The people of St Mary’s remain proactive in campaigning for social justice and equality. The church was the first meeting place of what became Oxfam and a founding member of the Gatehouse drop-in centre for the homeless. Over the years we have embraced a number of campaigns and initiatives to support a wide range of local and international charities, and supported numerous community ventures such as Oxford’s annual Interfaith Friendship Walk.

In 2020, we launched the Faith in Action initiative to contribute towards transforming society to reflect the Kingdom of God through loving acts of neighbourliness and service to all. We seek to: 

·     promote reflection and action on issues of social justice and equality and to advocate for change

·     identify local and international charities for the church and congregation to support 

·     coordinate St Mary’s response to disasters and emergencies

·     promote campaigns and opportunities for volunteering in partnership with others

Over the years St Mary’s has supported a wide range of charities, from HIV/AIDS projects in Africa, rebuilding a school in Pakistan and work with street children in Delhi to projects for the homeless and asylum seekers in Oxford. We now aim to select a local and an international charity to support each year. We are actively involved in campaigns to support action on climate change and to provide volunteers for the Oxford Winter Night Shelter. We also host annual services for Shelter, and Oxford Pride.

Climate and Biodiversity

As a church we have committed to living and worshipping more sustainably. We are following A Rocha’s Ecochurch award scheme - a scheme which wants to demonstrate that the gospel is good news for God’s Earth. 

“Reducing the causes of climate change is essential to the life of faith. It is a way to love our neighbour and to steward the gift of creation.”  Archbishop Justin Welby

We are currently a Bronze Ecochurch, with ambitions for Silver in 2023 and Gold in 2024. 

Our Ecochurch group is gaining momentum, as we encourage a whole church participation in this important Church of England’s mark of mission: 

To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

If you would like to be involved, please contact Janie Bickersteth via the parish office:

Bird Boxes

Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself where she may have her young” Psalms 84:1-3

Christianity is rich in the symbolism of birds. The Eagle signifies strength, the Dove peace and grace, the Owl desolation. In Renaissance Art Jesus is often depicted holding a goldfinch, thought to symbolize the soul, resurrection, sacrifice and death. In Oxford birds are very much part of our daily environment, even in the city centre. The screeching of the University Museum Swifts in Summer, the occasional mewing of a Red Kite hovering over our gardens, serene Swans, squabbling Ducks and squawking Geese on the river are all common enough sights and sounds.

Care of our avian neighbours in Holywell Cemetery is an important consideration in our quest, as an Eco church, to reach the Silver Award from ARocha. This afternoon a small group met at Holywell to discuss the siting of bird boxes. It was led by Andy Gosler, Professor of Ethno-ornithology, University of Oxford, who delighted the group by identifying the calls of Great tits, Coal Tits, Blue Tits, Long Tailed Tits, Goldcrests and Fieldfares. In listening to the Great Tits three note song, he observed that Holywell must be a quiet environment within an urban setting; when noise levels are high their song is limited to two notes. It is good to know that birds recognize it for being a peaceful haven within a bustling city.

The aim is to provide 12 boxes, suitable for a variety of small birds and two larger ones for owls and possibly kestrels. Time is of the essence as the nesting season is a month earlier than it was twenty years ago; it is now in the middle of March. This is a direct result of Climate Change.  

We are currently researching which boxes to choose; the average price is between £15 to £20. If you would like to sponsor a box, please make a donation via the button below and use the reference Bird Box. We will be holding an installation day within the next fortnight and would be delighted for anyone to join us. Andy Gosler will be on hand with advice and help. As a final note in addition to our Silver Award goal Andy has mentioned that his conservation target bird is the Spotted Flycatcher – Binoculars at the ready!

Food Poverty

Families on low incomes have been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 crisis and foodbanks across the UK have been struggling to meet demand. Since 2013, we have collected gifts in kind for the Oxford Community Emergency Foodbank (CEF) after church every Sunday. With the suspension of in-person church services, this has ceased. At the same time CEF has stopped operating as a drop-in service, and now delivers food boxes to those in need. We have given £1,000 to CEF from the money set aside by the PCC for charitable giving this year. Our hope is that this sum could be matched by the congregation. If you would like to contribute, you can give directly to CEF at the link below. [Updated 25 April 2020] 

Jane Benyon, founder of the Oxford Community Emergency Foodbank (CEF), took part in a zoom conversation organised by the Faith in Action Group on 5 August. Referrals during the first three months of the pandemic were nearly three times those in the same period of 2019, she said. In April CEF supported over 500 families with food parcels. In March, when it became clear that a collection service was no longer safe, CEF switched to a delivery service. Within a period of two weeks, they found new volunteers to replace those who were shielding and to pack and deliver food parcels, and set up an electronic referral system. Demand is now easing off, but is expected to rise again in September and October, when people who have been furloughed may find they have lost their jobs. Listen to Jane’s talk and response to questions at the link below.

COVID-19 in Africa

We believe that the most effective way to help poor communities in the developing world is through an established charity, which knows where the needs are greatest and can provide due diligence, accountability and feedback on the use of our donations. With this in mind, the committee have decided to support Christian Aid’s programme in South Sudan and are making contact with them to work out the best way of doing this.  

The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to spike in Africa during the next six months and is already impeding the delivery of aid to the poorest communities. These people have limited access to clean water, food and hygiene, and the virus could have a devastating impact on them. We are giving £2,000 from the money set aside by the PCC for charitable giving to Christian Aid’s Emergency Coronavirus Appeal. Our hope is that this sum could be matched by the congregation. If you would like to contribute, you can give directly to the appeal at the link below. [Updated 31 May 2020]

Nandolo Farmers Association Pigeon Pea Programme

The Faith in Action group has pledged to support Christian Aid’s Nandolo Farmers Association Pigeon Pea Programme in southern Malawi. More than 50 per cent of Malawians live below the poverty line: 80 per cent depend on farming.

Although unfamiliar in the UK, pigeon peas are widely eaten in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Malawi is one of the world’s top 10 exporters. But smallholder farmers find it hard to tap into this potential because they cannot get good prices, partly because they are unable to store their produce until prices rise. They also lack access to affordable credit.

Christian Aid’s Nandolo Project aims to help 3,000 farmers (70 per cent of them women) in the Mwanza District to break out of poverty. Through them, some 15,000 family members  will benefit. The project will help farmers’ cooperatives to access largescale buyers directly and negotiate fairer prices, and will promote organic farming and processes which enable pigeon peas to be stored. It will also set up 150 Village Savings and Loans Associations, each with 20 members, enabling farmers to diversify or to improve their farming methods.

Thanks to everyone’s generosity, we were able to send a first instalment of £5,000 to the programme in October 2021. In acknowledging our donation, Christian Aid wrote, 'One of the people you are helping is Lucy Gomani, who is married with four children. She has been stuggling to improve the welfare of her children and was often forced to work in other people’s fields to earn enough to buy food.’ Christian Aid trained her to make doughnuts using pigeon pea flour. Her profits from selling them have enabled her to buy household necessities and pay school fees. She is now saving to build a corrugated iron house.

If you would like to contribute, please download the donation form below.


Get in touch & Support our work

If you'd like to make a donation, please download the form below, fill out and send it back to us at:

Jeanne White 
University Church of St Mary the Virgin
High Street

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