When the West Melbourne Baptist Church was conceived as a community of faith back in the mid-1850s, West Melbourne was a vastly different community, on the edge of Melbourne. Indeed it was the end of the suburbs! Through the ensuing decades, West Melbourne earned its reputation as an area of welcome for immigrants, with a large benevolent asylum situated at the end of Victoria Street (occupying the block between Miller and Elm Streets). Arrivals to this southern outpost of the United Kingdom disembarked at the Port of Melbourne (where now Docklands towers rise) and walked up the hill, either to the city, or to the accommodation which was the church’s neighbour. As they commenced their new life in Australia, these largely British immigrants welcomed the familiar Baptist church across the road, or the Presbyterian Church at the other edge of their accommodation block, and these two churches (along with the Catholic and Church of England communities nearby) grew to prominence.
How times have changed. For decades these churches have remained small communities of faith with significant places in their wider church structure, either for their size or style of their building (St Marys Star of the Sea is the largest Catholic Parish church in Melbourne, St Mary’s and St Mark historic buildings), or their history. These buildings remain local community landmarks.
When the worship centre of the Baptist Church was demolished in 1962, the church’s historic place in West Melbourne was lost. In some senses, the church became nomadic, occupying different spaces for three decades until the present home was built in 1989-90.
But in this story a constant remains: those who arrived in the 1850s were facing a large unknown, in which the church provided some sense of familiarity: a haven in an uncertain and perhaps at times hostile environment. People knew what the church stood for and it provided some sense of orientation in the wider challenges of life.
Today West Melbourne retains some of its transitional character. But as we look around we also notice that old factories and warehouses are being remodeled into residential space. Structures which suited an old community are being remodeled to support the new and emerging.
God has lead his people through centuries of history, always equipping it for the task of ministry, often in surprising and unexpected ways. Let us persevere in prayer as we seek to be part of what God is doing in this area today.
June 5, 2005