August 29, 2012 - The oldest church in town celebrated its 175th anniversary Sunday as approximately 220 folks gathered together to worship, break bread and share memories at the Oxford United Methodist Church (OUMC) on E. Burdick St.
Alumni members of the Oxford United Methodist Church’s Youth Choir, led by Director Emeritus Lew Wilson, helped celebrate the 175th anniversary with the joyful noise of their voices. They still sound terrific. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
"It's my foundation," said Oxford resident Shirley Acheson, 83, who has the distinction of attending the church longer than anyone else. "The people here are family. They're friendly, caring and willing to go the extra mile. Most all of the ministers have been very, very good. I think no matter which minister is preaching, you can always get something out of it, if you listen. We've had some wonderful ministers."
Acheson's been a member of OUMC for 70 years. She began attending at age 13. It's really a family tradition.
"We've had six generations go here," she said. "My grandfather and grandmother were here in 1907 – they taught Sunday school. My mother taught Sunday school and played the organ for many years . . . The kids loved it here. Three of my children were married here. All the children were baptized here and the grandchildren were all baptized here. Most of the great grandchildren were baptized here, too. We've just been Methodists all our lives."
The 175th anniversary celebration brought back a flood of nostalgia as folks looked at old photos, read old newspaper clippings and shared old stories.
The congregation got a blast from the past as the very popular Rev. Jack Mannschreck delivered Sunday's sermon. He was the pastor of OUMC from 1992 to 2002.
"I was a youth pastor for eight years (before Oxford). This was the first church where I was on my own," he said. "I cut my teeth with these people. I learned how to preach (and) how to lead . . . I learned a lot here. It was a great time. We grew together and the church grew."
Although he's been pastor of Big Beaver United Methodist Church in Troy for the last 10 years, Oxford still holds a special place in the Mannschreck's heart.
"This will always be my kids' hometown," he said. "This is where they grew up and they remember Oxford very fondly. When I mentioned that I'd been asked to come out here and speak, I asked them if they'd like to come and without hesitation they said, 'We're going!'"
Mannschreck wasn't the only former OUMC pastor who attended the celebration. He was joined by Rev. Marvin McCallum (1966-72), Rev. Doug McMunn (2006-11) and Rev. Jean Snyder (2011-12).
"I miss the people of Oxford so very much," said Snyder, who noted she was always so very impressed with "their love – the way they reach out and the mission work that they do that many people in the community aren't even aware of."
From feeding local families and individuals in need every Wednesday with its successful free meals program, to knitting teddy bears to send to children in Africa orphaned by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, to packing thousands of pounds of potatoes for area food pantries, OUMC consistently strives to make both Oxford and the world a better place through good deeds, compassion and faith.
"To celebrate them being part of the community and doing God's work is just wonderful," Snyder said. "I wouldn't dream of missing it."
For many of its members, OUMC is so much more than just a small town church.
"It's been home," said Roselyn VanWagoner, who's been a member of the church for 66 years. "I was born and raised in Oxford."
VanWagoner's always thoroughly enjoyed the church's "strong music ministry." She used to be a member of the vocal choir and she's a founding member of the Excelsior Handbell Choir, a delightful group of ladies who, with perfect precision, transform ringing bells into beautiful music.
"The hand-bell choir started in 1987," VanWagoner noted. "I was the one that instigated the buying of the handbells. We've performed at weddings, funerals and other churches."
For the 175th anniversary, the Excelsior Handbell Choir performed "Outbursts of Joy!"
While OUMC enhanced VanWagoner's love of music, it helped Jeremy Benton find his calling in life.
The 2001 Oxford High School graduate is now pastor of the Ortonville United Methodist Church. Benton began attending Oxford UMC with his mother in the mid-1990s and was confirmed in May 1997.
"I was formed here during the ministry of (Rev.) Jack Mannschreck," Benton said. "There were a lot of people here who really supported me, who knew that my faith mattered (to me) and that I wanted to apply it in my daily life. I think that definitely played a part in my going into the ministry."
When he decided to become a minister, Oxford's congregation was right behind him all the way. "All throughout that journey, the church here was really supportive – praying for me, encouraging me," Benton said. "It's a long, drawn-out process (to become a minister) and so as I look back at the good old days in Oxford, all the support they gave me – and continue to give me – is amazing."
Benton was thrilled to help OUMC celebrate 175 years of spiritual guidance and community involvement.
"It's just special to see the life of a church continue on," he explained. "As a minister, you get the privilege of (moving) in and out of churches – you get to start things, but usually never finish them. This gives you a sense of the ministry of the church that extends well beyond you."
To Benton, OUMC's celebration was both a humbling and comforting reminder that "the life of the church (started) well before you, it goes on while you're there and it will continue for many years after you."
"Being part of that history is kind of cool," he said.
For OUMC's current pastor, Kevin Miles, the celebration was both wonderful and a little overwhelming. He's only been with the church since July 1.
"It's hard for me to get my arms around it right now simply because it goes so much farther back than I can comprehend," said Miles, who's served in the ministry for 21 years and was born and raised in Warren, Indiana. "I'm just glad to be a part of what God is doing here in Oxford."
Miles, who came here from Trinity UMC in Roseville, believes OUMC's rich and vibrant 175 year-history offers "a good, solid foundation" on which to build the church's future.
"I want to use that (history) as a springboard for moving forward and discovering what God has for us in this place," he said. "We can learn lots of lessons from the past, but we don't want to relive the past . . . It's time for a fresh start . . . We've got a bright future ahead of us as partners in ministry."
Miles loves how involved OUMC members are in helping others in the community. He cited the weekly free meals program as a perfect example of this. It feeds an average of 35 to 50 people every Wednesday from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
"I think that's important to let the community know," he said. "We're doing some good things and have got some hard-working people here."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.