The story of Magdalen Road Church runs back to 1854 and the work of Oxford City Mission, whose missioners served as pastors of Magdalen Road Mission Hall. Its ministry was deeply rooted in the expanding community of East Oxford , with a view to meeting the material and spiritual needs of those who lived and worked in the area.
In 1879 a hall was built on Magdalen Road “… in which it is proposed to hold religious services, a Sunday school, concerts, temperance, political, and other meetings calculated to promote the religious and social improvement of the neighbourhood."(Oxford Times April 1879)
The church continued to make this site its home for over 130 years, rebuilding and adapting to meet the changing needs of the church and the community in dependence on God for financial and spiritual needs. In the mid-1960s, the Deacons invited the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches to take over legal responsibility for the building. By becoming affiliated with the FIEC, the church became part of a growing community of independent churches who wanted an informal partnership with other evangelical churches both locally and nationally. The church grew steadily during this period, led by godly men who, despite their commitment to full-time secular work, gave much of their free time to supervising the life of the church. They depended largely on visiting speakers to preach the Word of God twice every Sunday.
In the late 80’s, God graciously provided voluntary pastoral leadership, who started to deliver more consistent, consecutive teaching through books of the Bible. With these solid foundations, the church continued to grow and mature, developing a heart for the increasingly multicultural community around it.
By 2005, the chapel building could no longer accommodate Sunday morning services and outreach ministries. After moving to a local school for Sunday morning services, we were able to welcome a much larger congregation and numbers grew as people were attracted to the consistent Bible-teaching and ‘one-another’ ministry in a neutral environment.
There has always been a considerable prayerful and financial interest in overseas mission, usually through the support of individuals and mission agencies. However, since the late 80’s, a culture of active involvement in missions has been growing and the church has been able to send or sponsor its own people to serve overseas and in the UK for the sake of the Gospel. “The Barnabas Group” grew out of this culture, to support, encourage and equip those who feel the call to serve God overseas or in the UK.
During the late noughties, the elders sought to challenge the church to take risks for the sake of the Gospel. By the end of the decade the church had embraced the vision to plant a church every two or three years, for the sake of reaching other communities with a great need to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. The church also set out to acquire a building that could become a hub for mission and ministry within the community of East Oxford.
Within the next ten years Magdalen Road Church had planted churches in Cowley (Cowley Church Community
) and Bicester (Town Church Bicester
). Trinity Church
, in the centre of Oxford, was also a strategic plant by the FIEC with a number of MRC people moving to support that new initiative. While each plant has involved painful goodbyes and sacrifice, the church has continued to bounce back by God’s grace.
By 2015 we had identified the SS Mary & John Infant School, recently vacated, as a site with the potential to fulfil our vision for a mission and ministry hub in the community. Little did we know that the process of purchasing and developing the site would take so long and be so exhausting! However, with the Lord’s strength and tremendous provision, we continue towards our goal with confidence in our inexhaustible God to make that vision a reality.
Our testimony throughout the generations is that God is graciously using the church to draw people to himself and generously providing just what is needed to fulfil that purpose. Each individual, working and praying together as God equips and enables, helps to hand the baton on to the next generation, continuing what God has been doing in East Oxford for the last 170 years.