BALTIMORE (WJZ) — It’s not what you would expect to see in the basement of a 100-year-old church: A Duckpin bowling alley retrofitted with the latest in bowling technology. 

Duckpin bowling has a deep history here in Baltimore. With a smaller ball and smaller pins, this type of bowling still packs a lot of fun.

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After closing in the 1960s, the bowling alley within the church now has a new lease on life, thanks to Pastor Dr. Terris King of Liberty Grace Church of God and Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg of the Beth Tfiloh Congregation.

They worked together to secure funding to overhaul the floors and install equipment. Renovating the bowling alley in Liberty Grace Church of God in the small Ashburton neighborhood of West Baltimore took nearly three years.

It’s just one of the many projects the men have embarked on together, as they work to educate their communities on their shared history. It’s a history this bowling alley is a part of.

“This is what history tells us,” Pastor King said. “Ashburton was one of the first communities in the country where whites didn’t run when African-Americans came, this bowling alley and this church and this community of Ashburton was really the center of Jews leading, working with African-Americans in the civil rights movement of Baltimore.”

“This used to be home to the Jewish community, but the younger generation of the Jewish community doesn’t even know it exists,” Rabbi Wohlberg added.

As our community continues to face civil rights issues to this day, the pair is looking to inspire future generations to continue working together by showing them they have more in common than they might think.

“Our schools are now making good connections,” Wohlberg said. “Otherwise, our kids and his kids would never know each other. They would only know each other as Black and white. Not as human, not as real.”

While the partnership has been a positive experience, it has produced some intense moments, opening eyes to overlooked prejudice.

Wohlberg described one such moment.

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“One day, Terris brought his choir to sing in my congregation. I saw people in tears and when I spoke to them after, I said, ‘Why are you in tears?’ And they said, ‘Rabbi, I’m embarrassed to admit, but until this moment, if you mentioned Black teenagers, I think of a criminal. I don’t think of a churchgoing, beautiful child singing the praises of God.’ It’s as basic as that.”

Now, as walls are being broken down, a brighter and intertwined future is unfolding. Pastor King is now featured on Beth Tfiloh’s Centennial Timeline as a symbol of the two communities coming together.

“It puts it as part of our history,” Wohlberg said. “But it’s not only part of our history, it’s also a part of our future.”

Back at Liberty Grace, they too are planning a display to show their history. It will be painted above a lane they chose to leave unfinished.

“We left it in the original state because we want to tell the story,” King said. “In order to tell the story, you have to see the way it was designed.”

It’s a story that adds to Liberty Grace’s growing list of community resources. A place that already provides food, education and health services now has a space dedicated to family fun.

“It may seem controversial to join hands with Mitchell, but I’m following God’s lead and I’m doing the right thing for my people in this congregation and beyond these doors in this community, so I’m humbled. And I believe the best is yet to come,” King said.

It’s an unexpected bowling alley and an unexpected friendship that show what is possible if we take a little to get to know one another and maybe bowl a few frames together.

“I don’t know if the Jewish community from Pikesville is going to move back here so that they can use the bowling alley,” Wohlberg said. “It’s moving people’s minds and hearts. It’s not moving their homes. It’s seeing each other as real and getting to know each other and everything that we have done together.”

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Sean Streicher