When St Nicholas Orthodox Parish was founded in September 2006, there was no Orthodox place of worship in which the community could gather together for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. There was (and remains to this day) a small domestic chapel dedicated to Christ the All-Merciful Saviour attached to the parish house in Headington which was used for the smaller weekday celebrations. Although much loved by the parishioners, the chapel was nevertheless far too small to be a suitable venue for the celebration of the Sunday Liturgy which attracted a much larger congregation than the dozen or so people who could be accommodated there. For the first six months of its existence the parish was permitted to make use of the disused St Luke’s Chapel attached to the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford, but this arrangement came to an end when the hospital site was bought by the University of Oxford and the area was sealed off for development. The Parish then moved across the Woodstock Road to St Giles Church Hall which became the regular ‘weekend home’ for St Nicholas Parish for the next four years. The hall had to be adapted for Orthodox worship, a process undertaken on The Parish's first 'weekend home' a weekly basis by the clergy and a team of volunteers. Every Saturday evening, an ingenious portable iconostasis was constructed out of interlocking panels and beams and erected in the hall.
Parish Chapel Interior
St Nicholas' weekend place of worship 2006-10
This, together with the other fixtures and fittings normally found in an Orthodox Church, remained in place until Sunday afternoon, when the process was reversed and all the church accoutrements dismantled and stored away until the following week. Apart from being time-consuming and back-breaking work for the weekly assembling team, this ‘weekend’ arrangement also severely limited parish life which had to be fitted into the six hours rent time allotted to the parish. Baptisms and weddings had to be conducted either within or shortly before or after the Liturgy, and all weekday services were celebrated in the tiny parish house chapel. Naturally, entirely different arrangements had to be made for the celebration of the services of Holy Week and Easter which attracted a much larger congregation than could be accommodated in the Parish chapel. Over the years, a number of Christian communities kindly welcomed the Parish to hold its Holy week services on their premises (read an account of one such sojourn here) but it was especially during those times that our homelessness was most acutely felt. Oh for a home of our own!
The slow journey into the Parish’s own home began in September 2008 when the owner of a derelict Anglican mission church wrote to the parish priest with an offer to sell it to the community for a reasonable (but nevertheless unattainable) £250,000. Built in 1913, the Mission Church was designed as a chapel of ease for the St Nicholas Parish of the village of Marston many of whose residents were beginning to move into an area of Oxford which had come to be known as New Marston. As a daughter church, it was also dedicated to St Nicholas, a dedication providentially also adopted by the Orthodox Parish from its inception. The church was further developed and expanded in 1939 and remained as the hub of the New Marston community until 1965 when a new Anglican parish church of St Michael and All Angels was opened nearby. After a short stint as a non-conformist chapel, the Mission Church was made redundant and sold on the open market. Over the next forty years, the church was used as a factory, a reprographics studio and finally a general dumping ground for various items of bric-a-brac large and small. With no ongoing repairs, the little church had fallen into a complete dilapidation, the fact much lamented by its immediate neighbours.
In December 2008, with the blessing of the diocesan bishop, the St Nicholas Parish Assembly voted unanimously to purchase the Mission Church on Ferry Road. With no significant funds to its name, the parish could only trust in God’s help and appeal to the generosity of the parish’s many supporters and friends.
1937 Exterior of St Nicholas in New Marston
One such friend agreed to lend the purchase price of £250,000 to the parish as a five-year loan, and this allowed the it to put in a speedy offer to secure the building at a time of considerable interest from developers. One of many fundraising events for the Church Building Appeal However, it took another year of land searches, legal paperwork and planning applications for the parish to complete the purchase and take formal possession of the building.
However, the parish did not remain idle while the formalities were being finalised. With the renovation costs likely to exceed the purchase price of £250,00 (already paid for by the loan) there was an urgent need to raise money. A multitude of fundraising events were held in the interim: a pancake lunch, a sponsored walk, a Family Fun Day in the local park, a folk concert, a parish lottery and carol singing to name but a few. In addition, 100s of appeal letters were written to charitable individuals and institutions both at home and abroad to solicit funds.
All this meant that by 10th January 2010, when Archbishop Elisey of Sourozh came to Oxford to serve a Moleben for the Beginning of Work in the newly-acquired building, the parish had already raised some £130,000 towards the cost of the renovation. This sum was further amplified by a number of large donations both of money and in kind by generous supporters of the Parish and the building contactors were able to begin the extensive work.
Archbishop Elisey blessing the derelict building before renovations
It took just over six month to complete the renovation work in St Nicholas Church. Much of the building had to be entirely rebuilt. The old floor was excavated and replaced with new hard core, damp-proofing, and a new concrete floor on top. The walls were sandblasted and the decayed ceiling joists renewed.
The 1937 tower was renovated and made pigeon-proof, but not before the by-products of their forty-year sojourn in the church tower was removed!
The interior of the church was also totally rebuilt. The church now boasted a narthex separated from the body of the church by a glazed wall designed to serve the parish social space. It included a kitchen, toilets and baby-changing facilities, and integral storage. Over the narthex, a gallery was constructed allowing space for the Sunday school, together with a parish office, library and archive space. The front of the gallery was designated as the choir loft, taking advantage of the wonderful natural acoustics within the building.
Generous donations also extended to the furnishings; beautiful carved iconostasis and icon shrines, complete with painted icons were commissioned in Russia for the Parish. Nearer to home, a blacksmith from Bedfordshire has produced a wonderful wrought iron chandelier and candle stands. A number of wall paintings grace the interior walls with more frescos planned in the future. Outside, the new church is crowned by an Orthodox dome and cross. A carved inscription over the porch reads, 'My House shall be called a house of prayer for all nations', (Isaiah 56: 7)
On 9th October 2010, the Russian Orthodox Church of St Nicholas the Wonderworker was solemnly consecrated by His Eminence Archbishop of Sourozh in the presence of some 23 clergymen from 5 different Orthodox jurisdictions in the UK. The consecration which was also attended by the Mayor of Oxford drew the attention of the local radio and press and the new Church was warmly welcomed into the neighbourhood by the very active local community. Since then, the normal pattern of parish life has become established.
The parish has quickly become used to having a permanent base and rejoices in being able to welcome both regulars and visitors to its services and events. By the grace of God and thanks to the tireless fundraising by our parishioners and generous support from our benefectors, the £250,000 loan borrowed to buy the church building has now been repaid. Although it is marvelous to be debt-free, our commiunity still has to find resources for the ongoing work of the parish as well as necessary maintenance on the building itself. If you are moved to help us in this God-pleasing work, please consider making a donation through any of the channels below. May God abundantly bless you for your generosity.
Write a cheque:
payable to ‘St Nicholas Orthodox Parish’
Please send to
18 Warwick Street,
Oxford OX4 1SX
By Banker’s Standing Order:
Download and complete BSO form below and return to the Treasurer (address above).
Make direct bank transfer:
St Nicholas Orthodox Parish (Building Appeal),
Santander UK plc,
301 St Vincent Street,
Glasgow, G2 5NB;
Sort code 09-01-27
Account number 25105294
IBAN number: GB86 ABBY 0901 2725 1052 94
Make a donation via the Parish PayPal page