Re-Thinking Bingo

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(Originally posted on http://digitaldiatribes.wordpress.com on 1/30/2007)

I’ve never quite “gotten” the whole BINGO thing. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that I’ve been in the rolling-of-the-eyes category. Perhaps not in the same category as trying to figure out why someone would get their tongue pierced, but I’d probably lump it in with how I view someone who would decide to try and stand on one foot for as long as they could. But my duties as a Pastoral Council member forced upon me the duty of working BINGO at our Parish last Saturday night. Not one to suffer alone, I also signed up my two daughters. We were assigned “popcorn duty.”

Let me explain a little something about our Parish BINGO. This is the BINGO where people have the printed sheets with umpteen sets of numbers, ink blotters, and a very serious look on their faces. We are not talking four corners or a single line. BINGO has advanced over the years. We now make the letter “K” or “T” or “E.” We have four corners and a postage stamp. I saw one design that I think was a park bench. (A fun exercise as the evening went on was to try and come up with new designs. I think I made a strong case for a Jesus-fish!)

But it’s not just the BINGO that goes from 6 PM until the last game finishes somewhere between 9:00-9:30 PM. I happened to be playing keyboards at 4:00 Mass that evening, and I noticed about 50 people already claiming their spot more than two hours before the first number was to be called. I can only assume these were “lucky spots.” It was a truly amazing scene.

Anyway, after Mass my daughters and I dutifully arrived and were taught how to make the popcorn, shovel the popcorn, and serve the popcorn. This is no small feat. The popcorn is free, and everyone eats it. By 6:00, the goal is to serve most people, and I truly believe that I got more exercise in that half-hour than had I played a couple games of racquetball. But we managed to perform our task, and continue serving through the first session.

I also had the opportunity to observe the crowd. As expected, a large percentage were elderly, but not all. All generations were represented. I heard stories about people complaining about the free popcorn and how you don’t dare touch anything on the table unless directed to do so. And I dare say that I heard more than one “blue word” emanate from the mouth of an 85-year-old grandmother when BINGO was called and she was one number away. Most fascinating to me was the ability of a gentle old woman with ink-blotter in shaky hand, to mark a dozen sheets in the blink of an eye with laser-like precision at the call of the number.

So, my first impression of BINGO was seemingly solidified. A boring waste of time, and why is our Church promoting something that is basically gambling?

And that’s when I took a little time to really reflect on what I was seeing. And that’s when I understood that my first impression couldn’t be more wrong.

I think we assume that social ministries aren’t really ministries. And I believe that we tend to think that if we “don’t get it” that nobody should “get it.” Of course, the Church must evangelize, and be faithful to the Gospel, and help the poor. But that doesn’t exclude ministering in other ways.

For many of these people, starting at 3:30 PM or so, this was a time of spending time in a Church hall, enjoying conversation, playing cards, and looking forward to an evening doing something they enjoy. They are being served a meal, and enjoying a snack.

I saw grandparents spend an evening with grandchildren, and maybe even three generations spending an evening together. These small children will remember spending time with Grandma and Grandpa.

In addition, this afforded the opportunity for my daughters and I to spend an evening doing something together, and serving others at the same time. They had some other friends there as well to share in the evening.

Same event, two perspectives. I, for one, will not be so quick to ridicule BINGO in the future. One day, I may be that old guy in the back complaining that my free popcorn doesn’t have enough butter.

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