A small gathering sat together in a cosy corner of a newly converted pub and discussed life’s labours as they knitted complex creations.
Jesus at The Oasis
One of the women attending made friends with others who were there, including a number from the church next door. Soon, she was coming to other events being held at this budding community hub. She met other people from the neighbourhood and began to share her life with the faithful hosts serving hot drinks from behind the bar.
Next came an invitation to an evangelistic event at the church; accepted at first ‘just the once’, but then again, and again. Two years after that first contact at the women’s craft evening, she knows Jesus is her Lord and she is living for him.
Dozens of strangers from the community are passing through The Oasis in Reading.
The Oasis has become a flourishing local meeting point under the guidance of Carey Baptist Church, as neighbours build relationships with the supportive church family and hear about the saving news of Jesus Christ.
It wasn’t always this way
The public house on the corner of Baker Street and Carey Street was originally called The Eagle and landed in around 1865. It changed hands many times before its name was altered a few decades ago to The Oasis. Its fate has teased Carey’s church members over the last 50 years as the site was put on the market several times. Many viewed The Oasis as a way of reaching out to the community, but for decades its purchase eluded them. However, in 2009, the church had another chance to acquire the building.
A series of discussions with a developer secured a three-storey part of the building plus car park, and planning permission was soon granted to change the historic pub’s use to a ‘place of worship’, an extension of the neighbouring church building.
Then began the process of converting a filthy and run-down pub into a modern oasis, bringing living water and offering spiritual refreshment to the neighbourhood.
Ten months of building work started in November 2011: re-roofing the structure; creating two self-contained flats on the first floor for the use of church staff members and missionaries; refurbishing the ground floor; and creating a new entrance onto the principal thoroughfare.
The re-imagined centre was born, placed in the heart of an extremely diverse and needy neighbourhood. Many live comfortable and affluent lives in west Reading, but it is also no secret that the dark menaces of drugs, alcohol and prostitution lurk on its streets. The area is home to many nationalities and people experiencing all stages of life – and all in need of a saviour.
Building a bridge
A founding team worked on the principles behind the new venture and established a clear direction for its use; they were determined for this to be not another place for meetings, but rather a place where people meet. Here was an opportunity for people in the church to build relationships with people in their area. It was agreed that The Oasis’s vision would be to embrace, enrich and evangelise the local community.
Today, these principles are being lived out almost every day of the week. Visitors pass through the doors on a Friday evening and see familiar faces scattered across the room.
A smiling face greets them from behind the bar: ‘Would you a like a tea, a coffee?’
To their right, men shake and yell as they compete at table football. Two pool players sip on their drinks and chat behind them. To the left, a mixed group is huddled around a sofa and on stools playing a board game, while next to them a couple chew over life’s big questions. In front of them, a young man has picked up a flyer for the upcoming Christianity Explored course. He asks a friend, a church member, what he is living for.
There are community evenings, low-cost lunches, craft nights, knit and natter sessions, men’s breakfasts and courses exploring the Christian faith. Neighbourhood action groups hold meetings at the centre and The Rahab Project – a charity tackling sexual exploitation in the area – uses the location as a base. Church youth clubs and 20s/30s groups invite friends to socials at the venue and one-off events like the screening of major sporting events regularly draw a crowd. Church members are making good friends in the community. People are drawn to the welcoming and homely feel of The Oasis.
Coming to know the Lord
Heart-warming stories of neighbours coming into The Oasis, getting to know the church family and coming to know the Lord through ongoing contact with Carey Baptist Church are a huge encouragement in this new season for a once-neglected pub. May God continue to bless his work as the church seeks to embrace, enrich and evangelise the local community.