BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — The parishioners who run Wednesday-night bingo at St. James Church have resigned and the long-standing game is about to shut down.
The end of a charity gambling game that began decades ago and produces substantial revenue for the parish appears to be the result of a clash between the parishioners who have run the game for years and the new Salem collaborative.
Rich Julien, a volunteer who heads the bingo committee, made the announcement to the estimated 240 bingo players who packed the church basement Wednesday night.
“There were a lot of tears ... a lot of hugs,” he said. “I was overwhelmed by the reaction that these people had.”
The Rev. Daniel Riley, pastor of the collaborative, will announce the news in this weekend’s church bulletin, which is distributed at the collaborative’s four Catholic churches: Immaculate Conception, St. Anne, St. John the Baptist and St. James.
“I was respectfully informed that the bingo leadership team was resigning and ... would be ending the Wednesday-night bingo at St. James on Wednesday, April 9 ... .” Riley wrote in the bulletin article.
“I expressed to the head of the bingo leadership team my regret at seeing the bingo close, and at the same time, my respect for the right of the bingo leadership team to choose to resign, and my thanks for all that the bingo leadership team and all the bingo workers have done,” the pastor wrote.
Riley said he contacted the Archdiocese of Boston and “was given immediate and complete assurance they would financially see us through whatever challenges this change brings.”
He declined to comment beyond what was printed in the bulletin.
In addition to being a popular social event, bingo is big business for the Catholic church and many other nonprofit organizations — not to mention the state.
Last year, the state’s gross bingo revenues were more than $33 million, according to the Massachusetts Lottery.
The Wednesday-night game at St. James had gross revenues of $320,000 last year, prize winnings of $227,000, and generated $68,000 for the parish, some of it in rent, according to the Lottery.
Julien said that he and the other members of the bingo committee decided to resign after being told that the collaborative would be handling the bingo finances.
The Salem Collaborative is one of the first formed by the archdiocese in response to the dwindling number of priests and declining church attendance and finances. Beginning in June, the four Salem parishes were reorganized under one pastor, a pastoral staff, a parish council and other committees.
“With the formation of the collaborative, things have changed,” Julien said. “They want things to be done in a different way.”
Julien said he and the other members of the bingo committee have extensive financial and accounting backgrounds and have been involved in numerous parish activities for many years.
For years, bingo provided financial aid to a parish school, which has since closed.
“We have extremely detailed accounting procedures we put into place for the bingo,” he said. As a result of the work of a large team of dedicated volunteers, he said the St. James bingo game has been “wildly successful.”
Julien said the bingo committee felt it couldn’t keep running bingo while others kept the records and controlled the finances.
“They want to take complete charge of the financial aspects of the whole operation, and in doing so, we feel we’re going to lose track of everything we’ve done to make this whole thing successful ... In some cases, it comes down to a matter of principle, too. We know what we’ve been doing successfully, and it’s like, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’”
There has been no word on whether the collaborate plans to apply to the state to start a new bingo game at St. James.
There is also a Friday-night bingo game at St. John the Baptist Church, which is part of the collaborative.
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.