Members of a historic African-American church in downtown Fort Worth have successfully stopped the sale of their building.
The three church leaders who were pushing the sale have agreed that they have no authority to sell Mount Gilead Baptist Church and have backed away from the deal they struck withParadox Church, a 650-member congregation meeting at Van Cliburn Hall a few blocks away.
Patrick Rucker, a Dallas minister described in court documents as the self-appointed interim pastor of Mount Gilead, and two church deacons named in the lawsuit — Lynn Davis and Randy Green — have agreed to step down from their posts at the church, according to documents filed Monday in state district Judge John Chupp’s court.
Rucker, Davis and Green have also pledged to remove their names from all Mount Gilead credit card and bank accounts and will turn over all security codes and keys belonging to the church. Rucker also agreed not to step foot inside the church building, which greets commuters and visitors to downtown Fort Worth on Spur 280.
Paradox Church, which made the $2.5 million offer to buy Mount Gilead, filed a motion with the court last week to compel church membership to go through with the sale, court documents show. But on Monday the attorney for Paradox Church filed a second document in Chupp’s court, rescinding the request to force the sale.
The deacons have also agreed not to hold any leadership position within the church for the next five years, said Natherral “Nate” Washington, the attorney for the church members who brought the lawsuit — Ernest Mackey, Patricia Williams, Jannis Dilworth and Joyce Britt.
Rucker and the deacons named in the lawsuit have agreed that they acted in good faith but without the membership’s support, Washington said.
“The church and the individuals that we sought the restraining order against have agreed to walk away from what they tried to do,” Washington said.
Jonathan Chatmon, attorney for the defendants, declined to comment, and Rucker could not be reached for comment.
A church rich with history
Mackey, one of the members who filed the lawsuit against church leadership, said Mount Gilead is rich with the history of African-Americans in Fort Worth.
12freed slaves established the church in 1875.
Mount Gilead was established by 12 former slaves in 1875, and the church building in dispute was built in 1912. Mount Gilead has served as a hub in the black community, a place where Fort Worth African-Americans could access resources they could not get anywhere else, Mackey said.
People often see Mount Gilead’s historical significance from the prism of the 1950s, when segregation and Jim Crow ruled, said Richard Selcer, author of A History of Fort Worth in Black & White. To truly appreciate what Mount Gilead meant to the community your mind has to travel back further in time, Selcer said.
“This goes back to the idea when having a black church was a radical idea,” Selcer said. “It had all this stuff that other black churches didn’t have.”
The church — a neoclassical, red-brick building — has an indoor pool, pipe organ, room for an upstairs orchestra, library, classrooms and meeting rooms. But much of the history is rotting away.
Old churches tough to maintain
An inspection of the church building dated July 7 documented rotten wood, loose and missing boards, cracks, loose and missing bricks, damaged paint and other problems. According to the report, repairs are ongoing. But for a small, aging membership of about 35, gathering the funding to complete those repairs could prove daunting.
PARADOX CHURCH THREATENED TO SUE THE INDIVIDUALS AND THE CHURCH AND MAKE US SELL THE CHURCH. I TOLD THEM YOU WILL HAVE A HELL OF A FIGHT.
Nate Washington, Mount Gilead attorney
It is difficult to maintain an aging relic, said Dan Muzyka, president and founder of Service Realty, a Fort Worth company specializing in school and church property sales.
“A church is a just a group of families,” Muzyka said. “And this is as if you were trying to keep your house repaired on your own when you’re 80. You or anyone else would be in big trouble.”
Allen Chapel A.M.E. church, another historic African-American-owned church in the downtown Fort Worth area, at 116 Elm St., has had its own problems. The membership has moved away from the African-American churches in downtowns across the U.S., said Sherryl Matlock, Allen Chapel pastor.
“In many areas, the downtown churches are fading from the scene,” Matlock said. “We have two members within 10 miles of our church and the rest drive in. Elected officials are aware of our presence and our historic significance. But I guess God just isn’t that important anymore.”