Monday Memory: Old Otterbein Church and its peanut ministry

Admit it: you’ve passed by Old Otterbein United Methodist Church on Conway Street a bazillion times en route from lunch or dinner at Harborplace to an Orioles game at Camden Yards.

Since 1771, Baltimoreans have been worshiping at the historic brick structure, now wedged between the Convention Center and the Sheraton Hotel, and this 2007 YouTube video proves that parishioners apparently have a sense of humor about the position of Yankees and Red Sox fans in the universe.

Well, either that or the big guy is wearing black-and-orange robes.

Besides its historical significance and innate sense of baseball hierarchy, Old Otterbein is known for some of the tastiest peanuts ever hawked. In fact, those shelled treats have allowed the church to maintain its campus. When churchgoers say, “Praise the Lord and pass the peanuts,” they’re actually saying thank-you to baseball fans who probably don’t realize the impact they have.

Back in 1992, when Camden Yards was still brand-spanking-new, church member Edythe Parthree brought some bags of peanuts to sell at the annual strawberry festival at Old Otterbein. There were leftovers, so some enterprising soul decided to take them out to Conway Street in hopes of selling them to O’s fans traveling on foot to the new ballpark past the oldest church edifice in continuous use in Baltimore.

At $1 a bag, bargain-conscious folks snapped them up like hotcakes, and what became known as Old Otterbein’s Peanut Ministry humbly began. Since then, the church has become a familar stopping point for the O’s faithful, whose dollar bills and coins have helped restore the church organ, replace the roof, fix crumbling brick walls, and repair plumbing, heating and electrical systems, and storm damage from fallen trees.

Not surprisingly, Red Sox and Yankees series are the biggest money-makers. Hence, signs like the one above. Visitors from Boston and New York stop to gawk, take pictures and plunk down a buck for a bag of shelled legumes (or a bottle of cold water on a hot day). How’s that for some creative target marketing? Little do they know that their meager contribution amounts to a lot more than peanuts for a Charm City institution.

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