to assemble for worship and other church-related activities regularly.
Our earnest plea is that God will continue to make Burns United Methodist Church a light unto all generations.