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Saturday, May 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

What Do You Mean,|’Not Baptist Enough’?

HOUSTON (CN) - A Texas Baptist college backed out on its planned $8 million renovation of the Houston campus of Park Place Baptist Church with the excuse that "Park Place is not sufficiently 'Baptist,'" the church claims in a lawsuit.

Park Place Baptist Church sued Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Harris County Court.

Park Place is a self-described "traditional, yet fresh, family-focused Southern Baptist Church" in southeast Houston.

"It was founded in 1918 and over the years developed and built its 8½-acre campus with a large sanctuary, a chapel, administrative offices, gymnasium/recreation facility, classrooms, ample parking and other facilities," Park Place says in the complaint.

Park Place says in 2001 it began talking with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary about "how they might join forces and provide for an ongoing church and seminary on the Park Place campus."

The talks led to a deal in which Park Place deeded its campus to Southwestern Seminary in return for a 10-year lease of the campus for $1 per year.

"Southwestern planned to use the campus Monday through Saturday as a satellite seminary to its main facility in Fort Worth, Texas," the complaint states. "Through the lease, Park Place retained use of its suite of administrative office on a full-time basis and use of the sanctuary, gym and classrooms on Wednesdays, Sundays and other designated times.

"In other words, the parties agreed to co-exist on the property."

Southwestern Seminary talked big about its plans for the campus, Park Place says, claiming it would raise $8 million to renovate the property. But one year after the title transfer, a change in the leadership of Southwestern Seminary shifted the school's academic focus, Park Place says in the complaint.

"Southwestern changed direction and decided to emphasize Internet-based distance learning and backed away from its previously stated plans to enlarge and renovate the campus," the complaint states. "As time went by, it became clear that Southwestern's interest in operating the campus as a seminary had diminished. It made few improvements to the campus and delayed or neglected maintenance of the existing facilities, even though it had a landlord's obligation to do so."

Things recently took a curious turn, Park Place says, as Southwestern Seminary "expressed concern that the Hispanic Ministry of Park Place was not sufficiently 'Baptist.'"

Park Place says it called for mediation, which is mandatory under the lease agreement, but Southwestern did not respond and put "For Sale" signs around the campus and listed it for sale online.

Southwestern Seminary can't do that, Park Place says in the complaint.

"Park Place Baptist Church is not for sale, it still has 8 years left on its fully prepaid lease, and it questions Southwestern's right to assign its responsibilities under the arrangement entered into in 2002," the complaint states.

Park Place seeks damages for breach of contract, a declaration that it is "not in violation of any theological requirements of the lease," and a restraining order to stop Southwestern Seminary from selling the church.

Park Place is represented by Mark Aschermann with Baron & Newburger, of Bellaire.

A spokesman for Southwestern Seminary declined to comment on the lawsuit.

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