The non-denominational Watermark Community Church in Texas has purchased a run-down former middle school building that it plans to turn into its newest campus in South Dallas. But some church leaders in the area are upset.
Watermark — which has campuses already in Frisco, Dallas, Fort Worth and Plano — recently purchased the Pearl C. Anderson Middle School building and surrounding land. The school building opened in 1963 but closed in 2012 and has sat vacant for the better part of a decade.
A spokesperson for the church told The Christian Post that the building was purchased at public auction after Watermark members already ministering in South Dallas brought the auction to the attention of church leaders.
The building and nine acres of land located in an area of Dallas that has a predominant minority population were purchased by the evangelical church for $211,000, according to a government document.
The Watermark spokesperson explained that the church followed the Dallas Independent School District’s “standard and customary process for this type of sale.”
The plans for the building have not yet been finalized but church officials say that the new campus will offer midweek services for community development.
According to an online statement released by Watermark, potential community services that could be offered at the new campus include “health care, youth development, job placement, vocational training, financial literacy, and recovery.”
News of the purchase was broken by local media last week before church leaders told Watermark members about the purchase.
In its statement, Watermark said that it planned to tell the church body about the building purchase this past weekend.
“Prayerfully, we are working to renovate the Pearl C. Anderson property in South Dallas to serve the community through a church that offers midweek services for community care and development,” the statement reads.
“Since acquiring the property just three weeks ago, our priority has been to meet with local leaders, residents, and organizations to listen and further understand what services will be most helpful to the community.”
However, some local church leaders and politicians in the community objected to the fact that they had not been contacted by Watermark.
Rev. Donald Parish Sr., who for the last 28 years has pastored True Lee Missionary Baptist Church, told NBCDFW that he questioned Watermark’s motive because of what he claimed were “stealth circumstances” of the expansion.
"It's a good thing to do a good thing, but it's better if you do it with the people you're trying to do it for than to come in and do it for them," Parish said. "Too many times that's happened in our community, people have given us what they thought we needed or what they wanted us to have, as opposed to sitting down and saying, 'OK, what can we do to help?'"
“We know the community. They've got to come in and learn the community," he continued. "Let's get some community involvement, community input. You have the resources. We have the experience. Let's see if we can't work together."
Rev. Michael Waters, the founder of Joy Tabernacle AME Church, told The Dallas Morning News that he also questioned Watermark’s motivations.
“I am always cautious of groups that come in that have not authentically engaged the community,” Waters said. “I think that would be in good faith to sit down. But the other thing you have to ask is, if the ink is already on the paper, it feels disingenuous to come back later and begin that conversation.”
In its online statement, Watermark explained that the first few weeks since the purchase have been focused on building upon “existing relationships.”
The church stressed that its leaders look forward to “meeting with and learning from new friends and partners in South Dallas over the coming months.”
“We have waited to broadly share details concerning the purchase until we had a chance to speak with our South Dallas partners and other leaders,” the church’s statement reads. “We believed it was important for us to speak with and listen to the South Dallas community so that these conversations could help shape our heart, vision, and initial planning.”
According to the statement, Watermark has served in the South Dallas area for years through its ministry partners, including Cornerstone Baptist Church, Cornerstone Crossroads Academy, 2ndSaturday, Act and Men of Nehemiah.
“We are grateful for this opportunity to be able to deepen our friendships, partnerships, and work in the city that we love,” Watermark’s statement added. “We are encouraged by ongoing conversations with our neighbors in South Dallas and thankful that the Lord has entrusted us with an opportunity to love and serve even more of this city in His name.”
According to The Dallas Morning News, DISD let the school building “go to Hell” in the middle of a residential neighborhood after it closed in 2012.
Neighbors complained of break-ins and that the building was filled with, rats, snakes and possums.
"It was a mess over there for a while," Lovis Salter told NBCDFW. "They're doing good over there. It's looking a whole lot better than what it was.”
He said he doesn’t see anything “too wrong” with the church buying the building.
Watermark Pastor Todd Wagner told The Dallas Morning News that Watermark is “not coming to rescue the community.”
“We’re coming to be part of the community as people who have been rescued from our own brokenness,” Wagner stressed.
“I don’t blame them for being skeptical,” he continued. “But I look forward to becoming their friend and not just their neighbor.”