History

The Early History of the Seventh-Day Adventism in Oxford

 

Incredible as it is it may seem there was no SDA presence in Oxford until 1957-8. This is difficult to explain since Adventists had been working in Cambridge since early in the century. Perhaps an incident there in 1920 when an evangelist was dragged off his platform by undergraduate who wanted to duck him in the river (prevented by a policeman) caused the brethren to fight shy of these ‘dangerous’ university cities. Be that as it may, at the 1957 session of the South England Conference an appeal was made for funds for an evangelistic campaign in Oxford and pictures of the Town Hall were circulated. In the autumn of that year, Pastor S.G. Hyde with a team of five workers commenced his effort in that Hall in 1958-9 he was allowed only one Sunday night and had to continue in a cinema at Headington (now demolished). The South Oxford Baptist Church kindly allowed the use of their baptistery and the earliest converts were baptised there. In addition to these, a few Adventists from surrounding areas, notably the Girling family from Winslow, transferred their membership from the conference books to the new church. Also, the writer of this article had moved from London to Oxford in January 1958 and he became, by transfer, a charter member.

 

The group met in a variety of places, including the Hydes’ living room, the University boxing gymnasium, a restaurant in the high restaurant in the High Street where some St. Edmund Hill accommodation now stands, a Co-op hall and the vestry of a church both in Cowley Road (and both now demolished). Pastor Hyde’s mid week meetings were held in the Friend’s Meeting House in St. Giles, now the venue of the Healthy Living Supper Club. An attempt was made to run a campaign in the Forresters’ Hall, Kidlington, but this yielded no results.

 

After a year or so of wandering, the former school room in St. Mary’s Road was purchased. It had hitherto been rented out to a variety of religious groups including one run by a white bearded man who called himself the bishop of Mercia and who, I think, was a member of the aristocratic Harcourt family of Nuneham Courtney and Stanton Harcourt. The last person who had hired it was a retired lady missionary. Her congregation had dwindled away but she was so furious when she heard that the "wicked Adventists" were going to buy it that she stripped out everything, even the platform on which she had stood to preach. There were no ancillary rooms at all, and the children had to be taken to Sabbath School in the Oldfellows Hall in Bullingdon Road. At first we were allowed to use the outside toilet of the house in the back garden in which the hall stood, but s new owner of the house boarded this up and thenceforth the interval between the Sabbath School and the divine service had to be lengthened in order to allow excursions to the public conveniences on Cowley Road. The lack of a toilet in which to dispose of the water after foot-washing (for which the hall was divided by a curtain) led to the sight if two separate processions- one female, one male- emptying washing- up bowls of water down the drain outside. The roof became somewhat unstable and had to be supported by a pillar, and the floor in certain areas always threatened to give way.

 

In the later 1960s the land in Chester Street was purchased for £3,100 and fund-raising began for the erection of a new church building there. In 1971 the old hall was sold to the Church of Christ on condition that we could continue to use it on Sabbaths until the new building was ready ( they rejected the use of music in worship, but tolerated the presence of our organ on condition that it was covered with a sheet so that they could not see it).The new church cost up to £42, 000. That does not sound like much today, but half of it took a lot of raising then; the other half was given by the South England Conference. Various modifications had to be made to the original plan to keep the cost down. For instance, no gallery was built, and the basement, which was originally planned to run the length of the building, it had to be restricted to beneath the entrance and foyer area. Even then it filled with water from an underground spring, so we could have had a swimming pool!

 

Dedication day was planned for 1st July, 1972 and the Lord Mayor engaged to come. Then the Division and Union brethren were called at short notice to go to Northern Ireland on that day, so a most embarrassed chairman of the building committee had to put the Lord Mayor off for a week. His secretary was very cross, but the Mayor himself didn’t seem to mind. Thus, finally, on 8th July the church was dedicated free of debt in the presence of the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress; the President of the Northern European Division, Pastor W.D. Eva; the President of the British Union Conference, Pastors Don Lowe and Roy Graham; and the founder, Pastor S.G. Hyde; together with several of those – some from Canada and the United States – who had contributed generously to the building fund. The next day was an Open Day and a number of local residents toured the building.

Just as in 1954, a little way along Iffley Road, the seemingly impossible had been achieved when Roger Bannister ran the first sub- four – minute mile, so only fifteen years from the time when there were no Adventist members in Oxford, there was now a representative church building in Chester Street with a membership of over fifty.

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1a Chester Street, Oxford OX4 1SL 01865 792022 info@oxfordadventist.org