As Oxford’s population steadily increases, there is growing demand for more churches to serve the community.
St. John’s Catholic Church, located near campus on University Avenue, started construction nearly a year ago to expand its building because of increased attendance.
“We did not have enough seats,” project manager Paul Behrndt said. “There would be times where we would be standing outside on Sunday mornings, so it was obvious (that) we needed to expand.”
According to Behrndt, St. John’s has increased the size of its sanctuary from seating 300 people to now seating over 600, and it also offers a service for college students on Sunday nights.
“Our campus minister said we had about 500 students this past Sunday night,” Behrndt said.
Construction on St. John’s Catholic Church started last fall and is expected to be finished within the next six weeks.
“Whenever I go to St. John’s, I know I have to arrive early to get a seat,” church member and geological engineering major Hannah Savell said. “A lot of people usually have to end up standing in the back along the aisles.”
Grace Bible Church, another local church that has seen a recent increase in attendance, has been in operation for 13 years.
For several years, the church has been looking to purchase land on which it can build its own church building, as it has been renting out Oxford Middle School’s auditorium for the past few years.
“We are still several years away from leaving the middle school,” Grace Bible Church pastor J.D. Shaw said. “But I would love if, in the next year, we would close and find a piece of property.”
Shaw said he is eager to one day have a place that he and his church’s parishioners can call home.
Grace Bible Church originally met at the Oxford Conference Center but, in 2009, moved its services into the space it had been using as its office building. The church quickly outgrew that space and moved its services to Oxford Middle School in 2015, though the church continued to use its previous meeting place as office space for church staff.
Grace Bible Church also has many students that are connected to Ole Miss Cru, an interdenominational Christian organization on campus that meets at 8 p.m. every Tuesday night in Paris-Yates Chapel.
“We have a lot of students from Ole Miss affiliated with Cru, so that has always been a natural connection with us and students,” Shaw said.
Lauren Simpson, an Ole Miss graduate student and member of Grace Bible Church, said she hopes that the church will eventually have its own building so that its members can better serve the community.
“Because we rent space from the school, we have people setting up and tearing down for services every Sunday,” Simpson said. “So if we had an actual church building, their efforts could be going elsewhere to serve the community.”
Simpson also said the office building had a more “homey” feel to it and that she is eager to hopefully find that “connected” feeling again.
“We just feel very disconnected in the auditorium,” Simpson said. “We’re so far away from the leaders’ singing and just feel a huge disconnect.”