Continuing a tradition of faith
● By J. Chambless
Rev. Bernard Kefer took over at the Oxford United Methodist Church this month. (Photo by John Chambless)
The long tradition of faith at the Oxford United Methodist Church stretches back to 1885, when the brick church was built at Addison and Market streets. This month, Rev. Bernard Kefer steps into that tradition as the church’s new pastor.
Kefer and his wife, Vicky, have come to Oxford from serving at Zion United Methodist Church in Coal Township, and the larger Clark’s Grove United Methodist Church in Paxinos. They took over for Rev. Mark Terry, who had been at the Oxford church for a decade before being appointed to a church in Springfield.
Kefer noted the long tenure of his predecessor and added that the pastor before Terry served for 15 years, so there haven’t been a lot of changes in leadership at the Oxford church. The congregation, however, has enthusiastically welcomed Kefer and his wife, and Kefer said this week that he has been getting plenty of suggestions for things to do and places to visit in the Oxford area.
“One thing that’s been marvelous is that it’s good to be back in an area with good places to eat,” he said. In particular, he said, smiling, he’s happy to have discovered Bravo Pizza, where he has been a regular customer in the past two weeks.
“I found out about the change in February or March,” he said. “I met with the Staff-Parish Relations Committee here in June and took a drive-through tour of the town. Then I spent the day with Rev. Terry and his wife. I got the pastoral point of view on things. So far, it’s been very, very positive. This is a very active and vital congregation.”
For the past two Sundays, attendance has been “85 to 90 people, which may be people coming to check out the new guy,” Kefer said, smiling. On July 17, the church will hold a free community ice cream social from 7 to 8:30 p.m., and Kefer will be on hand for introductions. “I’m excited that this will be my first community event,” he said. That event is followed by an evening vacation Bible school from July 28 to Aug. 1 that will further expand the church’s community contacts.
Kefer, 60, grew up in Marshallton, attended Downington High School and got his BA in public administration and planning from West Chester University, so he’s familiar with Chester County. He had a 15-year business career in the area, but felt called to enter the ministry in 1998. He earned a Master of Divinity at Lancaster Theological Seminary in 2002, and has served at churches in Akron, Pa., Lancaster, Mohnton and Shamokin.
He has also served as a firefighter, first in Marshallton beginning in 1973. “But then I got married and my wife said she didn’t like the idea of the father of our children running into burning buildings,” Kefer said. He has recently applied to join the Union Fire Company in Oxford. “I can drive the apparatus, be an engineer,” he said. “I’ll do whatever I can.”
Kefer’s wife, Vicky, is drawn to missions work, and will be visiting Haiti and India later this year. She works as a medical assistant, and uses her training during her mission trips.
Now that he is settling in at the Oxford church, Kefer said he would like to create some kind of Kids Club with the younger children in the congregation to involve them more directly in a longtime relationship with the church. He would also like to work with a group of families who share dinner in each other’s homes on a rotating basis. “I find that’s a great way to cross-pollinate folks,” he said.
“I’ve heard this church has a group of four or five young couples who meet regularly, and they’d like to do more outreach events involving families,” Kefer said. He would like to get some sort of team going – possibly kickball -- so that grandparents and grandchildren could play together, further uniting families in having fun as part of the church.
His new home, in an 1800s parsonage next door to the church, is ideal for proximity to his grown children, Kefer said. He has a son in Lancaster, a son in Maryland and a daughter in Lancaster County, and they have visited several times in the past month.
While his office walls are still mostly bare, Kefer has put up a letter of thanks from a former church member, and a photo collage that spells out “Trust me.” They remind him to step out and let God lead, he said.
Kefer has changed appointments during a time of internal turmoil in the United Methodist Church, as the church recently upheld its ban on performing gay marriages, or of allowing LGBTQ people to be ordained. The decision has pitted conservative and more liberal-leaning United Methodist congregations. On the Oxford church’s website, the congregational stance “is trending toward progressive,” Kefer said. It reads, in part: “We believe the church is here for everyone. Even as we disagree on what that looks like. If what happened in St. Louis [the site of the recent decision] makes it hard for you to come to our particular church, fine. But don’t let something that happened far away among strangers keep you from connecting with some other group of believers in your town. We are made for community, Christ is found in community, and you will find joy in community. God loves you where you are and as you are.”
In a recent children’s sermon in Oxford, Kefer said, “I talked about how God put a spirit of caution into us, but Jesus tells us that we are to encourage the unfamiliar and get to know people that are on the margins. To me, the challenge of the Methodist church is to break out of homogenization and actually reflect their communities. My desire is to have a fully diverse congregation, and to work for that diversity.”
As he settles into his new community, Kefer said that the United Methodist Church’s policy of moving pastors every few years “can be difficult. But every time it happens, I find that we’re embraced by the community. We find new friends. If I did not believe I was called by God to do this, I couldn’t do it. I was a business person, I made better money, but I am called to be a minister, and God has taken very good care of me.”
For more information, visit www.oxford1851.org.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.