Oxford: Unity and Growth
It’s always good to hear about FIEC churches partnering together in worship and mission. For a while now the leaders of our churches around Oxford have had an annual get-together. But they did something different for the very first time in June as Andy Robinson explains.
We have always had a good sense of partnership as FIEC churches in the wider Oxford region. Every February we have held our Leaders’ Day which is a chance to get elders, homegroup leaders and youth leaders from different churches in the same building to compare notes. But a warm Sunday evening in June saw a new event – our first joint celebration.
A joint event like this always reveals that churches do things slightly differently. As different churches merged their equipment for communion we ended up with a complete mixture of glasses, wine and fruit juice! But there was a strong sense of unity as we gathered together to remember and celebrate the Lord’s death. This truly felt like a family meal.
Several people commented to me about the singing afterwards: “Wasn’t it great to hear so many voices praising God?” was typical.
At one point in the service a representative from each of the eight churches delivered prayer requests – with each one strictly limited to ninety seconds.
In a sense this was remarkable. Had the event happened 15 years ago there would have been three churches. But with one church joining the FIEC and four new church plants in the intervening years the stage was definitely full.
The prayer points revealed the diversity of churches. Some of the church plants are at a fledgling stage – though we could rejoice at the first baptism happening in one of them that afternoon. Some of the churches have a strong outreach to students whilst others are much more rural. Some were encouraged by growth whilst others were reflecting that a third of the church was about to move away. It was great to bring all this to the Lord.
Each prayer group was told that it must contain people from at least three churches – a great way of getting people to mix.
It was important for us that prayer was part of this event. We have seen growth as churches but there is a danger that yields complacency. It was good for us to express our keen sense of dependence on God.
The Lord knows
Paul Mallard spoke to us from Revelation 2:8-11 and encouraged us greatly. Whatever situation our church is in, the risen Lord knows. He doesn’t judge churches by the standards that the world around us adopts – it is possible to be outwardly poor and yet rich in the deepest sense. Hard times are limited – they are on the leash of His sovereignty. And whatever else may be going on, we have been freed from the fear of hell and are destined for glory.
We left rejoicing – it is good to belong to this group of churches and, above all, to the Lord.
There was a unanimous sense that this was an experiment worth repeating. In some ways, the only regret was that we hadn’t done it before.