At 56 I am not one to get into the “back in my day” talk, but I take a lot of pride having been born in Oxford, gone to North Oxford Baptist Church, and graduated from Lafayette High School and Ole Miss. It’s more than pride. It’s also gratefulness.
You hear a lot today about the challenges of young people. I had absolutely no issues or challenges when I was in high school in the late 1970s at Lafayette High. A lot of that is attributed to the fine folks who worked at LHS, which I have written about here before, but today I wanted to focus on the impact of North Oxford Baptist Church. I can’t speak for them today, but this was a church that put a major emphasis on the youth. They had a full time youth pastor who would walk into the Sunday services with the pastor and minister of music, be a part of the service, and then be a part of the youth all week long. It was Johnny Flynt for awhile, who would later be an Ole Miss assistant baseball coach and author, and then Mike Williams. I remember him as being gentle and kind, and loving to lift weights.
Beyond them, it was the impressive activities center behind the church. It was big, with basketball courts, racquetball courts (Elvis Presley loved racquetball, you know) and folding chairs to sit out front. I can remember many a night when Bill Plunk, Clerk of the Chancery Court, would play pick up basketball games with us kids and use his annoying elbows to clear space for rebounds! More importantly, he would sit out front with us and talk about life. Adults were heavily invested in the youth. They weren’t consumed with work, but with life balance and showing kids they cared by being there for them.
I can remember spending two or three nights a week at the activities center. It was a positive, wholesome place. Ole Miss football players would come to give inspirational talks. We would have lock ins, which are still popular today in churches, and several trips a year to white water canoe in Arkansas and experiences of that nature. The youth pastor was full time, and invested in the kids. He knew us, and we trusted him.
As mentioned, I had no issues or drama in high school. Drugs, alcohol, bullying and so forth were the farthest thing from my mind. I flat out loved Lafayette High and hated to see it end. I attribute a lot of that to the loving and nurturing environment at North Oxford Baptist Church. I can remember we would go Sunday morning for Sunday School and 11 a.m. service and then come back for Sunday evening service, plus youth group. I remember Sunday evening the younger folks like myself would carry the offering plates, and then we would be mortified knowing the pastor would call one of us us to pray. I thought my buddy Bubba Veazey would have cardiac arrest if they called on him, but the pastor usually called on one of the Deacon’s sons which was always a good call. Mr. Meadows was the Superintendent of the Oxford Schools and any of his three boys were strong favorites to get called on to pray because, well, their dad was Superintendent and a Deacon!
I can remember the Sunday that the Miracle on Ice ended in Lake Placid at the 1980 Winter Olympics. Everybody watched the gold medal game on ABC even though we didn’t know a hockey puck from a grapefruit, but we were all so excited those boys had beat the Russians on Friday and then won the gold on Sunday afternoon (against Finland) that we had more people for a Sunday night service than I can ever recall. We were all so re-energized about America.
Wednesdays would be prayer night with a supper in the fellowship hall and then an hour prayer service. That mid-week fellowship and gathering was like a pit stop in the middle of a NASCAR race, which would give you fuel to go through the rest of the week.
While many churches today have various forms of youth groups, I have not come across one that had everything down like North Oxford Baptist Church did back then. It’s a shame because the young people of 2019 face so many more challenges that we did back in those days. Whenever I deliver an inspirational talk in a church setting, I always encourage them to fortify their youth programs and do their best to help the kids out there, because it’s a wacky world we live in.
My TV News broadcasting career took me away from Oxford in 1984 and I did not get back to the church until 2008 when my sister Amanda got married there (to an Alabama alum, please Lord forgive him). One of the highlights of the evening as the reception wound down was my sister, who had also loved the youth programs at the church, arranging for everyone to have Chicken on a Stick from the Chevron station on the Square.
I got to looking at those back pews where the youth would congregate (and get lectured sometimes for being noisy) and then I looked out back at that activities center. Oh, what good memories flowed back and more than anything it was the people that came to the forefront. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, you don’t come across better folks than those in Oxford, good salt of the earth men and women that cared enough to make youth a priority back in my day. I will always be thankful.
Charlie Adams was born in Oxford in 1962. He was a 1980 graduate of Lafayette High School and a 1985 graduate of Ole Miss. Following a television news career, Charlie has focused on delivering inspirational keynotes, seminars and writings. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.