Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union

The Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union, usually known as OICCU (/ˈɔɪkjuː/ OY-cue), was the second university Christian Union and is the University of Oxford’s most prominent student Christian organisation. It was formed in 1879.

Due to the strength of the Oxford Movement and later the Oxford Groups (alternative Christian movements), Evangelical Christians in Oxford have generally faced a more pluriform environment than in Cambridge, and the OICCU has tended to follow the general lead of its Cambridge counterpart, the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (CICCU).

The OICCU admits postgraduate students as well as undergraduates, although postgraduates are eligible only for associate membership, and their needs may be better served by the Oxford Graduate Christian Forum.

The three aims of OICCU are:

This is summed up in the OICCU mission statement: to be a united student-led community to live and speak for Jesus.

OICCU adopts the doctrinal basis of UCCF (Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship), an evangelical Christian organisation with which OICCU is affiliated. The doctrinal basis contains what evangelicals perceive as the biblical foundations of Christianity. UCCF is in term affiliated with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES).

OICCU was modelled after the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (CICCU), founded two years earlier, but later incorporated a Daily Prayer Meeting established in Brasenose College in 1867. Like Wycliffe Hall (also 1877), it could be seen as a response to the University’s abandonment of its previous officially Protestant position. The initial members included Frank Chavasse, subsequently Bishop of Liverpool and founder of St Peter’s College.

OICCU was a founder member of the Student Christian Movement and followed its lead in liberalizing its doctrine. In 1914 the OICCU suspended its activities, with the rest of the University.

After World War I, the Oxford SCM was reestablished under that name, but those who held the OICCU’s original doctrinal position established a separate Oxford University Bible Union. In 1925 the two agreed to merge, and the OUBU became the Devotional Union of the Student Christian Movement in Oxford. However, the merger was not successful and in Michaelmas 1927, the Devotional Union committee voted to secede. The SCM gave them permission to use the old (1879) name and so the OICCU was born anew, adopting the Doctrinal Basis of the new Inter-Varsity Fellowship of Evangelical Unions (now UCCF) in 1928.

During much of this period, the OICCU used some of the buildings later incorporated into St Peter’s College. However, after 1933 it had the use of the Northgate Hall (just opposite the Oxford Union on St Michael’s Street).

During the 1920s and 1930s, an American preacher named Frank N. D. Buchman drew a considerable following at Oxford. He emphasized the use of small groups (with Buchman-appointed leaders) where sins were publicly confessed and repented of. The movement taught that the Holy Spirit was to directly guide Christians. These small groups became known as Oxford Groups and later Moral Re-Armament. The emphasis on small groups and personal belief was inherited by Alcoholics Anonymous.

Buchman was appealing directly to the OICCU constituency, and Julian Thornton-Duesbury (one of OICCU’s supervising university teachers) became a noted Buchmanite. However, the OICCU’s student leadership distanced themselves from Buchman.

The International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, the worldwide body to which OICCU belongs, was planned at a conference in Oxford in the late 1930s.

World War II forced those plans to be delayed. The greatly reduced number of students in Oxford obviously interfered with the OICCU itself; one medical student had to serve as President for much more than the customary one year of office. However, the Union maintained daily prayer meetings (in termtime) throughout the War. Afterwards, a Standing Committee of prominent past members was established to ensure the Union’s long-term continuity in such circumstances and in 1948 they became trustees of the Northgate Hall. The Standing Committee also has some reserve powers regarding the Doctrinal Basis, although they have never been used.

More positively, the prominent Evangelical theologian J.I. Packer was converted to Evangelical Christianity at an OICCU meeting in the 1940s, during his first week at the University. While a student member he was not regarded as doctrinally sound enough to join the Executive Committee. However, he was appointed Librarian, taking a particular interest in the OICCU’s selection of out-of-print Puritan books. In the following decade Packer, along with Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, led a revival of Puritan studies amongst British pastors. He returned to Oxford in 2004 as the guest of honour at the 125th Anniversary celebrations.

The 1950s saw the OICCU at perhaps its greatest numerical strength, while the SCM was seen to have moved towards Marxism. One leading figure at this time was Michael Green (President in 1952), who has been a leading Evangelical in the Church of England and then the Anglican Communion since the 1960s. Canon Green has taken a particular interest in promoting the Charismatic Movement, including within the OICCU.

In a slightly later generation, Tom Wright was the OICCU President (1970–71) and published his first book together with other members of his year’s Executive Committee. The book was a plea for a conservative Calvinist doctrinal position, a position he has since modified.

A feature of the post-war years has been the custom of triennial missions which attempt to explain the gospel to every undergraduate. These missions can trace their history back to the visit of Dwight Moody and Ira D. Sankey in 1882, but the current model began with a 1940 mission led by Lloyd-Jones. Subsequent main speakers have included Michael Green, Dick Lucas (long-time rector of St Helen’s Bishopsgate), and John Stott; one of Stott’s series of talks was subsequently published as Basic Christianity.

OICCU membership has diminished since the middle part of the century, and now usually stands in the low hundreds — however formal membership is not needed to participate, and as of March 2006 OICCU’s group membership on Facebook exceeded its official membership. The lease on the Northgate Hall was given up in the 1980s, and the Union has returned to the peripatetic existence of its earliest years, meeting in various church and public buildings around the city. Its archives are now held in the Bodleian Library and it has the use of a small store room at St Ebbe’s church and New Road Baptist Church.