Protestant churches survive without bingo and raffles

Our local senior center holds a well-attended bingo game once a week. “B-10,” a moderator announces by microphone, and a hundred heads nod to scan their cards. It’s a good money maker for city services while providing a needed social event. Our local parish does the same to provide funding otherwise unavailable for maintenance and charitable services. Sometimes a priest attends but usually not, and few people talk to one another.

Most Protestant churches ban bingo games, interpreting Jesus’s whip-cleansing of the Temple more rigorously than Catholics. “You have made my father’s Temple a den of thieves” (Matt 21:13). Their argument is that a House of God is there for worship, not games of chance. Catholics argue that without such lotteries, local parish churches would fail.

One has to question why the Mormons don’t hold casino nights. In fact, gambling is illegal throughout Utah. Their church officially eschews gambling, and no funds are raised through gambling. Wards are not permitted to hold raffles and tithing is not accepted from gambling. Proceeds from gambling are considered “filthy lucre.” That’s not to say that Mormons don’t gamble, but they don’t do it in a Temple setting. How is it this Protestant sect can survive without bingo and lottery raffle games?

The answer is simple: tithing. To be a Mormon in good standing requires tithing 10% of your income. Protestants also give generously. But Catholics, not so much.

So parish pastors are forced to raise funds, especially when the pews stay vacant all week. It’s a vicious downward cycle, with pastors busy managing money-making activities and trying to maintain overbuilt facilities. Some haven’t time to write a moving sermon for weary parishioners on Sunday, and members quit attending because the sermon message never reaches their hearts.

What’s the solution to this conundrum? Another multimillion dollar fund-raising campaign for a glossy new church or rectory? Will that stir up fiery devotion? I doubt it.

Church members are badgered for pledges ill-afforded these days, and they resent it. Besides, who likes donations going toward paying millions in clerical abuse cases? Nobody. Further, fancy altars of sculpted marble, gilded chasubles, and gold chalices cost too much money.

What ever happened to tent meetings and folding seats at a make-shift altar? I recall attending Mass at a YMCA summer camp where we sat on splintered wooden benches. The altar was a wooden table draped with a white cloth. No fancy stuff. Neither we kids nor the priest seemed to mind the rustic ambiance enhancing the Mass. When the priest described Jesus’s sermon on a grassy  knoll, we got the picture looking out beyond our tent to a flowered meadow. We didn’t insist on an expensive brick and mortar facility, just to worship in spirit and truth. We worshiped as little children have always done, going bare foot on dewy grass in the sunshine, communing with nature and Our Father.


Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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