St. Edward’s evangelization is intentionally fun, not just a roll of the dice

LOWELL – The sound of dozens of dice rolling across cloth-covered tables did not drown the conversation and laughter enjoyed by 100 bunco players who gathered Feb. 18 in the sun-filled gym at St. Edward.
The gym was transformed for the parish’s Bunco and Blessings afternoon. Sponsored by the Altar and Rosary Society, the organized hub of activity included dozens of games of bunco – a dice game in which players are divided into groups of four, each trying to score points while taking turns rolling three dice in a series of six rounds, which are repeated multiple times. Players move from table to table as they win each round.
“This is so well done,” said Lesley Erpelding, who was invited by her in-laws who are parishioners at St. Edward. “This is very fun. I’ve been to others before…this is so well organized. I like the comradery here. Everyone is friendly and welcoming. I love meeting new people.”
Parishioners Lori Schweingueber and Cindy Riddle have attended both of the bunco events put on by members of the Altar and Rosary Society. “I love it; this is my second time,” Riddle said. “I watch for activities like this. My favorite part is socializing. Sometimes I win, but that is not the best part.”
A bunco is achieved when a person rolls three-of-a-kind and all three numbers match the round number, one to six, which is decided at the beginning of the round. The winner is the player with the most “wins” or “buncos” at the end of play.
Whether or not participants win a bunco, the goal is for as many people as possible to walk away with a prize, according to June Leader, president of the Altar and Rosary Society. There were about 65 door prizes and more than 20 raffle baskets. 
“We want everyone to walk away with something,” she said, explaining that everyone received a little goodie bag of candy at the end of the event.
All of the raffle prizes were donated, noted Elaine Dainton, secretary of the Altar and Rosary Society.         The event takes almost eight weeks to prepare. She said the group is always trying to work on making its events the best they can be.
Almost half of the crowd were not parishioners, said Dainton, which makes the event an evangelization opportunity. “We bring everyone together,” she said. “We want people to know that we are Catholic. We are warm and welcoming. Catholics have fun things going on. Sometimes there is a stigma (about being unwelcoming). We want to showcase what we can do.”
Father Rick Holy, pastor of St. Edward, kicked off the event with a prayer before the meal of chicken salad, pasta salad, potato salad and dozens of desserts, and then blessed the participants before they began their bunco games.
“One of the things that we have been trying to do in a number of different ways…is bring the Church back to what it was – the hub of the community, the social activity center of the neighborhood. This is a way of evangelizing without doing direct evangelizing,” Father Holy said. “It’s about the hospitality and the fun, and we draw them in through fellowship. They don’t have to step into the church just yet. This is who we are, spending time with neighbors and friends.”
Father Holy was one of a handful of men who attended the event. Joe Erpelding said he and his wife were glad his daughter-in-law enjoyed the afternoon. He joked that he was there for security purposes. 
“I’m here to break up any fights that might occur,” he said with a laugh. “Actually, I’m just here because my wife told me to.”
John Leader, who was involved with set-up and clean-up, echoed similar sentiments. “My wife is very involved with this; therefore, so am I. I go wherever she tells me,” he said.
In addition to inviting men to the event, another special feature of this bunco gathering were the tables set aside for those with mobility issues. For those who had difficulty walking, there was a table or two for them to remain seated during the games.
“We try to be accommodating for everyone,” Dainton said. “Planning and doing all of this is a lot of work, but it’s even more fun!”
Vicki Brown said the comradery is amazing. “We are very active when our kids are little. An event like this brings us back together. It’s a fun afternoon with your church, such a positive environment. It’s like a home – welcoming and warm.”
“We all work together,” added Leader, noting that with 35 active members, all women of the parish are automatically members of the Altar and Rosary Society. “The biggest blessing is us gathering together.”
All the family, friends and guests are welcome back to the next Bunco and Blessing scheduled for Oct. 20.


Caption: Lesley Erpelding rolls the dice as Vicki Bush looks on during St. Edward's Bunco and Blessings event on Feb. 18. About 100 participants enjoyed food and fellowship in the school gym. (Lynda J. Hemmerling photo)