Five decades of faith and fellowship for Orange Church of Christ

FELLOWSHIP: Jon Baker, John Miller, Ray Hawkins and Mary Hawkins at the Church of Christ at Burrendong Way. Photo: MAX STAINKAMPH 0304MSchrist1.
FELLOWSHIP: Jon Baker, John Miller, Ray Hawkins and Mary Hawkins at the Church of Christ at Burrendong Way. Photo: MAX STAINKAMPH 0304MSchrist1.

Young pastor Ray Hawkins was, by his own admission, “young and foolish”. 

It was 1968 and he’d just arrived in Orange from Tamworth with his wife Mary.

He’d spent two years there after graduating from Church of Christ bible college before deciding to set up a church in the Central West. 

“We saw there was a big gap between Blackheath and Gilgandra, and not another Church of Christ until Broken Hill,” Mr Hawkins said. 

He approached the hierarchy at the Church of Christ in Sydney with the idea to settle in Bathurst or Orange, and was told the church had been contacted only days before by families from Orange expressing interest in having a church set up. 

So Ray and Mary set up the Orange Church of Christ in their living room and built a “fellowship” in the community, one which celebrated its 50th birthday on Saturday.

The church has grown since then – thankfully – and is now situated on Burrendong Way in a red brick building a fair bit larger than the entire house Mr Hawkins moved into with his wife Mary 50 years ago.

“We used the bedrooms for Sunday school classes, had sermons in the lounge room. It was a bit cosy,” he said.

The couple didn’t have an income from their church, so Mr Hawkins picked fruit in an orchard, drove buses, worked in an opportunity shop and at the Presbyterian church teaching scripture classes. 

However, they eventually moved to a church on the corner of Woodward Street and Racecourse Road, renting that for two years before making the leap to sell their house to purchase the block on Burrendong Way which still houses the church today. 

Their community grew as they focused on “family and fellowship” before the couple handed over the reins when they left Orange for Gladstone in 1974.

“Fellowship is based on more than friendship, it’s friendship with a purpose,” he said.

Mrs Hawkins, who played the organ for the church until they relocated, said the fellowship was also focused on their faith.

“I think the fellowship that bonds us together is our relationship with Christ,” she said.

Jon Baker is the current minister of the Church of Christ, and he said the fellowship was still the bedrock of the church.

“We have a richness and diversity, people who come from all walks of life. It’s very much like a family,” he said.

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