By Melissa Wuske
“We were in heaven. You couldn’t tell us we weren’t in heaven.” That’s how Eric Lorick recalls the early days of Inner City Church of Christ in Baltimore, which started in January 2014. On Sundays the church would set up for worship—and then tear down—in a rented space in a community center. “[Such] work brings us together as a church family,” he said.
From those earliest days, his vision was “to make a difference, to bring hope to the hopeless. . . . You can’t do better than that in a city like Baltimore.”
That vision is fueled by a life of faith. “You don’t live life without challenges,” said Lorick, “but one thing I understand about being in Christ is [that] God provides just what he said. Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and he’ll add anything else to your life. He hasn’t missed a beat with mine.”
A Heart for the Community
Lorick was 60 when he and his wife, Andrea, started the church with a dozen people, including their son, who is now an assistant minister. “Everybody was a teacher of the Word,” Lorick said. “That was a powerful strength for us.”
Before the first service, the church was already serving the community. In 2013 they partnered with a nonprofit that wanted to expose inner-city kids to water sports, to “introduce them to another paradigm . . . something different,” Lorick said. “It hit me right in my heart because [seeing another way of life] happened to me as a young man.” He recalled a job that introduced him to different people and even led to the opportunity to go white-water rafting—“I’d only seen that on Wide World of Sports!”
The event with the nonprofit was a success; it included a short Bible study. “I had two teenage boys cry that this was the best time they ever had in their life,” Lorick said. The partnership with the nonprofit is entering its seventh year.
The church now has mentoring programs for young men and women and hosts financial workshops to help people get out of debt and pursue homeownership (the Loricks and their son all have professional experience in finance). There’s a vegetable garden “we’re using to teach the children about the seasons of change with God,” said Lorick, “and also they can get out there and get their hands dirty, and they can see the fruits of their work.” The church also has a community fair with health services, backpacks for kids, free legal services, employers who hire on the spot, and information about Bible classes at the church and elsewhere.
“Everything we do is about spreading the borders of God’s kingdom,” Lorick said. “We’re using whatever means we can.”
Lorick has more ideas for the future, including a scholarship fund to help meet students’ nutritional needs in college and classes to help men learn to read.
A Long-Term Home
The church spent two years in the community center, and then moved to a shopping center. After a few years in that location, a change was needed. The church was growing, but their finances couldn’t sustain the high rent much longer.
“God’s always placed in our path what we need when we need it,” Lorick said.
That’s when Lorick found out about The Solomon Foundation. “They really blessed us,” Lorick said, “because they said they don’t do churches under a hundred people, and we had only built ours up to 70 members. But our offering and our books were impeccable to the point that they really couldn’t see not financing this church in the city.”
With TSF’s assistance, Inner City Church of Christ was able to buy an existing church building (with a house on the property that would be used for education and fellowship) and finance needed renovations. The structures are on a 1.3-acre site. “It’s almost impossible to get that amount of land in the city.” By owning rather than renting, monthly expenses were cut by $3,200 a month.
“We’re right in the middle of the neighborhood. The houses are on all four sides of us. [My wife and I] raised our family right here in this neighborhood for 25 years.” The Loricks, who have been married 45 years, moved out of the city when they became empty nesters, “but our hearts never, ever left Baltimore city.”
Lorick sees a gift in being able to strike up conversations with neighbors, especially the kids who play on the church property. “As far as they’re concerned, it’s theirs,” he laughed. The immediate area has seen three churches come through in three years, but he assures neighbors Inner City Church is here to stay, and the attitudes of those who live nearby are beginning to change. “We’ve got to prove ourselves to be good neighbors,” he said.
“My prayer has always been that God makes us a strong congregation,” and not just one that is adding to its numbers, Lorick said.
Many in the congregation work several jobs, while also following the Loricks’ lead by serving at church and in the community. “They see me scrub floors and scrub toilets,” said Lorick, who just began to draw a partial salary this year. “I’m a trench person. I was a deacon first. That’s thankless work. I’ve never stopped being a deacon.”
When it came time to raise money for the building’s down payment, Lorick knew the congregation would come through. “We’re not a congregation of people with high salaries. We’re just average, everyday struggling [people].” Church members loaned from their 401(k)s and gave money they’d saved for upgrades to their own homes. Within weeks, they’d met their goal.
Impacting the City
Now that Inner City Church of Christ has begun to put down permanent roots in the neighborhood, they are looking to fulfill their vision—to plant other congregations in the city. “Our goal is to go deeper into the city.” Lorick is training leaders in his congregation and across the city. He’s also supporting ministers in other parts of the city, including a minister in Sandtown who began ministry there shortly after the death of Freddie Gray in 2015. “He was going to be my assistant minister,” said Lorick, “but God said no.”
The city is Lorick’s home, but doing ministry there is a choice. “This is a missionary work,” he said. “Nobody wanted to stay in the city.” But he knows the salvation God brought to his life is exactly what the city of Baltimore needs. “I’m a recovering addict and alcoholic for the last 31 years. I say God saved me just for this.”
The Loricks relished the early days of the church, and they also love leading the church in this new phase. “We’re living our best life,” said Lorick. “It’s a wonderful time. I’m on a spiritual high. I love the challenge.”
Melissa Wuske is a freelance editor and writer. She and her husband, Shawn, and their son, Caleb, live and minister in Cincinnati. Find her work online at melissaannewuske.com.