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Fort Worth’s Keith House donates pews to historic Como Baptist church

The Keith House, a modern day meeting house in Clearfork, is donating 30 pews to Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Como, a historically Black neighborhood in west Fort Worth.
(Marissa Greene
/
Fort Worth Report
The Keith House, a modern day meeting house in Clearfork, is donating 30 pews to Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Como, a historically Black neighborhood in west Fort Worth.

Ethelene McCullough took a trip down memory lane while sitting on the straight-back, solid wood pews in the balcony of her church in Como.

She has been going to Zion Missionary Baptist Church, located in the heart of the historically Black west Fort Worth neighborhood, since she was a little girl. Her family’s name is engraved on a cornerstone, and the prayer room is named after her grandparents. McCullough has seen the sanctuary remodeled a couple of times, and fabric-covered seats brought into the main sanctuary.

But the pews she sat on as a child remained a piece of history stationed in the church’s balcony.

“The last time I sat on those pews, I was a child,” McCullough said. “They have stood the test of time.”

Days left for the wooden pews to reside in the balcony may be numbered — but McCullough sees it as a positive change. The Keith House, a modern-day meeting house, is in the process of donating its brand-new pews to the church. The donation illustrates the marriage of two communities: Clearfork and Como.

Sitting on 2 acres adjacent to the Trinity Trails and the Heart of the Ranch at Clearfork, the newly opened Keith House is a modern-day meeting space and home to one of artist James Turrell’s famed skyspaces.

An 8-foot-by-8-foot aperture allows the sky to cast light into the meeting space at Keith House. The art installation by James Turrell includes choreographed interior lighting that changes in tandem with the sun moving through the sky.
Marcheta Fornoff
/
Fort Worth Report
An 8-foot-by-8-foot aperture allows the sky to cast light into the meeting space at Keith House. The art installation by James Turrell includes choreographed interior lighting that changes in tandem with the sun moving through the sky.

The building is intended to be “a gift to the entire community” and memorializes the lateMeta Alice Keith Bratten. Her namesake foundation and the Entrada of Texas operate the building.

The Keith House is modeled after the concept of Quaker meeting houses. Still, the project itself is secular and welcomes anyone to visit, said Adelaide Leavens, whospearheaded the project as executive director of both the Meta Alice Keith Bratten Foundation and Entrada of Texas, DBA Keith House.

“We wanted it to become an integrated part of the community where people feel welcome, people feel comfortable here,” Leavens said.

Visiting Keith House

Nonprofits are able to book the space for special events. Eventually, Keith House will have regular hours for visitors to relax and reflect inside the space. For now, visits to the space are by appointment only.

Going into the project, Keith House director Janelle Montgomery knew the artist wanted input on the building finishes, from the color of the roof to the style of the floor. Later, she learned that Turrell also wanted input on the interior finishings, including the style of the pews.

Keith House began to search for a new home for the pews while also looking for replacements that fit the artist’s vision.

Montgomery said she’s looking at the situation from a “glass half full” perspective. The current pews have allowed her to figure out how the space works and what the space is going to look like.

“We figured out that we love the color blue and different configurations of the pews in the space,” Montgomery said. “We just wanted to make sure they went to a good home, and we like that it’s close by so we can come visit them.”

Visitors to Keith House — currently by appointment only — can sit on the pews that will move to Zion Missionary Baptist Church this fall. The benches are oriented toward the center of the room because artist James Turrell wanted people to be encouraged to speak face-to-face.
Courtesy photo
/
Erayne Hill
Visitors to Keith House — currently by appointment only — can sit on the pews that will move to Zion Missionary Baptist Church this fall. The benches are oriented toward the center of the room because artist James Turrell wanted people to be encouraged to speak face-to-face.

When McCullough heard about Keith House’s offer to donate pews, she remembers reaching out immediately.

Zion Missionary Baptist Church has been a pillar in the Lake Como community since 1919, and the church is designated by the State of Texas Historical Commission and the city of Fort Worth as a historical site.

The new pews will be placed throughout the church, including locations such as the prayer room and the balcony, said Robert Meeks, a church deacon charged with getting the pews to their new home.

The Keith House and the church are planning to transfer the pews sometime around Labor Day.

Zion Missionary Baptist Church, located at 4100 Horne St., has been a pillar in the Como neighborhood since 1919.
Marissa Greene
/
Fort Worth Report
Zion Missionary Baptist Church, located at 4100 Horne St., has been a pillar in the Como neighborhood since 1919.

In the meantime, McCullough and Meeks are thinking about what to do with the solid wood pews on the balcony.

“They’re historical. That’s history. But what would you do with them?” McCullough said. “I guess we need to start finding out if there’s a church who you know would be interested in them.”

Editor’s Note: Adelaide Leavens is executive director of the MAKB Foundation, which is a financial supporter of Fort Worth Report.

Marissa Greene is a Report for America corps member, covering faith for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at marissa.greene@fortworthreport.org or @marissaygreene. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

This article first appeared on Fort Worth Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Marissa Greene is a Report for America corps member and covers faith in Tarrant County for the Fort Worth Report.