American Baptist Churches of Pennsylvania and Delaware

Christian Sympathy
Grace Thornton Lawrence Shirk


Grace Thornton Lawrence Shirk, who resided in Lancashire Retirement Village, is home at last.

Grace was born in Johnstown, PA on December 6, 1935 to Reverend George and Eva Peterson Thornton. She was sister to Jeanne Allen and Helen Gervascio, who predeceased her. She graduated from Jeannette High School and was educated at Westminster College, Baptist Institute, and Southern Seminary.

Grace was the first woman employed by the Allegheny Valley YMCA in Tarentum, PA to develop and direct family, children, and camping programming.

Grace married George James Lawrence in 1957, and he preceded her in death on August 4, 2001. She is also preceded in death by her daughter, Claudia Eve (Lawrence) Parise, who passed on April 19, 2017; her son, Blake Thornton Lawrence, who passed on December 19, 2011; and her son in-law, Frank Parise, Jr., who passed on March 14, 2022. Grace’s survivors include her son, Eric James Lawrence; her daughter in-law, Rachael Lawrence; her three grandchildren: Kevin Parise (wife Caitlin), Jennifer Parise, Benjamin Lawrence (wife Caitlin); and her two great-grandchildren, Peyton and Nolan Parise.

Grace was a den mother, a Brownie and Girl Scout leader, and a Red Cross certified water safety instructor for 25 years. She taught nursery school in Mechanicsburg, PA, served as state officer of Church Women United, and served as chair of public advocacy for Pennsylvania Council of Churches. In 1979, she began a clown ministry, performing and teaching both locally and nationally for over 20 years. Grace served the American Baptist Churches of Pennsylvania and Delaware from 1976-1985. In 1985, she was ordained. She served First Baptist Church in Lykens and First Regular Baptist Church in Lewistown. Her interim ministry took her to Westgate Baptist Church, St. Peter’s First Baptist Church, and Zeltenreich United Church of Christ. Grace was an advocate for Women in Ministry. She led many spiritual retreats and was a Bible study leader throughout the American Baptist Churches USA. Grace was named woman of the year, outstanding citizen of Lykens, PA, was president of the board of directors for human services in Dauphin County, and was elected mayor of the borough of Lykens, PA. She was fondly called “pastor to the community”, was past matron of Order of the Eastern Star, and was president of Lancashire Terrace Residents Association.

In 2004, Grace married James “Bud” Shirk. They met in Kodiak, AK while serving on a mission trip. Bud passed away on April 12, 2017.

She served on mission trips to Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, Habitat for Humanity Altoona, and Appalachian Ministries with World Servants. Her ministry led to her becoming pastor at the Baptist House in Chautauqua, NY. She was volunteer chaplain in several nursing homes, and she enjoyed playing the piano, organ, and autoharp.

Grace was a member of Westgate Baptist Church. She was blessed with many nieces and nephews, their families, and a cousin, John Peltz, of Glenolden.

“The strife is o’er, the battle done;
the victory of life is won; the song of triumph has begun.

Contributions in celebration of Grace’s life can be made to Lancaster Cleft Palate Clinic, 223 North Lime Street, Lancaster, PA 17602; or Kodiak Baptist Mission, 1944 East Rezanof Drive, Kodiak, AK 99615.

All are welcome to join Grace’s family at her celebration of life open house and gathering of family and friends on Sunday, September 25, 2022, at 6:30 p.m. at Westgate Baptist Church, 2235 Harrisburg Pike, Lancaster, PA 17601.