Church Remembers Duckpin Bowling

.c The Associated Press (rerpinted without permission)

BALTIMORE (AP) - The miniature pins and palm-sized balls used for duckpin bowling may be unrecognizable to most of the country, but passion for the sport sometimes approaches religious fervor in the city of its birth.

Just ask members of Stephen and James' Evangelical Lutheran Church.

The congregation gathered on the maple wood lanes of Southway Bowling Center over the weekend to pay homage to the 61-year-old landmark, which will close for good on Saturday.

``We know in our heart and in our memories that God's grace was present with us each time we bowled,'' said Mel Tansill, a member of the church. ``For this, we gather together today in his name to give thanks.

``When an aspect of community life vanishes, part of community life dies with it.''

Church leagues have competed for decades at Southway, just up the street from the church in the Federal Hill neighborhood, and generations of children rolled their first gutterballs there. Baseball great Babe Ruth, perhaps Baltimore's most famous son, is said to have rolled the tiny balls on lanes 14 and 15.

Pastor Lowell S. Thompson, not a big bowler himself, nevertheless took note at Sunday services. The hymn board listed only 300, a perfect bowling score.

On the altar next to the Bible and underneath a life-size painting of Jesus and St. Peter was a duckpin shrine, complete with pins, Tansill's bowling ball and bag from when he was 12, and a pair of size 7 bowling shoes. Next to that: A crinkled church-league roster from Nov. 26, 1948.

``It's appropriate to remember an institution that has brought so much joy and take a moment to reflect upon that,'' Thompson said.

Patrick Turner, a partner in the loft apartments development that will replace the bowling alley, has offered the maple lanes to anyone who will take them away. No offers, yet.

Alva Brown, who was inducted into the National Duckpin Hall of Fame in 1964, runs the bowling alley with her son, Rand. She said she was so upset she couldn't cross the street to church Sunday. Her son went and came back with 12 pink roses from the congregation.

``I just couldn't go, I couldn't do it,'' she said, her eyes filling with tears.

AP-NY-10-09-00 2128EDT