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A Big Step of Faith

Magdalen Road Church (MRC) in East Oxford have just got the keys to their new building – a Victorian schoolhouse. Dan Steel reports on the journey the Lord has taken them on so far and reveals that this is only the beginning.

A Big Step of Faith primary image

We’ve just taken a massive step of faith to buy a Victorian schoolhouse to make into our new ‘earthly’ home and to create a place where we can serve our local community better. We’ve long outgrown our old original chapel for main meetings and have been meeting in a local school hall since 2005.

Ever since, we’ve been looking for a new home and we’re excited about where the Lord is taking us.

Think of Oxford and you might think of the ‘dreaming spires’, students in gowns or the vibrant museums and cultural heritage. These are wonderful parts of our city, but there’s another side to it – the part we love: East Oxford.

This is the area of densely populated terrace housing built by the Victorians to house factory workers, several large mosques, and the old red-light district, as well as one of the most diverse areas to eat out in the country. Cowley Road has around 25 nationalities represented in its cafes, restaurants and small supermarkets, so we’re well catered for! This is the local community we’ve been given to serve.

Our 170 or so congregation is made up of people of all backgrounds and from every age and every stage, senior academics and teachers, those in business and charity work, trades-people, artists, those struggling to find work and, yes, the odd student.

Serving East Oxford

We’ve been in the heart of our East Oxford community for more than 130 years and our original elders had a clear vision to share the love of Jesus with words and actions with this diverse community. So when the local C of E Church were looking to sell their primary school building, we immediately started praying about whether this could be the place for us.

The building

It’s in a great location – right in the heart of the community, just down the road from where we were founded. We believed we should push the door and the Lord provided the large sums we needed to make a competitive bid through our own giving, some trusts and, wonderfully, the generous donations from other churches in Oxford.

We’ve had a sense of the Lord’s hand over the process from the beginning; for example, when the conditions of sale revealed a considerable requirement for ‘community benefit’ for those wishing to bid. The desire of their trustees was to ensure that the building continues to serve the community as it has done as a school for more than 120 years. This enabled our bid to be competitive over and above housing developers hoping to secure some land in the least affordable place in the country (read: maximum profit!) to purchase a house.

Just the start

So, we’re praising our Heavenly Father that we’ve just got the keys – but are mindful there’s significant work to do on the building to make it our new home. Our vision for the building is a natural extension of our vision for the church we want to be – one that is growing in our love for the Lord Jesus and sharing that love with those around us – and especially to this great community that he has put us in to serve.

The completed building will give us room to grow as we meet all together and give us much more suitable facilities for our activities throughout the week, all centred around the glorious gospel we’ve been given to preach. But it will also become a hub for our community – a place where we can serve their needs, share Jesus’ love with them, and introduce them to the only source of true community.

We’re praying that the Lord would provide us with the funds to create a space where he will use us for his purposes in East Oxford. If you would be interested in being a partner with us in this great work, please get in touch. We’re going to need a lot of prayer and financial support over the coming months (and years!) as we reach out to this community in East Oxford.

Dan Steel photo
Dan Steel

Dan grew up in Oxford and is now back there following a 16 year stint in Birmingham, where he was one of the founding pastors of Grace Church. He’s now the Pastor of Magdalen Road Church. He’s married to Zoe and is dad to Ellie, Barney, Josh and Abi.

Follow Dan Steel on Twitter – @dansteel77