The Kingdom of God is like a bowling alley?
For the faithful of Crossroads Presbyterian Church, a congregation in Limerick whose worship attendance hovers around 70, this just may be the perfect parable. Since 2014, Crossroads has partnered with their local bowling alley to host an annual Thanksgiving Day Turkey Bowl open to the entire community. The event is completely free and includes unlimited bowling, arcade games, photo booths, giveaways, and a home cooked meal with all the trimmings made from scratch. “We wanted to host a Thanksgiving meal that was a little different than some of the others,” remarked Rev. Brenton Thompson, pastor of Crossroads. “There is hunger in our community. But at Thanksgiving, the hunger is not only physical. It is also a community day, a national holiday based around community and fellowship. So what about our members of the community who do not live by family or, for whatever reason, do not have a large social network or experience loss or something?”
This yearning to extend hospitality to those hungry for both food and fellowship is what initially drove David Pawson, elder of Crossroads and chair of the Community Care Committee, to dream alongside the manager of Limerick Lanes, Chris Buser. After over ten years of the church fielding a team in Limerick Lanes’ bowling league, Elder Balsoon and Buser discovered they both shared a passion to extend radical hospitality to their community struggling with increased food insecurity. Aware the alley was closed on Thanksgiving Day, they collectively imagined what it could look like to open the lanes and offer a holiday gathering to their neighbors for whom such an experience may elude them for a variety of reasons. “For many of the families who struggle, to take their family out for bowling and a meal is something that doesn’t happen,” commented Pawson. “I believe in making memories. I think that everyone who attends will never forget it.” The community has certainly not forgotten. Instead, Turkey Bowl has become a much-anticipated Limerick tradition that has welcomed over 3,500 people in five years, including 950 registered this past November. “The need is out there- it is widespread,” Pawson said. “Find people and they will come.”
While the event continues to increase in attendance, Turkey Bowl is about far more than impressive numbers. Instead, what makes Turkey Bowl unique is the way the gathering breaks down barriers, creates opportunities for conversations across lines of difference, and celebrates the dignity of all people who attend. Turkey Bowl is not marketed as a ministry to the hungry or an outreach to the poor, although many who experience such vulnerabilities attend; rather, Crossroads convenes this event as a way to bring all people together as an alley of hope. “We try our best to get a small glimpse of what the kingdom to come could look like,” added Rev. Thompson. “[Each year] a diverse group of people gather around to share a meal, share in fun, and attack our dessert table before they are supposed to…We are putting people on lanes together with no concept of how they voted in the last election, where they went to high school, did they go to college, do they own their own home, or are they in section 8 housing- they are just on a lane together.”
As Turkey Bowl has grown, so have their community partnerships and volunteer base. Local restaurants and grocery stores have provided both funding and ingredients for the extravagant meal, local women’s groups have knit over 200 quilts to give away to children, bus and van rental companies have provided free shuttle services around Limerick, and individuals have invested countless hours in food preparation, t-shirt designing, activity coordination, and more. First Presbyterian Church of Pottstown, located eight miles from Crossroads, has even made their industrial kitchen available each year as they prepare over 460 pounds of turkey, 240 pounds of homemade macaroni and cheese, 750 servings of coleslaw, and numerous desserts- all made from scratch. Along the way, the congregation has learned not only about the pressing realities facing their more vulnerable neighbors, but also how to risk responding with a playful dignity that refuses isolation and condescension of those with whom they likely shared a lane.
The witness of Crossroads serves as a faithful reminder of what the Spirit can do when God’s people dare to dream alongside members of their larger community. As they have rolled their visions down the lanes of possibility, they have discovered how even a small congregation can make a large impact as embodiments of the kingdom of God in their immediate neighborhood. “If it is something you are interested in or passionate about- try it,” Rev. Thompson said as a challenge both to his church and those scattered throughout the Presbytery of Philadelphia. “Take the risk because the greater risk is doing nothing. The gospel is not helped by those who do nothing but by those who do something and take risks.” In the midst of endless needs and vulnerabilities throughout Greater Philadelphia, may each of our churches and related ministries risk asking what the kingdom of God might look like in the places we have been called and alongside our neighbors to whom we have been sent. Then, get to it. After all, if the kingdom of God can look like a bowling alley- anything is possible.
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