Tim Guest and Daniel Blanche are leaders of Cowley Church Community, a recent church plant in a spiritually and socially deprived area of Oxford. They share their stories of how studying with Union is fuelling their ministries.

Our church plant started life as a homegroup in Cowley, East Oxford. As a very small group of local Christians with a heart to reach the Cowley community, we met to pray, think, plan, and study the Bible together.

We were all members of Magdalen Road Church, a local congregation, and two of us served as elders there. Magdalen Road was actively looking to plant churches and had identified Cowley as a good area. If you take a map of Oxford and plot the churches onto the areas of deprivation, you’ll see that the areas of highest deprivation are also those least served by gospel churches. Whilst Cowley’s level of deprivation is not even the highest in Oxford, there is deep social and spiritual need. We heard God’s call: it was the community to go for. So at a members’ meeting the elders presented the vision, asked who else might be interested, and Cowley Church Community was born. CCC, as we like to call it.

Over the course of a year the small group of us prayed and thought through what it means to be church, and what the vision God was laying on our hearts was. We multiplied into two homegroups, and started a Sunday gathering once a month in a local community centre - all the while being members at Magdalen Road and keeping strong connections there.

“I needed something that was robust but affordable; that would not only stretch me theologically but stir my love for the Lord and the gospel; and that I could do part-time from Oxford whilst in context, doing the job. Union’s GDip fitted the bill perfectly.”

Tim’s Story

At the time, I was working full time for Oxfordshire County Council, and feeling the need to free up time to devote to the church plant, and to explore whether ministry might be what the Lord was calling me to longer term. In God’s kindness, I was able to drop a day at work to free up some time.  

As the plant developed and we started meeting weekly on Sundays, I became acutely aware of my need to do some theological training. I’d not done any formal training up to this point and was regularly preaching and aware of how much I needed to learn in all sorts of ways.

However, I was also aware it wasn’t going to be feasible for us a family to uproot and move away to a theological college for three years. Nor would that work for our new church family. 

I needed something that was robust but affordable; that would not only stretch me theologically but stir my love for the Lord and the gospel; and that I could do part-time from Oxford whilst in context, doing the job. Union’s GDip fitted the bill perfectly.

In terms of my learning styles, I’m also a verbal processor, I need to discuss and clarify what I’m learning and chewing over in order help me understand more fully. Being part of a Learning Community, with a regular day a week together to watch and discuss the lectures has been invaluable. If a distance learning course has no regular contact with other students, it just doesn’t work for me. Having spent the first year travelling to Birmingham once a week, in this academic year I’ve been able to join the new Oxford group. In both communities, it’s been a huge privilege to share and pray for one another in various contexts and stages of life.

“I found that church life gave me material for my studies, and my studies fuelled my involvement in church life.”

Daniel’s Story

I was a bit of a latecomer to CCC. As an elder at the sending church, I was involved in early chats about planting; but at that stage, I was definitely sending and not going, at least as far as I knew. But I was having another series of conversations with my fellow elders - about whether I should be seeking full time gospel ministry, and if so what that would look like.  Gradually the two conversations came together. I left my job at the University and started a part time MTh with Union; at the same time, our family left Magdalen Road Church to join CCC, with me giving about half my time to the church.

Part time study alongside ministry was hugely demanding, but also very fruitful. There is great value in studying exegesis in a classroom context alongside preparing the sermon for next week. I found that church life gave me material for my studies, and my studies fuelled my involvement in church life. 

My MTh now safely finished (and graduation approaching), I’ve been very keen to stay involved in study, and it’s been great to be able to help with the Union Learning Community in Oxford, headed up Peter Comont, another local church pastor. 

we’re here, a city on a hill, a place where Jesus is known and worshipped and preached in the middle of our neighbourhood

CCC’s Story

Both our personal journeys are ongoing, and we don’t know what the future holds. The same can be said for CCC. The church is small, we are financially precarious, and the evangelistic work is slow. But we’re here, a city on a hill, a place where Jesus is known and worshipped and preached in the middle of our neighbourhood. There are exciting seedlings of growth - two Christians Against Poverty clients joined our summer weekend away. Our monthly outreach to families is swelling in numbers. Our members are stuck into life in local schools, community groups and employers. We are excited, and we are thankful to God for the part Union has played in our journey so far.

Both Tim and Daniel are involved with our Oxford Learning Community. Find out more about the community and what you could study here.