Despite being at the centre of the County, the church in Oxford was not one of the first – planted by Oxfordshire Community Churches in 1985, in response to a prophetic word – “Out of a Village will come a City”.
Little did we know that, three years after moving to Cote to recover from a painful fellowship breakup elsewhere, we would be on the move again to help start the Oxford church. We had discovered at Cote the delight of a relational church with godly pastoring, together with a vision for the spread of the Kingdom of God in Oxfordshire.
The process started when Geoff and Muriel Chad were asked to move to Manchester to help lead Sale Baptist Church with Mike Beaumont. They were our personal pastors – so we were told to go away and pray about who we felt should pastor us next! After a while, we couldn’t help feeling that Steve Thomas had something to do with this – although he was at that time leading Witney. All became clear when Steve told us that a church in Oxford was in the pipeline, and that he was going to move there. Because we had moved from Boar’s Hill to Cote, it seemed natural for us to move back to the area again.
Eighteen months later, we still hadn’t sold our house and were into the realities of church planting from a distance! Anthea had just given birth to David and would leave him being bottle fed by a babysitter, while we traipsed the half an hour over to the Royal Oxford Hotel mid-week, to meet in a smelly, dingy room behind the public bar.
Those were great meetings: about thirty of us would cram in, excited at what God was going to do in the coming months and years. In the mean time, Kidlington continued to meet as a group mid-week. On Sundays, we all met at the Ferry Centre in North Oxford, where we had a steady stream of visitors.
We sold our house at last and moved in to Dean Court, wondering whether we had done the right thing, as we were right the other end of Botley from Mark and Fiona. Within two years, about seven Christian families had moved into the area – some “by chance”, others planned. It was quite something watching it all happen: it had the fingerprints of God all over it. We saw a few people born
again at that time, but we had to push and pray hard.
Memories include Robin Howard playing jazz on his double bass during precinct outreaches, close fellowship at Jeremy Blakey’s with his reptiles, and standing together shouting out prayers to north, south, east and west a là Larry Lea in our sitting room on Saturday mornings. In those days, we would baptise new converts in the river at Port Meadow after lunch on the grass on a Sunday – chilly, but fun!
The church itself moved first to St Aloysius School, when the Ferry Centre became too small, and subsequently to the cinema in George Street, starting off in Screen Two and then moving in to Screen One. Steve did the bulk of the teaching, attracting many students (though things used to get hot sometimes when straight-down-the-line teaching was given!), and Cedric would lead most of the worship.
We loved the students particularly, though some Sunday lunches with them were memorable: once Simon and Ruth could hardly contain themselves when, having watched the six o’clock news, the weather came on. “I wouldn’t watch that,” said our disapproving student, “weather forecasting is very New Age”!
Five years on, the church had grown to about ten housegroups. Michael came back from an elders’ meeting one night and said, “How do you fancy moving to Abingdon?” We were on the move again…
Michael and Anthea Dillon were part of Oxford Community Church.