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 Silver Ecochurch, with ambitions for 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!

Christmas presents for Afghan refugees
Christmas presents for Afghan refugees

Since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in August 2021, 21,000 Afghan refugees have been settled in the UK, according to government figures. Some found temporary homes in two hotels in Oxfordshire. St Mary’s supports Asylum Welcome, which helps them access healthcare, education, employment and English lessons.

In Advent 2021, members of the congregation filled backpacks with gifts for the 42 children in one of these hotels. Ages ranged from small babies to 17-year-olds. Each donor bought gifts for a specific child. We also gave presents to their parents and the other adults in the hotel.

The project gave such joy to both donors and recipients that we repeated it in 2022, by which time the first families had moved on, and 15 new ones had arrived, with 58 children. These children already had backpacks, so we filled boxes with toys, treats, hats and gloves – and, responding to a suggestion from Asylum Welcome, gave umbrellas to the adults.

Asylum Welcome’s worker at the hotel reported that ‘excitement levels went through the roof’ when the presents were distributed: ‘lots of happy children and adults’.

In both years, students from the chapel of Wadham College played an enthusiastic part in the project.   

Caption: The 2022 boxes, ready for delivery

Nandolo Farmers Association Pigeon Pea Programme

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, with over half the population living in poverty. Eighty per cent depend on farming.

In partnership with Christian Aid, the Nandolo Farmers Association in southern Malawi is helping pigeon pea farmers to break out of poverty. In January 2023, its founder, Susan Chimbayo, visited St Mary’s to thank us for the £11,700 we raised for their work in 2021 and 2022.

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.

Over 15,000 people are benefiting from the pigeon pea programmes, which helps farmers’ cooperatives to access largescale buyers directly and negotiate fairer prices, and promotes organic farming and processes which enable pigeon peas to be stored. Its Village Savings and Loans Associations enable farmers to improve their lives.

Lucy Gomani used to work in other people’s fields to earn enough to feed her four children. With help from the Nandolo Farmers Association, she has set up a business selling fritters made with pigeon pea flour. ‘The money is helping me to provide all house necessities as well as paying school fees for child who is now at secondary school,’ she says. She is saving to build a corrugated iron house.  

Caption: Will Lamb interviews Susan Chimbayo after the morning service

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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