The first bishop of Mississippi, The Right Reverend William Mercer Green, visited Oxford in 1850, and met several individuals wanting to establish a church in the village of Oxford. An organizational meeting was held in the courthouse on May 12, 1851, with “between twenty and thirty of the most intelligent and respectable citizens of the town and vicinity…” St. Peter’s Church was organized on that day with vestry and wardens being elected in canonical form. The following day, May 13, 1851, the vestry officially requested admission into the union with other congregations in the diocese.
The Rev. Prof. Frederick Augustus Porter Barnard, the first resident clergyman, was ordained in 1855, and under his leadership, the congregation successfully built the beautiful church still in use today. Completed in 1860, Barnard delivered the first sermon on Easter Sunday, 1860. A copy of that sermon is in the archives of St. Peter’s. Having been spared destruction during the Civil War, St. Peter’s is the oldest religious structure in Oxford.
Since Barnard was also President (later called Chancellor) of the University of Mississippi, an early relationship was formed between the two institutions that continues to this day.
Perhaps no closer relationship with the university was evident than the church’s involvement with the integration of Ole Miss in 1962. It has been well documented as to the stand taken by then rector, Duncan Gray, Jr. who later became the 7th Bishop of Mississippi. His son, Duncan Gray, III, who later served as the 9th Bishop of Mississippi, was instrumental in bringing racial reconciliation programs to the church and forming a relationship with 2nd Baptist Church during his time as rector, 1985-2000.
St. Peter’s has been closely tied to the Oxford community as well. Eastview Homes, an affordable housing project, was conceived by members of the church. In 1972, the church opened an educational center for severely mentally and physically challenged children that eventually became the Scott Center and part of Oxford’s Public School System. Church members were heavily involved in the first Habitat for Humanity home completed in 1989. Leap Frog, an after-school tutorial for at risk children, was established in 1989. A Spanish ministry began in 1998, and continues today, with an ESL course and worship service in Spanish.
As the church moved into the 21st century, historic ordinations were taking place. The first woman clergy was ordained as Vocational Deacon in 2001; the first African American was named Chaplain at Ole Miss and Assistant Rector in 2003, followed in 2009 by the first woman to serve in this capacity; and the first woman to serve as Associate Rector was named in 2007.
For more details, copies of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Oxford, Mississippi: A History 1851-2011, c. 2011, Brenda J. West, may be found in the church office. A history of the beautiful stained glass windows is also available: The Stained Glass Windows of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Jean Kiger, c.2007. You may order these books by contacting the church at (662)234-1269.