By Alyssa Schnugg
First Presbyterian Church in Oxford will host an hour of meditation and prayer in support of College Hill Presbyterian Church members who lost their sanctuary Saturday night in a fire.
From noon to 1 p.m. on Friday, musicians from both churches will come together inside the First Presbyterian Church sanctuary for a time of musical meditation and prayer for healing and comfort. Everyone is welcome to attend to reflect and offer support to the CHPC members.
The fire started at about 11 p.m. Saturday in the back of the sanctuary. Firefighters from Lafayette County Fire Department, assisted by Oxford Fire Department firefighters, battled the blaze for several hours.
On Tuesday, Lafayette County Fire Capt. Beau Moore said the cause of the fire is still under investigation, which could take two to four weeks to complete.
The sanctuary, built in 1844 under the direction of Francis Timmons, is the oldest Presbyterian structure in north Mississippi and the oldest church building of any denomination in the Oxford area.
The grounds of the church served as an encampment for Union troops under Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman.
It was also the place where Mississippi author, William Faulkner, married his wife, Estelle, in 1929
It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
A firefighter reportedly saved the church’s Bible from the pulpit. Some of the outside of the structure still stands, including several large white columns; however, the inside of the sanctuary was destroyed by the fire.
Chloe Cole Long is one of many Oxonians mourning the loss of the church. She was baptized there and her family sat together in the same pew for many years.
“I’ve listened to incredible sermons from Mr. Alan Cochet and Justin McGuire that at times it even felt like they were talking directly to me and somehow knew exactly what I needed to hear,” she said recently. “My Grandaddy and I became members of the church together when I was in high school. I’ve cried through sermons and singing hymns. I’ve driven here in the middle of the night and sat on the ground in front of the church to pray more times than I can count.”
Just hours after the fire, the CHPC congregation met in the church’s fellowship hall for Sunday service.
“Bill Mackenzie reminded us that the building was not our church, but we ourselves are the church. We’re heartbroken and grieving, but we’re hopeful together for the good that God will bring from this tragedy. It will always be dear to our hearts.”
Other area churches and pastors offered words of support on social media after the fire. Chris McAlilly, senior pastor at Oxford University United Methodist Church said he had always admired the historic building.
“God makes beauty from ashes,” he said. “We’re with y’all, College Hill, in grief and in hope.”