New life in the Garden Town

By Andy O'Connell

Mark and Katherine Eley

There's a church just north of Oxford that we're family with! Although its exciting, being actively part of a wider family of churches may be a new idea for some of you, so we want to tell the story of how we got there, and how relationships are sustained today.

Chapter 1: Oxfordshire

In the 1970s, UK churches were impacted by a new movement that came to be called both the ‘charismatic renewal’ and the ‘house church movement’. It placed emphasis on authentic community, participation in worship, spiritual gifts, and meaningful discipleship. 

Christians inspired by all these things formed a church at Merryfield House in Witney. They became friends with Cote Baptist Church, who were much more established, having been founded in 1703. Oxfordshire Community Churches formed, and became a founding part of an international family of churches called Salt & Light that we continue to play a very active part in - this is family, not an impersonal ‘network’.

Chapter 2: Oxford

Oxford Community Church was planted in 1985, under the leadership of Steve Thomas, including people from a small house church in Kidlington. In 2001, after years of meeting in a cinema in George Street, we purchased The King’s Centre, as our primary base in the city. Steve Jones took over leadership in 2005.

Chapter 3: Bicester

One of the churches planted from Oxford was Bicester Community Church in 1992 (we also planted in Abingdon, which in turn planted in Didcot). People living in Kidlington and Bicester, but attending Sunday services in OCC, joined forces and planted a new church, with the active support and blessing of OCC.

From the late 90s onwards, BCC served the town in a wide range of ways, including a pre-school and over 50s club. It also saw a change of leadership from Barrie Wood to Steve Beegoo, both of whom are strongly prophetically gifted and led the church to keep in step with the Holy Spirit.

Chapter 4: The Eleys

Katherine was an OCC student while she studied nursing at Brookes in the early 2000s. She met Mark while they were at the Salt & Light Bible College, at that time in Oxford. They married, and moved to Kidlington, and then onto Bicester in 2015, with a vision to see 'locations' planted in Banbury and Kidlington, as well as Bicester. And so the church was renamed Lifehouse Community Church.
 
Mark and Katherine are amazing at connecting with people, and so unsurprisingly around them is growing an exciting missional approach to church, starting to connect well with people in the growing towns of Bicester and Banbury.

Chapter 5: Garden Town

Bicester is in the middle of a huge growth spurt from 30,000 to 80,000 people, when it will be largest town in the county.

It was designated a 'Garden Town' by the UK Government in 2014 "in recognition of its ambitious vision for holistic, sustainable growth, [including] self-build and zero-carbon communities, high-tech business parks and a vibrant town centre, linked together by green corridors for walkers and cyclists. … The economy of the Oxford area is thriving, based on strengths in knowledge sectors including life sciences, high-performance engineering and higher education. And Bicester, with space to expand and superb transport links, has been selected to meet the area’s needs for new residential communities and business locations."

Beyond Bicester, there is a vision to see more locations spring up, where communities of God's people, together, make an impact in their neighbourhoods. One such location, already thriving, is in Banbury - and we'll say more about that in another blog.

Chapter 6: A new chapter?

We believe God is writing a new chapter in the story of Lifehouse. OCC leaders played a leading role in a major review early in 2021, from which agreed together as leaders that God is calling us to a new season of prayerful and sacrificial investment.
 
'Bicester Garden Town' is attracting thousands of young adults and families to affordable housing serving the wider "Oxfordshire Knowledge Spine" innovation and employment area. God wants to grow dynamic and outward-looking churches to reach these people, and want us to play our part!
 
Oxford is called to be an 'apostolic base' with a vision for the county and beyond - not just our local ‘parish’ - and so we've committed to a 2-year period of closer partnership with Lifehouse, during which time we will embed some of our leaders in the Lifehouse team, offer additional support pastorally and on some Sundays, and recruit younger adults and families to relocate to play their part in what God is growing in Bicester and Banbury.
 
 
How can you get involved? Pray that God sends people. Find out more. Get involved in on-the-ground support. For more details on any of that click here.

Thu, 18/03/2021 - 11:26