Contemporary Church on Pako
Geelong Vineyard Church is challenging people’s preconceptions of church.
With young families, coffee breaks and interactive discussion groups, pastor of Geelong Vineyard Dr Peter Downes describes the church as “contemporary and quite informal”.
“There’s flexibility in how we do things and an accessibility in the way we do church,” he says.
Formerly known as St Phillip’s Church, a name the Vineyard continues to use to refer to the building in order to honour its history, the bluestone building was restored to its past glory just last year.
The congregation’s name, Geelong Vineyard Church, was inspired by the bible.
“God’s people are often called his vineyard.”
Peter has also incorporated programs for pre-school and primary school-aged children in its 10am Sunday service for all ages.
But the Pastor did not have a religious upbringing himself.
“I actually grew up in country pubs, no-nonsense beer drinking institutions, and am grateful for it. Despite studying for many years the best training I ever had was growing up in hotels. It’s amazing the similarity between pubs and churches and the dynamics they operate in.”
Although the church has welcomed many new members, Peter says it has “more of a reputation as a market rather than a church”.
“The Pako Maker’s Markets have let people know we’re here – we get a lot interest from the market.
“We often hear people say things like ‘I’ve walked past this place for 30 years and never been inside’. “Churches, especially old bluestone ones, often present as a bit of a closed shop in many respects – we are keen to change that.”
Renovations at the church included replacing traditional church pews with tables, chairs and couches.
“There are even a few beanbags for people to sit on.”
Peter says the 10am service begins with “three or four songs” before moving into “family time” that includes some notices, dialogue and a coffee break.
After family time, the service stops for a “coffee break”.
During the service, the pastor encourages members to develop their own thinking.
“I would never tell people what they have to believe and what they should do – I would tell them what I think, and then they can take responsibility for their own journey. We are here to help moving them along that path.
“We’re a compassionate church; we have a heart for those in need and also for social justice. Although we are new to the community we have developed some relationships that enable us to help people in our local community and with some one or two refugee families.”
Peter says “the whole God question is the most important question of all”.
“We would like to bring a blend of both faith and experience to people’s understanding of God, in a way that is not weird, but to challenge and encourage people.”
Geelong Vineyard Church is open for its Sunday service at 10am, at 178 Pakington Street.