Christian Students Guide

Full credit to be given to Alia Eyres, Anna Jeffries-Shaw, Simon Jones, Katherine Price, Anthony Buckley and all other student volunteers that helped put it together.

Disclaimer: This guide has been complied by current Oxford Students and to the best of their knowledge, is accurate. However there may have been changes since publication. If you would like current advice about the information here or any welfare issue, please contact advice@oxfordsu.ox.ac.uk

It can be nerve-wracking before going to University, and you may be even more nervous if you want to keep up with your Christian faith and are not sure how. Hopefully this guide can give you some advice, based on student experiences, on how to stay connected to your faith while you are away from home.

Before Going to Oxford

  • It is hugely recommended bringing your own copy of the Bible to Oxford. Not only will it be helpful to stay close to your faith at university, but it can also be a good refuge away from Laptops and phones amidst the stress of Oxford. Do not stress too much about it, often in Fresher events, free bibles get given out. The Christian Union would also be happy to provide one, and lots of churches have bibles in them.
  • It may also be nice to bring anything else that reminds you of your faith, such a Bible verses for your wall.
  • You can also check out the OICCU (Oxford inter-collegiate (so basically all colleges) Christian Union!) on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/oiccu/?hl=en), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/oiccu/) and the website (https://www.oiccu.org/) before getting to university (especially “Get involved → find my college”) and just don’t be afraid to get in touch with people! There are lots of events (including online ones) where you can meet people, and the OICCU is always very excited to meet new members.
  • You may want to research the different churches in Oxford before you show up. You can find a list of all the different churches in Oxford, organised by denomination here. It is important to have an open mind, and since there are so many churches in Oxford, you are bound to find one that you feel happy in if you keep looking. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_churches_in_Oxford Coronavirus has made this easier than ever to try out different churches and find which one is right for you. For a while, most services will be online, so you will be able to try out lots of different churches, even before you show up, to see which one may suit you the best.
  • A big opportunity before term starts is the OICCU ‘Freshaway’, available to any students coming to Oxford as a Christian (https://www.oiccu.org/freshaway ). With Bible teachings, seminars and an introduction to different church workers in Oxford (as well as an amazing opportunity to meet Christian freshers), it is definitely a great opportunity to take up! Note- due to Covid, this will not be taking place in 2020.
  • It would be helpful to find out what faith provisions your college has before you show up (such as whether there is an Anglican/Catholic/Interfaith space.) It it also worth seeing whether your college has a chaplain or a member of staff who works with external faith organisations, just to familiarise yourself with key people to keep up with your faith in college.
  • If you are Catholic, you may want to bring the Rosary with you, and maybe a crucifix and the missal as well.

Meeting People

  • All colleges have a CU rep, and you can find them here: https://www.oiccu.org/colleges -these are good points of call, especially early on if you want a chat or ask any questions. 
  • Don’t think you have to be an extrovert - you don’t! Be yourself but if you can come along to events (pub trips after some central meetings are a great way to make new friends!) The University Catholic Chaplaincy also has a post-Mass cup of hot chocolate tradition (particularly after the 9pm mass). It's a nice way to meet people who are also catholic from different colleges!
  • If you are nervous about it, it is worth working out before you come what freshers week related activities you are comfortable with and willing to take part in so that you don't have to decide on the spot and potentially end up regretting whatever you decide. 
  • Also don’t be afraid to ask non-Christian friends to come with you, they may not say yes, but often people are interested in what the churches are like.
  • You find someone/ could ask someone (like your college rep!) to put you in touch with others (like someone who goes to the church!) if you want someone to go with!
  • In freshers' week, there are often Christian events, including the Freshers' Banquet at St Ebbe's Church. There is absolutely no pressure to commit to that church, but it's a great way to meet people, and the food and decorations are amazing. Going to different churches each week is also a good way to make friends, and can help you decide which ones you like.
  • Visit your college's chapel; if your college doesn't have one, some of the most active communities for Christians are at Pusey House and Exeter.
  • If your college has a faith group, look out for that and tag along. They’re usually relatively non-denominational and chill. 
  • Even if it doesn't seem like it initially, there are plenty of people interested in faith and with similar religious convictions as you, it's just a question of finding them (which may take some time!)
  • Bring an open mind and a willingness to ‘discover’ new things in your faith, especially new people.

Different churches in Oxford 

Here is a google document with different students explaining why they go to a particular Church: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1d1lOvlWE9RZ50sD9c_9Hk5Rs3n4UrNEGB0h_sAMPfkA/edit?usp=sharing

And here is the wikipedia page with a full list of all the churches in Oxford, which you can use to research and decide which one to go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_churches_in_Oxford

College chapels

  • Services vary
  • Usually have a choir of some kind
  • Usually fairly “high church” CofE style
  • Can be a nice place to be baptised/confirmed

Student groups

  • Christian Union (college and OICCU)
  • CathSoc
  • Second Sunday/ Student Christian Movement
  • And so many more.

LGBTQ+ Affirming Churches in Oxford

Taken directly from: http://www.oulgbtq.org/religious-in-oxford.html

For Christians, there are lots and lots of places to worship in Oxford, so there are a fair few which are LGBTQ+ affirming. Here we’re using ‘affirming’ to mean embracing LGBTQ+ people and affirming their relationships. Below is information about Christian places of worship which we have heard are affirming by word of mouth; it is sometimes hard to get concrete information on this and we can’t guarantee everyone’s experiences will be the same, but this should give pointers on where is best!

St Columba’s United Reformed Church (Alfred Street) (https://www.saintcolumbas.org/home):

St Mary Magdalen, "Mary Mags" (9 Magdalen St - next to Tesco) (http://www.stmarymagdalenoxford.org.uk/):

The following four Churches are part of the “Inclusive Church” network (https://www.inclusive-church.org/):

St Giles’ Church, 10 Woodstock Road (https://www.st-giles-church.org/):

St Mary the Virgin (University Church), High Street (https://www.universitychurch.ox.ac.uk/):

St Mary and St John, Cowley (http://cowleystjohn.co.uk/):

  • Style of worship: quite High Church,  in Anglican-Catholic tradition
  • Mass on Sundays in morning (sung) and evening (said)

St Alban’s Church, Charles St (http://cowleystjohn.co.uk/our-sites/st-albans-church):

  • Style of worship: quite High Mass, also more informal evening services
  • Mass on Sunday morning, more informal meetings in evening

College Chapels:

Can be LGBTQ+ friendly, although this varies college by college. It is worth contacting the current faith rep at the LGBTQ+ soc, since they would have more up-to-date college by college information (see the current committee here: http://www.oulgbtq.org/meet-the-team.html ).

  • Most of Oxford’s Colleges have Chaplains as well, who tend to have a welfare role within college. 
  • Whereas Churches in Oxford and elsewhere tend to relate to Christians from particular denominations or traditions, in many of the College Chapels you’ll find a diverse, international community of Christians from a number of different traditions and backgrounds, as well as those from non-Christian traditions who are attracted to the open and inclusive ethos of the Chapel. 
  • Student-led music plays an important part in the life of many Chapels, and those with strong choral traditions often attract visitors as well as members of the College and University. 
  • To find out more, look at your College’s website, or contact your College Chaplain (https://www.ox.ac.uk/students/welfare/chaplaincy).

Oxford Quaker Meeting, 43 St Giles (https://oxfordquakers.org/):

Keeping up Religious Traditions

It may be a stress before turning up to Oxford, worried about how you will keep up with your faith in the busy Oxford terms. Here are a few tips from students which should hopefully help with this:

  • Try to work your faith into your schedule like time to pray and read your bible or it’s easy to let it slip.
  • Joining a group, such as the CU or any religious groups, can help keep you grounded.
  • It can help to put your headphones on in the morning and listen to worship music while getting ready!
  • Don’t beat yourself up if you’re busy (Oxford is a lot!) Remember God’s arms are always open but remember that you find your rest in Him! God is good, all the time.
  • The Sheldonian carol service at the end of Michaelmas term is highly recommended. The singing and talk are great, and you get to hear the Oxford Belles sing too. Often, chapels and churches have their own carol services, so you can go to several. 
  • Some chapels also have Lent and Advent retreats, which are a great way to take time out of the term to reflect on the Bible and the meaning of Easter/ Christmas.
  • You are likely to encounter traditions and practices even from your own faith or denomination that you have never experienced before, or services which may seem unusual. This is completely fine! There are many different ways to express faith.
  • It is worth mixing with a range of denominations, there are beautiful aspects in each. Many Christians have found evensongs to be very uplifting even though they can be different to their own religious tradition in their denomination.
  • Find yourself a fellowship group- whether that be affiliated with your church or a fellowship group that you set up yourself it’s so much easier/ more supportive when you’re doing it with other people!
  • There are some lovely carol services at different colleges in Advent, look at the websites of different churches and chapels to see which times suit you.
  • If you are a Catholic, it can be good to attend Mass every Sunday to stay close to your beliefs. Even if it feels like a chore now, it may not once you’ve joined the community!
  • Luckily, you will most likely be at home for the big Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter, which makes it easier.
  • Fish on Fridays is easy if you like fish and chips (loads of colleges offer Fish and Chips on a Friday), but it can be difficult otherwise.
  • Meeting like minded people to do all this with can be a great way to keep on track!

Building a Support Network

  • Once you have found a Church you feel comfortable in, the people in your congregation can act as a great support network, and you can start going to events together.
  • Every college has a OICCU rep, and you can find yours here: https://www.oiccu.org/colleges -it is definitely worth talking to these reps if you have any crisis and you want some faith-specific advice.
  • As well as being responsible for what goes on in the Chapel, many chaplains also have an important welfare role within their College. In some, they head up the College’s welfare provision; in others they are part of the team. To find out what your College Chaplain does, have a look at your College website. For Christians, Chaplains are available to talk through issues of faith as well as personal problems. For those exploring faith, they’re available to guide students on that journey and, when asked, to prepare people for baptism and / or confirmation. For all students, irrespective of belief, Chaplains provide confidential, one-to-one advice and support, and are happy to talk through any issue. Feel free to make yourself known to your Chaplain by emailing them before the start of term. They’ll be pleased to hear from you!

Final Bits of Advice

  • Don't be scared of being made fun of for your religion - in my experience, people are going to be very chill with literally any level of worship. 
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself if you spend less time working on your faith/praying/attending church because there are lots of new things happening at university and you will soon get into a new routine where you can fit in everything that you want to.
  • Oxford has an incredibly rich heritage for Christianity and it is the perfect city to explore your faith further.