GOD’S PROVIDENTIAL CARE
The platform from which everything was and has been derived, whether it was the planning, the training, the outreach programs, the name, and the personnel has originated from an unswerving belief in the power of prayer and the providential care of God.
Late in 2012, Rod was asked if he would consider planting a church in the Docklands precinct, 2klms west of Melbourne’s CBD. After some time of consideration he accepted the call. In February 2013, he reported back to the Conference President, Pastor Wayne Stanley, (after doing a thorough demographic study of the City of Melbourne which included Docklands), concluding that a more profitable field to plant a church would be Melbourne’s CBD, due to the population density, ease of accessing public transport, carpark options and the long term growth forecasts. Permission was given shortly after.
However at this point in time Rod was alone, and needed to build a team around him, and with that in mind he started to advertise for Sabbath keeping Christians (of any age) who would like to be trained as Bible workers. The end result intended to be, they would work beside Rod in establishing a church presence in Melbourne’s CBD. He interviewed a number of people, some were suitable, some were not, but by the end of April 2013, six people aged from 25-65 commenced the Bible worker training.
ESTABLISHING THE TEAM
Training was held every Wednesday night at the North Fitzroy Church for four months. In these 90 minute sessions, Rod trained the team how to give Bible studies, how to deal with objections, how to gain decisions for Christ, and how to lead small groups, along with materials that he had prepared which were done as homework. Each member of the team also completed a spiritual gifts inventory. At the conclusion of each session the participants would enjoy a good meal together, which capped off the Wednesday night experience.
During this four month period of training, Rod was able to get to know each person reasonable well and to rightly adjudge if they would be suitable for the arduous work of church planting, while at the same time be sensitive and wise enough to minister to people who one would not commonly come in contact with in the suburban church setting, such as people living on the streets, drug addicts and the multitudinous weirdos abounding the laneways, allies and garrets of inner Melbourne. To put it bluntly, Rod was after individuals who did not judge from appearances, but saw in each person someone for whom Jesus Christ had died and was a potential candidate for the kingdom.
After this rigorous evaluation four people remained – Barry Watts, Brett Terry, Bernie Robinson and Hannah Andrykanis. On August 11, 2013, Rod with his team (which also included Rod’s wife Donna and Barry’s wife Karin) began a full evangelistic series in Melbourne’s CBD. Material was also videoed leading up to series to be used as handouts for the attendees. He with the team ran five sessions per week over 22 weeks. Mark Kocur brought in the audio equipment and the programs were presented at Melbourne Central on Swanston Street opposite the State Library. Each week around 20-25 interests attended, with church members from other Melbourne churches supporting the team. On a weekly basis Rod and Hannah would mail out nearly 100 dvd’s to people who had attended the earlier sessions, but could not continue for varying reasons. The DVD’s gave the team an excuse to keep the lines of communication open with the interests.
A CHURCH LOCATION
In October of the same year, Rod and the team began looking for a venue in the CBD, in which they could commence Sabbath worship services; however it was very difficult, when people found out they worshipped on Saturdays. Doors which were wide open to others were closed to Rod and the team. As they entered December 2013, everyone realized they needed to find a place to worship, but nothing was opening up. This meant that after the evangelistic series, which was scheduled to finish mid-December, Rod would have to run another series to keep the contacts alive.
After taking a two Christmas break over 2013, Rod commenced a four part archaeology series at the Melbourne Town Hall on Swanston Street. The hired area had no audio visual equipment and so it was a continuation of more heavy physical lifting, which the team had been forced to endure since August. Nevertheless, this new series gave them an excuse to re-contact some of the interests that had cooled off,and some came back. That series commenced the second week of January 2014.
BIRTH OF THE ORCHARD – MELBOURNE CENTRAL CITY CHURCH
A venue suitable for worship (on Sabbath afternoons) was found at the Arrow on Swanston, just within the limits of Melbourne’s CBD and so The Orchard, Melbourne Central City Church, was born and commenced worship in a basement area on February 2014. However, while the venue got the team out of a tight bind, the location was not without its difficulties – 1.Parking was nearly non existent, 2. Public transport was a challenge and 3.There were stairs to navigate, not really a big problem normally but when the sound and audio equipment is having to be set up each week, it became quite tiresome.
THE GROWING TEAM
The core team had grown to now also include Claude Goddard , Dennis De Gregorio Dennis’ wife Marlyn, and Paul Reech who were all committed and eager to help. By necessity worship was on Sabbath afternoons as the Orchard was dependant upon musicians from other churches for music, who were busy themselves on Sabbath mornings in their own home churches. As a result there was a good variety of visiting musicians which proved to be a wonderful blessing. Meity Mandagie also joined the team, and opened her house up for small groups which met on a weekly basis.
THE FIRST BAPTISM
In 2014 a well educated young man came into our midst – Paul Reech who had committed himself to the Orchard earlier in the year. Paul through Bible studies with Rod made the decision to be baptized, and it was on a cold windy Friday evening as Sabbath was about to come in, that Paul followed the example of Jesus Christ and was fully immersed beneath the frigid waters of Port Melbourne. Paul’s baptism is especially precious to all the Orchard team as he was the first to be baptized into the fledgling city church, and now teaches and preaches at the Orchard, and is greatly loved and admired for both his contributions to our church, and also his achievements in his professional career.
THE ORCHARD RELOCATES
In July 2014 The Orchard relocated to Victoria University on Flinders street, opposite Flinders Street Station, with plenty of cheap onsite parking. It was a much better location as far as public transport was concerned, but the hiring costs were exorbitant, making it financially impossible to hire it out for more than 4 hours at a time. Working behind the scenes at this time, but certainly very important to Rod was Henry Ponco who with Hannah, created our first website and was responsible for our video production.
OUTREACH METHODS IN MELBOURNE’S CBD
The Orchard set up stalls at Festivals, ran group Bible studies at Victoria University during the week. Revelation seminars were conducted from a Melbourne Café owned by George Patelli on Collins Street, and seminars at the State Library and Melbourne City Library on Flinders Lane. Evangelistic series and seminars including “Its Happening Now,” “Our Day in the light of Bible prophecy,” “Wars and Rumours of Wars,” along with vegetarian programs, Creation Series (presented by Claude) and Revelation seminars through the CBD, along with other methods of outreach. Bible studies were lead by Dennis, Hannah, Brett and Claude. It was not unusual for Dennis and Hannah to meet with Rod at 5am in the city, to stick up posters, to distribute advertising flyers for our programs outside of Flinders Street, Flagstaff and Melbourne Central Stations. Tens of thousands of pieces of literature have been distributed over the years, along with hundreds of religious interest surveys conducted by Rod, Dennis and Hannah.
In 2014, Michael, Michaela, Jake, Jesse and family (Koronui’s) joined the Orchard team suddenly bringing an infusion of musical talent. The Orchard people attending church each Sabbath afternoon hovered around thirty, and on one memorable Sabbath afternoon fifty five attended. However, it was recognized that while people were coming to The Orchard on Sabbath afternoons, they were primarily committed to their home churches which worshipped Sabbath morning. Further to that, apart from the main team which had grown to around 15 (with Paul Reech, Josephine Bonjui, Mark and Magdalene Yang and Max Beach and Wanda).
SABBATH MAY 3, 2014
One of the stark realities in offering an afternoon worship program, was that churches can get support from Sabbath keepers who would be otherwise committed to their own home churches in the morning. The same was true of The Orchard , and while there were some Sabbaths when the numbers hovered around 25-30, at times they drifted into the 40’s and on one memorable Sabbath, 55 people attended. However, under the cold hard light of day, we recognized most of those people were primarily committed to the churches they attended on Sabbath mornings. While the core groups was committed week in week out, there was no guarantee that you see others from one Sabbath to another. In light of this Rod and the team made a decision that the Orchard would move to a morning worship program. The Orchard then had its own musicians and it would reveal who was truly committed to the city church plant. The time change commenced on Sabbath May 3, 2014, with Sabbath School at 10am and the Main Church Service at 11:20am. Predictably, many people were never seen again due to commitments in their own home churches, yet the Orchard still had around twenty people worshipping on Sabbath mornings.
OUTREACH PROGRAMS IN MELBOURNE CBD
The Orchard has continued to minister effectively in Melbourne’s CBD with many people doing Bible studies and attending seminars, however because of the transitory nature of city dwellers people have come and then relocated elsewhere. However, one thing which has made the Orchard unique among many churches in Melbourne is the genuine warmth of friendship as people come among us. Many people have said it feels “like a family,” people are not judged just accepted for who they are, as was Christ’s example during his three and a half years of ministry.
THE ORCHARD’S TWIN FOCUS
The Orchard has had a twin focus since its inception. In-reach and outreach. In relation to in-reach, we have always been zealous in involving new people into church life. We identify a person’s giftedness and then get them to work as quickly as possible, whether it is preaching, leading Sabbath School classes, greeting, taking Bible studies, involvement in the hospitality ministries etc.
The Orchard ladies led by Donna and Karin have from our beginnings, supplied lunches that are truly memorable feasts. Josephine has become the third key lady making up that worthy triumvirate making Orchard Sabbath’s lunches a memorable occasion with the assistance of Magdalene and Carmen. Sabbath home lunches have also proved to be a great blessing, further strengthening the congregation, and special thanks going to Lubinka Bretts’s wife. The Orchard dinners, brain storming sessions, film nights, invited guest speakers for in-reach and outreach, and other socials including our home lunches and Christmas home lunches have bound us strongly together, yet still retaining the openness to welcome new people into our wonderful family.
474 FLINDERS STREET
One of the great challenges for the Orchard has been finances. For many years the Church was able to meet its lease obligations with Victoria Uni, but not without some pain. It seems as we reflect back over those years it has almost been miraculous, that a small church could meets its rental costs but it happened and we are grateful to God for that.
Nevertheless in 2016 (from a suggestion from Karin) we were greatly blessed with our present location we now occupy. At 474 Flinders Street we are opposite the Melbourne Aquarium, with onsite parking, easy access by tram. People continue to come and go as circumstances impact their lives, but the Orchard team is stable, and for that we are all thankful to God.
TTHE ORCHARD CONTINUES TO BLESS AND BE BLESSED
To be continued . .