Our story

When we share our story, we are really sharing part of God’s big story.

We do not want to live in the past. We believe God has more exciting faith adventures planned.

But we are also thankful to God for what He has done in and through Emmanuel and, in reading our story, we hope you will know more of God’s love, mercy and power. Enjoy!


Emmanuel Church was founded in 1980. It was a time of charismatic renewal across the church, with the Holy Spirit moving in power and many Christians reflecting on whether the church needed new expressions.

Elaine and David Campbell

Elaine and David Campbell

In Durham, a group of university students started meeting to pray. Numbers increased and God spoke to one of the leaders, David Campbell, instructing him to start a church and call it Emmanuel.

From the very beginning, Emmanuel was a church characterised by baptism in the Spirit, generous giving and relationship building through meeting as small groups. The church met in a school building in Whinney Hill, God moved in miracles and salvations and the church grew, with oversight provided by Coign Church, in Woking.

Over the following years, many students resolved to stay in Durham after graduating and remained part of the church. Other mature Christians were added to the church, and hence growth continued.

For several years, Emmanuel met in the old carpet factory, where the Gala Theatre now stands. David Campbell returned to Canada, where God had called him to start a new church, and Emmanuel enjoyed fellowship as part of the Covenant Ministries group.

the 1990s

Sandra and Alan Bell

Sandra and Alan Bell

Having joined the church in the mid-1980s, Alan Bell became senior elder in 1993-4. Andrew Westerman, who had been part of the church from its earliest days, joined the eldership in 1996.

Inspired by a prophetic word that we were to go to the nations and God would give us Durham, we began developing work in Romania and Albania, which involved sending aid and student summer teams, as well as other links.

Miraculously, on one visit one of our team came across an 18-year-old named Rob Cook, who had a place to study Theology at Durham University. Having finished his degree, in 1998 Rob returned to Albania with three others to start a church.

Back in Durham, we left the carpet factory in 1996, moving to Durham Sixth Form Centre, where the church continued to grow, so much that we started holding two Sunday morning meetings.

Finny Philip

Finny Philip

Our links with India began when Finny Philip arrived in Durham to study for a PhD in 2000. In his first Emmanuel meeting, Finny heard two female voices from behind him speaking in his native tongue. When he turned round, expecting to see two Indian women, he was stunned to find two English students speaking through the spiritual gift of tongues.

This convinced Finny that God intended him to be part of Emmanuel and his friendship has produced many partnerships, including Alan Bell, Richard Davies & Lesley Miller visiting India each year to teach at Filadelfia Bible College, where Finny is the Principal; medical trips; sporting trips; Emmanuel supporting a church building project in Pai; micro-finance schemes being established; Janet Halford moving to India to support the College; and more.

We also received Peter Kyei from Ghana to study a PhD and links were developed with his home country too. Finny and Peter helped start weekly church prayer meetings, which strengthened the church in many ways.

the new millennium

Anne and Ian Portwine

Anne and Ian Portwine

The church was growing, and Ian Portwine joined the full-time staff in 2002 and became an elder in 2004.

Throughout this time, Emmanuel was looking for a building to call its permanent home, encouraged by Ray Lowe, a leader in the New Frontiers movement who had become a valued support, adviser and father to the church, who received a prophetic word that we would be able to do much more as a church with “home advantage”.

Eventually, we settled upon a factory on Belmont Industrial Estate. Without having permission to change its use, in faith the elders paid a non-returnable deposit to buy the premises. God worked many financial miracles,

The Durham Centre - Home to Emmanuel Church Durham

The Durham Centre - Home to Emmanuel Church Durham

Having successfully prayed, two planning officials who opposed our plans left the local authority gaining promotions elsewhere, and the elders having resolved to lead by example on giving by double-tithing, we moved into The Durham Centre, fully refitted as a church and conference centre, at Easter 2009.

The church has continued to grow since moving into TDC, and John Parker, Ali Scott and Taiwo Adewumi joined the eldership in 2009, 2013 and 2015, respectively.

Growth was so extensive that the number of children and young people attending on Sundays has topped 100 and Emmanuel is known for its excellent work in this area, led by Pete and Ali Gray.

The conference centre also performed wonderfully well, gaining an excellent reputation for hospitality and professionalism.

Steve Oliver

Steve Oliver

We became part of the Regions Beyond sphere of churches, led by Steve Oliver and Ray Lowe, in 2014, which has led to links with Selby and Mark Jones, at City Church Gloucester, whose prophetic word about expanding along the River Wear has led to us laying the foundations for Emmanuel Church Chester-le-Street, which launched in September 2016.

We enjoy a growing relationship with Marc Dupont, who has visited us annually for several years. Some years ago, Marc brought a prophetic word that we were to be a Kingdom Resource Centre, a direction which has seen us support other churches and initiatives in Durham and beyond.

We have long had a strong social focus, from starting the Beyond Ourselves charity shop to fund our work in Albania, to working with Christians Against Poverty (CAP) and later Durham Christian Partnership on projects such as County Durham Foodbank, Streetlights and the Durham Money Advice Centre (DMAC). We also support the work of Home for Good and Safe Families for Children through our Compassion 4 Kids initiative.