The story of Merryfield House starts around 1971, when we were in the Methodist Church in Witney, leading the Youth Group along with Dave and Chris Richards (now in Basingstoke).
We had begun to feel very dry spiritually, and were sure that there must be more to Christianity than we had known up to that point. We reached out to God for more, and He answered as we began to meet all sorts of people who obviously were experiencing that “something more” of God which we were looking for. Two of those people were Rosemary Field and Vera Rodgers, who were running Merryfield House by faith as a Christian guesthouse. As we heard their accounts of answers to prayer and steps of faith, we became very excited, and in due course the Lord baptised us in his Holy Spirit – the "something more” we needed.
The Bible came alive to us, and the issue of believer’s baptism became crystal clear. We discussed the matter with the then Methodist minister, who was happy for us to be baptised. Whilst on holiday, we were baptised at South Chard fellowship, a place where nobody knew us. We were given several significant prophetic words, including “The Lord will use you in your relationship together in a special way” and “Your house will be used for an ingathering of souls and a spreading of nets”. We were still living in a two-bedroom bungalow in Minster Lovell at the time, and although we had a weekly “charismatic meeting” in our home attended by forty or so people, this sounded like something different and confirmed the direction in which we were going.
Around this time, the lease on Merryfield House was due to run out, and the owner was selling it and its twelve acres of land to a development company. With Dave and Chris, we started to meet together Rosemary and Vera to pray for another house to carry on the work. As time went by, we all felt that the Lord was leading the six of us to be part of the vision together and to live “in community”.
Our together praying for a large house continued almost daily for two years. Merryfield House was to have been demolished to make way for new houses, but a preservation order was put on it, and we felt that this was the house God wanted us to buy.
As we prayed, incredible things began to happen in the area of financial provision. (To allow for inflation, all the following figures need to multiplied by ten to give an idea of current values!) An interest-free loan of £4,000 and gifts of £2,000 were given to us, and we and the Richards were able to put in £6,000 each. Dave and Geoff negotiated a price of £28,500 with the developers and paid the deposit – but, with other expenses, that left a shortfall of about £12,000. More than a dozen building societies could not be persuaded to give us a joint mortgage for that figure – so with time not on our side, we prayed! Out of the blue, a lady (who none of us knew) phoned Rosemary and said, “I’ve heard about your situation. Tell me about it.” Rosemary told her of the financial need. “This is where I may come in”, she said, “I’ve been endowed with a little more of this world’s goods than most people – I’ll give you a mortgage of £12,000.” We only met her a couple of months after we moved into Merryfield House, and that was in connection with something else!
Then Dave and Geoff went up to Stratford to negotiate a price with the developer. When we walked in to his office, everything in there seemed larger than life: it was an enormous room, he sat an outsize desk, smoking a huge cigar. He said to us, “Before we start talking about money, you’re going to use this for Christian purposes, aren’t you. Now what do you mean? Are there going to be people like drug addicts coming and going all hours of the day and night? If so, I’m not selling to you, because I’m building a quality estate round there.” We knew we couldn’t promise this wouldn’t happen, but Geoff suddenly found himself saying – and this must have been God, “I can assure you, that we don’t intend to do anything different at Merryfield to what we do in our own homes at the present time.” What he forgot to ask us, was what we were doing in our homes! He said, “Oh, that’s absolutely fine, let’s talk money.”
We moved into Merryfield in Autumn 1973, with no heating. After dressing up very warm to go off to work we would get outside the house and have to take off layers! Some of us had a lot to put in, some a little, but we all gave everything we had and so started on the same basis. We agreed that while we were there we would live from a “common purse”. We continued to see God provide in amazing ways throughout the five years we lived there. Relationally, it was something of a hot-house, and we learned a lot through what were sometimes painful times – but like faith and prayer, strong relationships were also foundational for the church which subsequently grew.
The Friday night meetings which had taken place in our bungalow continued in Merryfield, where the lounge and adjacent dining room could just seat 120 people. This grew very rapidly, so that very often the room was full. A bathing pool in the garden served well for baptisms. On a monthly basis, speakers were invited, such as Barney Coombs, Vic Gledhill, Keri Jones, George Tarleton, “Uncle” Sid Purse and Ian Andrews.
Our friendship with Vic Gledhill began when we took over a cancelled conference centre booking and then looked for a speaker. It was Bryn Jones who suggested we ask Barney Coombs (then at Basingstoke), and he directed us to Vic, who had settled in Basingstoke after nine years with Operation Mobilisation in India and Nepal.
After a while, and then in discussion with the Methodist minister, we felt that in all integrity we could not remain members of the Methodist church and continue with the way the work was unfolding at Merryfield. For a month we wondering and praying about what we should do. The outcome was that we began to meet together on a Sunday, on the basis of a clear commitment to the Lord, and a clear commitment to one another. In the light of what we had seen and experienced of “church” thus far, that seemed radical, and was the basis of covenant as we now know it. We were very aware of our need of oversight and spiritual covering, and out of the friendship built, we asked Vic Gledhill to be that to us. It was Barney and Vic who laid hands on Dave Richards and Geoff to ordain them as elders of the then The Church at Merryfield House in 1975.
We continued to spend time just waiting on God mid-week for the Spirit to move. In one of those gatherings, the Lord gave a song to Dave Richards which is still sung world-wide today: “For I’m building a people of power”. The song seemed quite audacious – there were only about fifteen of us – but it has proved to be prophetic of what God was to do with us in Oxfordshire Community Churches and in His church nationally.
Young people who had been in our youth group in the Methodist church started coming along, including Mark Mumford (now leading East Midlands Christian Fellowships in Derby), Rosemarie Pocock (nee Warner) and Ian and Rosemary Smith (nee Pocock), together with some older folk such as Pat Griffin and Joan Ford, who are all part of the Witney congregation now. By 1976 it was felt that Dave and Geoff could no longer continue as teachers and lead the church, and so they both became full-time pastors. During this time, Dave and Geoff had begun to build friendships with Steve Thomas and David Freeman at Cote Baptist Church. After a joint Easter conference in 1978 with the Witney church and Cote Baptist Church, it became very clear that we were to work together in the future and in 1982 Oxfordshire Community Churches was formally established.
Geoff and Mary Norridge have been with us since the beginning and are now engaged in a pastoral equipping and training ministry, including family life seminars, Salt & Light pastoral training course and other pastoral initiatives.