While a multi-year construction project affects “their” bridge, worshipers at Church Under the Bridge in Waco, Texas, will temporarily meet at one of the town’s biggest tourist attractions. Pastor Jimmy Dorrell accepted an offer from reality-TV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines to hold Sunday services at Magnolia Market at the Silos during the widening of Interstate 35.
For 26 years, Church Under the Bridge has assembled on Sundays under I-35 and 4th Street. Most of the 200 to 300 attendees are homeless or marginalized, and volunteers from churches around Texas serve them free meals.
But a three- to five-year construction project, expected to start in March 2019, is forcing the congregation to find a new gathering spot. When the Gaineses heard about the church’s predicament, they contacted Dorrell and agreed to let Church Under the Bridge meet on their property for one year, free of charge. After that, they plan to evaluate the arrangement until the church can return to its original location.
“If Jimmy Dorrell is involved, I have no reservations whatsoever,” says Chip Gaines when asked about possible risks. “I trust him because he does what he says he’s going to do.” Gaines first heard about the unconventional ministry while attending Baylor, a private Christian university in Waco.
Magnolia Market at the Silos Is a Welcome Gift
Dorrell, who’s also a part-time professor and executive director of Mission Waco, was surprised by the invitation. “I didn’t see it coming at all,” he says. When he visited the Silos, he found the setting “amazingly quiet, with no 18-wheelers above.”
Megan Henderson of the revitalization group City Center Waco calls the arrangement “both surprising and not surprising at the same time.” It’s “consistent with the Gaineses’ ethic of sincere hospitality,” she says.
City councilman Dillon Meek agrees, saying the couple’s offer reflects their love for the Waco community. “Church Under the Bridge is a powerful ministry that reaches a lot of people near and dear to the heart of God,” he says, adding that the Silos is the “perfect location for [the church] to flourish” during roadwork.
Every week, about 30,000 people visit Magnolia Market at the Silos, which offers shopping, gardens, food trucks and more. An annual Silobration celebration, with after-hours ticketed concerts that include Christian music, is scheduled for October 18-20.
Partnering for the Poor
Although Magnolia’s attractions are closed on Sundays, tourists still drop by to take photos—and Pastor Dorrell says they’re welcome to join worship. “That will be a byproduct we love,” he says, “but if the poor aren’t there, we would have made a bad mistake.”
To be considerate guests, Dorrell says they’ll limit smoking to parking lots and ask church attendees not to solicit money from tourists. He expects that free meals will continue to be offered while the Texas Department of Transportation is “remodeling our place at no charge.”
For five years, Chip and Joanna Gaines hosted the popular home-improvement show Fixer Upper. In addition to several product lines, a restaurant, a real estate company and a magazine, the couple have five children, including a baby born in June. Previously, the Gaineses donated more than $50,000 to Jubilee Market, a nonprofit grocery store run by Mission Waco.