Members of Trinity Presbyterian Church will soon say farewell to their church, which has been in Jackson for 70 years.
RePublic Schools, which operates three nonprofit charter schools in Jackson and three in Nashville, has purchased the church’s facilities at 5301 Old Canton Road and plans to open a school there in August 2022.
A congregation of fewer than 300 people with a campus that includes more than 85,000 square feet of space spread among a 1,200-seat sanctuary, gymnasium and a separate fellowship hall led the church leaders to petition the Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), the denomination’s governing body, and ask that it be dissolved.
“Because we’re a Presbyterian church, we don’t make that decision by ourselves as a congregation but the Session, the leadership of the congregation, prayerfully, and with much deliberation, came to a decision about what God seems to be leading us to do,” said Bruce Baugus, interim senior pastor at Trinity.
“The congregation voted in agreement. We petitioned the Presbytery, which is made up of many churches from across the region, for permission to close the church.”
Churches have a lifespan and Trinity had a “great run” of 70 years, said Baugus, who has a full-time job as an associate professor of philosophy and theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson.
“During that time, God has used Trinity to do many things,” he said. “Out of Trinity came Redeemer Presbyterian Church on Northside Drive.”
Many members of the church volunteered with Sons of the King, an after-school and summer club for elementary-age boys, and in prison ministry, he said. The church also supported mission work throughout the world, he said.
Originally located at 640 E. Northside Drive, Trinity Presbyterian opened in 1950 at the edge of Broadmoor subdivision.
In 2004, Trinity Presbyterian moved to the current location at 5301 Old Canton Road and left some of its congregation to start Redeemer Presbyterian Church at the 640 E. Northside Drive location. At its peak, Trinity had about 660 members, Baugus said.
Trinity purchased its current location from Christ United Methodist Church and Christ United Methodist moved to a new campus at 6000 Old Canton Road.
“Trinity had thought that by buying that building it would grow and fill the building, but that never happened,” Baugus said. The highest membership Trinity reached after moving to the Old Canton Road location was 330, he said.
Trinity has about 270 members of varying ages, he said, but many no longer live in the area, which makes it difficult to be effective.
“We realized we weren’t well positioned to reach the Old Canton Road corridor,” Baugus said, “and that it would be difficult to transform ourselves into a church that would be effective in doing such.”
Rather than just hang on, the church chose to disband, help its members find PCA Presbyterian churches they could join and petition the Presbytery for permission to plant a new church in the area.
“It would be designed from the ground up to serve the 39211 ZIP code,” Baugus said, of the possible new church.
The Presbytery will not meet until February to consider the request, he said, and it would probably be a year before plans would get under way should the request be approved.
In the meantime, Trinity members are being shepherded to other churches in the Presbytery, including First Presbyterian, Redeemer Presbyterian and Pear Orchard Presbyterian, to name just a few.
Baugus said the congregation was “determined as much as God would help us to do so to wind down in a decent and orderly way that honors Christ and that includes paying our debts and caring for our members.”
With the sale of the facilities, the church was able to pay off its mortgage, he said.
The onset of the coronavirus pandemic “very indirectly” shaped the church’s deliberations by slowing the sale of the campus and giving the congregation time to come to some conclusions about what it wanted to do, Baugus said.
Baugus expects the last service, an in-person one, on Jan 31 at 9:30 a.m. to be bittersweet, with the large sanctuary providing plenty of room for social distancing. “We have a huge facility so we can spread out,” he said.
John Rybka, CEO of RePublic Schools, said RePublic considered Trinity Presbyterian as a location for its first school in Jackson but decided to open in south Jackson.
RePublic considers the community where it puts a school and likes to reuse buildings that have served a community, Rybka said.
RePublic operates Smilow Collegiate and Smilow Prep, both of which are located on 787 E. Northside Drive at the former Broadmoor Baptist Church and most recently Wesley Biblical Seminary campus, and Reimagine Prep at 309 W. McDowell Road, which is located where St. Therese Catholic Schools was for many years. All of the schools have wait lists.
RePublic plans to open Revive Prep, which will eventually be for students in kindergarten through eighth grade, at the Trinity Presbyterian site in August 2022, he said. It will start off with kindergarten and fifth grade and then add first grade and sixth grade and keep expanding until it offers the eighth grade, he said.
The Trinity campus is expected to eventually serve 500-600 students, he said. About two years after the Trinity campus is in use, a second building will be needed as Revive Prep grows the number of students, he said.
The Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board granted RePublic Schools a charter for Revive Prep two years ago, Rybka said. Next, it will have to execute a charter contract with the board.
Funding for the purchase and renovation of Trinity Presbyterian has “come out of pocket,” Rybka said. RePublic plans to apply for a Charter School Program Grant to help with some start-up costs, he said.
The operation of Revive Prep, will like other charter schools, depend upon a blend of state and local tax revenue, he said.
Philanthropist and former CEO of Playtex Products, Joel E. Smilow, contributed $1 million to start Smilow Prep and Smilow Collegiate, but Rybka doesn’t foresee that happening with Revive Prep.
Baugus praised RePublic Schools and Wilson Hood, who served as a contact for RePublic, for working with the church through the sale process.
“We like that the building has been sold to a school,” he said.
Rybka said the Hood family, some of whom live in Jackson, have been helpful with RePublic.
“Jimmy Hood, Wilson’s father, was instrumental in RePublic expanding to Jackson,” he said “Stewart Hood serves as board chair. Wilson Hood, being a member of the family and servant-oriented, lends us time to think through things he’s good at, financing, facilities and relationships. Because he had relationships with Trinity Presbyterian, he was our main point of contact to get this deal done.”