Skillman Church of Christ’s turning point will impact our neighborhoods
Skillman Church of Christpart of the East Dallas landscape since 1951, contemplating dissolving her charter, transferring her real estate, and amalgamating her community with The hillsa non-denominational church in Tarrant County.
The community is divided on this issue. Some are steadfast in their new relationship, others want to keep the real estate and believe a new mission can turn the tide of membership decline. Whichever path Skillman chooses, it will mean changes in the neighborhood.
The story of the Skillman Church of Christ begins in 1911 when the Church of Christ in downtown Pearl and Bryan approved a new East Dallas church outpost on Garrett Avenue, one block north of Ross. The community grew rapidly and another new building, which still stands today, was commissioned in 1925 for the corner of Sears and Summit. By 1950 church membership at Sears and Summit had grown to nearly 800. As a result, the congregation sought to construct another building and on December 16, 1951 held its first service at the new Skillman Church of Christ.
In 2000, the church added the Family Life Center, which houses commercial-grade offices, meeting rooms, a gymnasium, and a kitchen.
According to several members, the Skillman community peaked at around 1,000 and has been in decline for decades. 150 members remain, about 60, who meet regularly for the Sunday service in the chapel. The main sanctuary is just too big now.
The decline in church membership is not a new phenomenon in the United States or in our neighborhood. Other East Dallas congregations have experienced similar declines and have focused on rebuilding their memberships. In 2010, Highland Park United Methodist Church invested resources to bring it back to life Munger Place Methodist Church. Baptist Church by the lake at 9150 Garland Road merged with the Rockwall-based non-denominational sea tip in 2017.
The reasons for church declines are as diverse as the churches affected. In the case of Skillman, 28-year-old member Tom Crabb, who supports the fusion, sees the struggle between older and younger generations over changing cultural values and biblical interpretations. Longtime member June Martin, who opposes the merger, said if one group leaves the church because it’s moving too fast, the other group leaves because the church isn’t moving fast enough.
Members say the current schedule is for the congregation to vote on Sunday, May 15. Two-thirds of the votes are needed to clear the way for the merger.
Don Williams, a member since 1968 who opposes the merger, said the church had no debt and the merger would also involve the transfer of endowment funds and investments of nearly $3 million.
The church has been an East Dallas landmark for 70 years. Its steeple in the Lakewood Heights neighborhood is a comforting and welcoming place for residents and visitors.
Skillman was a good neighbor to local residents and Tietze Park but has become less involved as the congregation has shrunk. For years, the church hosted a free (donation-solicited) Thanksgiving dinner for neighbors. And an annual Easter egg hunt at Tietze Park for neighborhood children was hosted by the church. Neither was planned in recent years.
The current zoning on the 6.2 acre site is Proposed Development District (PD) 586granted to the Church when building the Family Life Addendum. PD 586 approved the new building layout and parking lots but maintained the development standards (lot size, setbacks, etc.) for the R7.5 (A) single-family home zoning.
Regardless of the decision, both groups support the Skillman Child Development Center. The centre, which has been in operation since 1994, is a prestigious pre-school for children aged 18 months to 5 years. Student enrollment is approaching 300 children and typically has a waiting list. The school operates somewhat independently of the church, occupying a building on campus but paying rent to the church.
If a move to The Hills is a catalyst for significant membership growth, will there be parking issues on Wednesday and Sunday? Will there be any changes to the property? How would The Hills approach the community engagement with Tietze Park, M Streets, Wilshire Heights, Lakewood Heights, Lower Greenville and Stonewall Terrace?
The Hills has three locations in Tarrant County and has demonstrated the ability to increase Church membership. Munger Place certainly saw renewed neighborhood engagement as it changed.
Craig Gray is an Elder at Skillman and supports the Fusion. “The current course is unsustainable,” says Davis. “Partnering with The Hills provides both human and financial resources to ensure we can continue and expand programs such as our child development center, youth sports and activities, summer camps, counseling and wellness services and more for years to come.”
Williams and former senior pastor and current member John Mark Davidson envision “an invitation to work together.”
“We want to find out who is already giving back in the community, work to connect with them, and provide space and resources,” Davidson said.
your model is White Rock United Methodist Church (WRUMC) in Little Forest Hills. WRUMC nearly died out a few years ago when they established new camps, hired a community engagement worker, and reversed the curve. Their new vision included a community garden in the parking lot and a coworking space in the basement. They have established partnerships with programs for children with special needs, a dance studio and language classes. WRUMC and local elementary school Alex Sanger never sought common ground. Now they do.
Williams and Davidson got to see tomatoes and cucumbers bloom on Monticello and small businesses at a Skillman WeWork.
This decision will be deeply personal for each voting member of the Skillman Church of Christ. Every choice carries risks. But the status quo could mean the community shrinking to a handful, the doors shut, and the 14-acre site sold to the highest bidder.
The hearts of the communities around the church are with the church and pray that the result will be a vibrant church and a newly engaged neighbor.
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