Living in the North of England in the early 1990's, Ralph & Heather started to think about doing 'church' differently. The Working Man's Clubs were popular in the area and as they looked at the average church, it seemed that 'church' was often more like a club than what Jesus had intended. Many leaders spent most of their time trying to keep 'club members' happy when the mandate Christ gave the disciples was that they should reach the lost while God built his church. Ralph & Heather considered using the word Oasis. The rock group Oasis were just becoming popular, and they meant something to the current generation of young people. They were intrigued with the meaning of the term 'Oasis' which is described in the dictionary as:
'A small fertile or green area in a desert region, usually having a spring or well.'
"I couldn't get this idea out of my head. The church is supposed to be an oasis for needy people, but we were just trying to keep well-fed people happy! We had to do something, because true 'church' should be an oasis."
Ralph shared his vision with some trusted friends. On Sunday 1st August 1993, Ralph and Heather started their first Oasis church in the town of South Elmsall, a small mining town near Pontefract in West Yorkshire.
Oasis Christian Centre in South Elmsall. L to R: Joel Burden, Rebecca Parsons, Ralph Burden, Sarah Gillen, Lucy Burden
It was later discovered that the vision for these churches was virtually identical to plans that the renowned Christian leader and author Selwyn Hughes had back in the late 1950's. Selwyn could not get local Christians to support his vision in the 1950's, but he was overjoyed to return to the area to speak at the opening meeting of Oasis Christian Centre in 1998. The second Oasis group was planted in Ponetfract in 2001.
In 2003 Ralph & Heather moved with their children to Wiltshire. They launched a third Oasis in Chippenham, near Swindon. This one was different - not a Sunday based church as such, but a Saturday evening outreach meeting with an emphasis on evangelism, discipleship training, powerful worship and divine healing. A number of celebrity speakers also came including Radio 2 DJ Paul Jones, singer Shane Lynch, former ELO band member Dave Scott-Morgan and NDE survivor Ian McCormack. Midweek Life Groups (home groups) catered for building closer relationships. They ran the Wiltshire meetings for over five years reaching hundreds of people.
An Oasis meeting in Chippenham in 2008 with Ian McCormack speaking.