Oxford’s ‘Pip and Jim’ celebrates 150 years

Chris Sugden on a celebration of a church which was the flagship of the Oxford Movement in liturgy and architecture

t Philip and St James Church in Woodstock Road, Oxford was consecrated on 8 May 1862 by Bishop Samuel Wilberforce of Oxford, the third son of William Wilberforce. So many people took communion at the service that it lasted from 11am to 4pm. The bells of nearby St Giles’ parish church rang all day.

The church was the flagship of the Oxford Movement in liturgy and architecture. In a brilliant lecture as part of the celebration, Dr William Whyte from St John’s College, on whose land the church was built, explained that the early Gothic revival architecture sought to recapture the spirit of medieval England in reaction to the industrialization of the Victorian age. Georgian classical architecture was held to be ugly and housed institutions, such as workhouses, doing ugly things. Medieval architecture was held to be morally right and appropriate for Christian worship which should not take place in buildings whose classical architecture was pagan.

A service of celebration for 150 years of the church was held on 13 June. The preacher was Bishop Jonathan Baker,

who spoke of the gospel appearances of James and Philip, reminding us that we should be ready as Philip was when asked by others to see Jesus to point to the saviour. He recalled that the church had been founded to recall the English church to a true sense of being apostolic and catholic. The movement went out from Oxford to the parishes and worked to bring people to Jesus, to satisfy the hunger of those seeking for Jesus and to show how the Lord abides among the poor and the lowly. He noted that the new work of the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies (www.ocms.ac.uk), which purchased the church when it became redundant in 1986 and refurbished it as a library and study centre, was fundamentally the same work of knowing Jesus and making him known. Philip had invited the Greeks who came to see Jesus to come and see. ‘We can only convince others of what we are convinced ourselves,’ said Bishop Baker. ‘Come and see’ is the perfect strap line for a centre for Mission Studies.

Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili, of the Georgian Baptist Church, himself a doctoral student of the Centre, led an Orthodox Liturgy of thanksgiving. He presented a new icon of St Philip and St James with Jesus between them painted for the celebration in Tbilisi, Georgia. It was placed on the reredos behind the High Altar.

OCMS is hoping to add an extension along the north wall of the site in the near future. This would add 4,000 square feet to the 6,500 already in the building and will provide much needed faculty offices, further study space and a new kitchen for the much appreciated meals served during some OCMS events.

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