Meet Grant Henry — the man behind Sister Louisa's Church

Grant Henry is the owner of Sister Louisa's Church of the Living Room & Ping Pong Emporium. (Courtesy of Grant Henry)

Grant Henry, also known as Sister Louisa, is the owner and creator of Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium, located on Edgewood Ave. When you walk into Church, as its patrons affectionately abbreviate it, you’ll know right away if it’s a place you want to be. The bar plays with and spoofs church culture.

Organ karaoke is performed in choir robes, and the walls are decorated with cheeky religious pop art created by the one and only Sister Louisa. Making light of religion is obviously not for everyone, yet since opening in 2010, Church has been wildly successful. It’s become a staple of the Atlanta bar scene, and a sister bar has since opened in Athens.

The story behind Sister Louisa’s Church is really the story of Grant Henry, and he joined “City Lights” senior producer Kim Drobes via Zoom to tell us about his life, his art and his bars. 

Interview highlights follow below.

An actual former minister-in-training:

“For me, church and going to seminary was a truth search,” said Henry. “As much as anything, I had been involved as a child in the Methodist church and then went into the Presbyterian Church after a marriage, and I was very involved in the seminary when I was there. I loved it, but like everything in life, I don’t really attach to the outcome so much. I enjoyed digging deeper into religion and into spiritual paths, and actually, by the end of seminary, my goal was more toward pastoral care than actually leading a church.”

Henry continued, “My understanding of when you got through the Presbyterian seminary, you had to stand up in front of the church and say ‘Only through Jesus Christ is salvation possible,’ being a Christian seminary, and I grappled with that. And I had done work in the church and outside of the church that involved people who were enlightened from different religions or from their own spiritual path, and so I didn’t feel it was truthful for me to say, ‘Only through Jesus Christ is salvation possible.’ So they said, ‘Well, you have to say it,’ and I said, ‘Well, I can’t say it.’”

The origins of Sister Louisa’s unmistakable art style:

“One of the people at the seminary said, ‘They’re only words, Henry. They’re only words. Just say the words,’” Henry recounted. “Back in the day in the ’90s, I had an antique shop in East Atlanta, and it was called Resurrection Antiques and Otherworldly Possessions in the Church of the Living Room, and it was a total failure. But I had a bunch of paint-by-numbers that were Jesus and whatever. So there was an art show at the Telephone Factory where I lived at the time, so I went and grabbed all the paint by numbers out of my shop, and I started writing on them.”

“I did an art show with 66.6 pieces of Sister Louisa art. I did ’em on windows, on paint-by-numbers, on pictures of Jesus, on boards, on whatever, and to me, it was like, ‘So Sister Louisa art is only words.’ And so to me, it was like; you can’t tell me that it’s only words, to basically lie, to say only through Jesus Christ is salvation possible. You can’t say that and then also have problems with the words that I’m putting on the paintings — which are all true. It’s Sister Louisa’s voice. It’s got to be that fine line between reverence and irreverence. It’s got to be not an answer; it’s got to be a question.”

On sin, righteousness and changing your relationship with fear:

“I do feel like that Sister Louisa’s Church is a church. I believe that the parishioners at Sister Louisa’s Church are as caring and diverse and whole and sincere and righteous and sinful as the parishioners at any church in the neighborhood, and we have a lot of churches in the neighborhood,” said Henry. 

“I was raised to be correct. I was raised to follow instructions. I was raised to do what other people wanted me to do. So for me to get to the point when I thought, ‘Okay, this is Grant Henry, this is who I am…’ I had to face a lot of fear,” Henry said. “I didn’t open this bar ’til I was 54 years old. So it wasn’t until I was 54 years old that I finally realized I don’t care … I don’t care if I please people. I don’t care if somebody likes something or doesn’t like it. In order to do anything in life, I’ve got to be authentic. And at 54 – I’m 65 now — so at 54 to basically decide to figure out how to go through it, I pinpointed it’s fear that keeps me from doing anything.”