With the news surrounding Sarah Hyden-Smith, first female pastor in Lennox Valley, and Raymond Cooper’s conversion at the Lutheran church, one might think the other churches on the town square took a back seat during the summer of 1998. But the good Lord works in mysterious ways, and during the summer of ’98, it was truer in the Valley than in most places.
Sure, the Methodists and Lutherans might have been hogging the limelight at the moment, but it hadn’t been long since Todd Cecil, world-famous televangelist, graced the stage at First Baptist Church, and plans were already being made for the annual Baptist Men’s Breakfast and Turkey Shoot.
Don’t think the Catholics were suffering from lack of attention. Unlike their Baptist brethren, the good folks at All Saints Catholic Church didn’t need celebrities or firearms to have a good time. They knew their faith, which had lasted 20 centuries, depended on tradition rather than big one-time events to keep the flames fanned. And no tradition was more important than Friday night bingo.
Yes, every Friday night, most Valley Catholics, as well as a good number of Lutherans and Methodists, filled the parish hall for the chance to scream "bingo!" and walk home with cash and other valuable prizes.
Probably no one enjoyed bingo night more than Helen Walker. Helen had been playing bingo at All Saints for as long as anyone could remember. She always showed up early, right at 4:55, and took her place on the first row, left of the center aisle.
It was important that Helen get her front row seat because, well, she couldn’t hear as well as she once did. It was all she could do to make out the faint letters being called out over the parish hall sound system. Her hearing was so bad, in fact, that almost every week, she would hear some of the numbers incorrectly, thinking she had made bingo when she really hadn’t. Over time, other players began allowing Helen to think she had won, rather than go through the arduous task of explaining to her what had really happened. Anyway, most folks thought it was cute that Helen went home every week thinking she was a big winner.
Helen particularly liked the "special" games played each week. Two or three times each Friday, the caller would yell, "Catholic bingo!" and Father O’Reilly would come to the stage and pull a random card out of a box next to the caller’s microphone. Each card corresponded with a different "Catholic" version of bingo.
Helen’s favorite was "Rosary Prayer Bingo," although she was often confused by the caller’s words. Just last week, she had confused "Glory be to the Father" with "Hail Holy Queen" and walked off with the $20 jackpot.
This was a special bingo night, as Valley Mayor "Silver Tongue" Dick Bland was on hand to call one game. With his roaring voice, it would be less likely that Helen would win during his game.
Showing up at bingo was a calculated risk for the mayor. He was a member of First Baptist Church, which normally gave him a distinct advantage on Election Day. But with the election just five weeks away, Bland found himself in the fight of his life against challenger Raymond Cooper.
Bland decided it was worth the risk, possibly upsetting some of the voters at his home church, where games such as bingo were frowned upon. He hoped his Baptist base would understand his predicament while he picked up a few votes among bingo night regulars.
On any other Friday night, Raymond Cooper would show up to disrupt the mayor’s limelight. However, this was no normal night. While the lights were bright at All Saints Parish Hall, other lights were shining down the street at the radio station as Cooper met with Marvin Walsh and Elbert Lee Jones to find a way out of the mess they had made earlier in the day when they spilled the beans about the cause of egg price inflation in the valley.
"I sense," Raymond told his fellow conspirators, "that the Lord is about to shake up Lennox Valley Lutheran Church this Sunday like it’s never been shaken before."
At that very moment, the excited voice of none other than Helen Walker could be heard in the distance as she shouted, "bingo!"
Each week, "The Good Folks of Lennox Valley" chronicles the happenings of a fictional American small town.