By Bonnie Niemela
HOWARD LAKE, MN Orchard Christian Church (OCC) in Howard Lake is set to begin the next step in its planned expansion. Ground- breaking ceremonies for the new worship center took place on the church grounds after services Sunday, Sept. 8. Work will begin as soon as the city gives final approval.
Sunday also marked the launching of the church’s campaign, “His Vision, Our Mission,” to raise funds for the building project. Some funding for the project is from members’ donations and pledges, and the rest will come from a loan.
Pastor Rick Messer, one of the longest-serving pastors at Orchard Christian Church, said “This is an exciting time for our church. We’ve seen unbelievable growth and new faces here every week.”
Previously known as Howard Lake Christian Church, the name was changed to Orchard Christian Church earlier this year. Messer explained this came about because people were constantly asking, “Are you the church in the orchard?” Prior to the church being built, the land had been an apple orchard.
OCC is a nondenominational church, associated with Churches of Christ Christian Churches, whose purpose is to reach “unchurched people,” according to Messer. He added that these are people who have had a bad experience with church or who don’t go to church. Services are designed with them in mind. “It’s not about religion. It’s about a relationship with Christ,” Messer explained.
OCC began in the mid 1800s, as Howard Lake Church of Christ. It was part of the Restoration Movement, one of the fastest-growing movements of that time.
A name change occurred when it was discovered a cult in the Twin Cities area also used the name Church of Christ. Not wanting to be associated with that group, the Howard Lake church became Howard Lake Christian Church.
For many years, OCC was located in a small church at the corner of 6th Avenue and 9th Street in Howard Lake. When the congregation began to outgrow the small building, they conducted services in the community center.
In the early ‘90s, OCC moved to its current location. The present structure was designed with future expansion in mind.
“We’re just growing. We’re out of room,” Messer commented.
The sanctuary is full during services. On any given Sunday, there are 150-165 members in attendance. On occasion, visitors have been seen leaving because there are no open seats.
Space is also needed to accommodate OCC’s youth programs.
A worship center, with seating for up to 300 people, will be in the new addition, leaving the existing structure for classrooms and other uses.
The expansion is just the beginning in the long-range plan for OCC. Future plans include hiring a full-time youth pastor in 2015, and purchasing property along Hwy. 12 in 2016 for the development of a new campus in the future.
In December, Messer will begin his 12th year at the church. He and his wife, Kathleen, who is the administrative director at Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School, have been married for 28 years.
They have two children; Caleb lives in Rochester and serves as an MP in the Minnesota National Guard; and Hannah attends Ozark Christian College in Joplin, MO.
Messer is also a chaplain in the Minnesota Army National Guard, serving with the 1st 125th Field Artillery based out of New Ulm. He was deployed to Kuwait in 2011. He served one year there before returning to resume his duties as OCC’s pastor.