In 1908, the Presbyterian Church of England, the Church of Scotland and the United Free Church of Scotland worked together to establish a Presbyterian Chaplaincy to the University of Oxford. St Columba's was dedicated in 1915. At first, it was simply a Chaplaincy, but non-university Presbyterians were soon attending regularly. In 1929, St Columba's became a self-governing congregation of the Presbyterian Church of England. In 1972, we became part of the United Reformed Church (URC) and, in 2001, we entered into a relationship with Cumnor United Reformed Church. Along with serving the local community, St Columba's URC continues to be the Reformed churches' chaplaincy to the University of Oxford. We share in this ministry with Mansfield College Oxford, a college founded by Congregationalists and which has a URC chaplain.
St Columba's URC is a congregation of the United Reformed Church, a denomination created in 1972 when the Congregational Church in England and Wales and the Presbyterian Church in England were united. In 1981, many congregations of the Churches of Christ joined with us, and in 2000 the Congregational Church of Scotland also became part of the URC.
For a history of the traditions which make up the URC, see David Cornick’s Under God’s Good Hand (London: URC, 1998).
The Reformed tradition has its origins in the 16th century religious and political upheavals in Europe. In opposition to certain practices in Roman Catholicism such as the sale of indulgences, the monk Martin Luther published his Ninety-Five Theses and gave birth to a wave of theological reformation that resulted in the creation of the Protestant churches. Other notable Reformers include John Calvin, John Knox and Huldrych Zwingli. Key tenets in the Reformed tradition include the primacy of scripture interpreted with the aid of the Holy Spirit, the priesthood of all believers (that a person could approach God without needing a priestly intermediary and that the church’s ministry is one of the whole people of God), and the understanding that ecclesia reformata semper reformanda – that the church is an institution reformed and always to be reformed. The Reformation brought in such innovations as Bibles translated from Latin or Greek into the languages people speak, congregational hymn singing, and more conciliar forms of church government.