By Dr. Terris King, Senior Pastor, Liberty Grace Church of God
The things that bring people together are often surprising. And so it was with a bowling alley tucked into the basement of a West Baltimore church. As the current Senior Pastor of Liberty Grace Church of God, Baltimore, Maryland, I was inspired to renovate the church’s abandoned bowling alley after reading Antero Pietila’s first book, “Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City,” which highlights the struggle of Jewish and African American immigrants as they settled throughout Baltimore. According to Pietila, a cozy little West Baltimore neighborhood called Ashburton became the first neighborhood in Baltimore and in the nation to openly embrace integration with African Americans, Jews and whites living together. But when a church was sold to a predominately African American congregation, and that congregation closed the basement bowling alley that served as a gathering place for the community, Jewish residents and members of the Beth Tefillah congregation were among those who left the neighborhood.
Since 2015, Liberty Grace Church of God has worked to reimagine the church as a central place for community gathering, while providing community members with nutrition education and exercise in order combat obesity and chronic diseases like diabetes. It started with nutritious, healthy food delivered by the Maryland Food Bank. The church is so focused on this initiative that it established the Grace Foundation, a non-profit to lead the nutrition project and serve the community. The Grace Foundation has also successfully piloted exercise, Zumba and meditation programs. The renovation of the historic bowling alley is an upcoming stage in this larger project to increase exercise and activity levels in the community. With additional funding, the Grance Foundation hopes to renovate their facility, including an outdoor kitchen, into a teaching kitchen with classrooms for the community.
With over 20 years in ministry and executive-level service in health care, I have used my dual career experience to bring nutrition education to Baltimore city. I see the church as a major asset in improving the well-being of West Baltimore’s citizens, beginning with the Ashburton community. I believe the bowling alley will be a community draw that rivals the success of the food giveaway and am excited about this building becoming the epicenter of the community once again.