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The Orchard Oxford Finds Funeral Home Perfect Worship Site

If you think about it, a funeral home really does make a great church. One Oxford church has fully embraced the idea of converting funeral homes to fit their needs.
“I feel like God was calling Sarah and I to start the church, but in that, did he tell us that were going to move into a funeral home and start a church there? Or that we’d outgrown it and move into another funeral home and start a church there? The answer is no,” The Orchard’s pastor Pat Ward said when he first announced the big move to the congregation on March 23. “But he has allowed us to move into properties that have given us life… but has not distracted us.”
The Orchard was started in Tupelo, Miss. in 1998 and grew rapidly, but the group saw a need for a contemporary version of the gospel in Oxford. There are now four Orchards throughout the area, including two in Tupelo, one in Bladwin and, of course, one in Oxford.
Ward and his wife, Sarah, hosted the small congregation in their living room for nearly a year before setting up shop in the Powerhouse Community Arts Center in 2007.
The church met at the Powerhouse, then The Amp movie theatre, then back to the Powerhouse when The Amp closed. The Orchard even hosted an evening service on the balcony at Rooster’s on the Square.
It wasn’t until five years ago that The Orchard found a permanent home in Oxford. The old Hodges Funeral Home on Molly Barr Road sat empty for a year before the church began retrofitting the facility for its steadily growing congregation.
“We really didn’t think about the funeral home aspect until after we moved in and people started talking about it,” Ward said. “A funeral home really is perfect for a church.”
There is generally a large room (once the chapel, now the sanctuary) and lots of smaller rooms for Sunday school, meetings, and nurseries.

The Orchard's new location will be at 295 Highway 7 North in Oxford.
The Orchard’s new location will be at 295 Highway 7 North in Oxford.

In August 2014, The Orchard will officially move to the building formerly inhabited by Coleman Funeral Home, which is looking for a new home itself.
According to Ward, the new building, located on Highway 7 North in Oxford, is nearly twice as big as the current facility, which will better accommodate both of the church’s overflowing Sunday services. There is also three times more acreage as before, allowing the church to continue to grow.
The Orchard has big plans for the new funeral home, turned church. Ward said one of the church’s biggest goals is to bring together two thriving communities in Oxford.
“We are really excited about something to share… about creating common ground here,” Ward said in a video on The Orchard’s website about the upcoming move. “Between our church and our city, between the faith community and the arts community in Oxford.”
Ward said the new church will feature an art gallery in the main hall and hopes to serve the community as an arts venue, not only a church. The new location will allow the church to grow its children and youth programs, as well as have better fellowship space. Specifically, the room that was once used as the family lounge is a beautifully comfortable living room, complete with a working fireplace.
The Orchard's new living room and fellowship space.
The Orchard’s new living room and fellowship space.

The Orchard also wants to continue sharing their facility with groups like the Department of Human Services, local home-schoolers and a regular exercise class that meets at the church.
“This is one of the bigger projects we’ve taken on as a church, but we’re growing together,” Ward said.
For more information about The Orchard, their congregation, services, mission, and move, visit www.theorchardoxford.net or The Orchard Oxford on Facebook.

– Kate Wallace is managing editor for HottyToddy.com. She can be reached by emailing kate.sinervo@hottytoddy.com.

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