Church Under the Bridge to return to I-35 after three years

Church Under the Bridge has taken place at the Magnolia Silos since 2019 because of construction on I-35. Grace Everett | Photo Editor

By Jonah Kramer | Staff Writer

Waco’s Church Under the Bridge will once again congregate below Interstate-35 for worship beginning Nov. 20.

Senior pastor Jimmy Dorrell said after over 3 1/2 years of services at the Magnolia Silos, “our church is so excited to go back.”

The Church Under the Bridge tradition dates back to 1992 when Dorrell and his wife Janet connected with people living under I-35. Dorrell said their newfound friends invited them to lead a Bible study under the bridge.

“There were probably five or six that met with us, and then they said, ‘Will you come back next week?’” Dorrell said. “Over the weeks, they began to call it ‘Church Under the Bridge.’ So, over time, it kept growing and became very multicultural — Black, white, brown, rich people [and] poor people.”

After 28 years of Sundays under the bridge, Dorrell said the Texas Department of Transportation informed him that a construction project on I-35 would require the church to relocate temporarily.

When news of the church’s need for a new space to gather broke, Dorrell received a call from Chip and Joanna Gaines, who offered the Magnolia Silos courtyard as a meeting space.

“It was really a good thing because a lot of our folks had to walk or ride bicycles, and … it was close by,” Dorrell said.

In March 2019, the church met under I-35 one last time before construction began, proceeding to walk together down Fourth Street and turn on Webster Avenue to go to the Magnolia Silos.

On Nov. 20, the church will reverse the route taken 44 months ago, meeting at the Magnolia Silos and then marching back to their original home.

While this Sunday will be a homecoming for some members of Church Under the Bridge, others, like Baylor Ph.D. candidate Kice Brown, will experience worship at the church’s birthplace for the first time.

Brown said he joined Church Under the Bridge with his wife in 2020.

“[The return is] something that the church has been talking about basically since we’ve been there,” Brown said. “I mean, everybody’s grateful that we’ve been able to be at the Silos, but I think collectively part of our identity is under the bridge, and so we’re excited to move back.”

Brown also said he thinks some people feel more comfortable being under the I-35 bridge.

Dorrell said some members of the congregation were not as comfortable at the Magnolia Silos as they were under the bridge, and he is hopeful that they will rejoin them once they are back at their original meeting place.

While the church is returning to the same area on S. Fourth Street, the overhead and ground-level construction has created a completely different atmosphere, Dorrell said. The old surface of rock and dirt will now have concrete, and two bridges have merged into one, creating a big roof.

Aside from serving as Church Under the Bridge’s senior pastor, Dorrell teaches at Baylor and George W. Truett Theological Seminary, focusing on community engagement.

Dorrell said checking out his church is a good opportunity for students to engage with the surrounding community in a unique way.

“We all know that we should love each other across cultural, racial and economic backgrounds,” Dorrell said. “It’s easy to have that conversation academically, but experientially, it’s a whole different thing. How do you come and sit next to somebody who’s different from yourself? How do you begin to understand why people are on the streets, and how do we bridge the gap?”

Brown, who leads the church’s college group along with his wife Tatum, said attending a service is a really good experience to challenge what one thinks about church.

While Church Under the Bridge eats together and worships through song and sermon, Brown said the “really cool mixture of different socioeconomic and racial groups” makes the church unique.

“For anybody at Baylor, it would be a really good opportunity to see how those can operate together in the church,” Brown said.

Those who are interested in attending a Church Under the Bridge service can join in its return at 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 20 in the newly renovated space under I-35.