Some churches do, while others don’t
Area congregations split on allowing alcohol, gambling at their events
Some Dakota County religious organizations fundraise with events that include alcohol and gambling, while others refrain from those activities, citing concerns about the potential for harm and liability.
The St. Paul Minneapolis Archdiocese allows member Catholic churches to establish their own policies regarding alcohol and gambling, Archdiocese spokesman Jim Accurso said.
“Individual parishes need to follow local municipal and risk management guidelines and meet their requirements for dispensing liquor (and) providing alcohol and games of chance,” Accurso said.
Rock music, alcohol and raffles are part of the Lakeville All Saints Church “All Saints Rocks” fundraiser held at the church this weekend.
“I have been to virtually every one of these events that have happened since I have been here and I have never once seen a situation out of control,” All Saints Church Rev. Tom Wilson said.
St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Farmington, conducts annual fundraisers that have included raffles, bingo and a bar that includes mixed-drinks.
The Farmington City Council recently approved the church’s application for a gambling event permit and a temporary on-sale liquor license in the church’s social hall for its May 2 spring fundraiser.
“It has been my experience that we do not over-serve, said Eric Larson, director of music at St. Michael’s.
Mary Rousseau, five-year chair of the St. John Neumann Catholic Church’s annual congregational picnic, said any idea of including alcohol and gambling at their Eagan church’s social events would “get shot down” by the parish council.
“It’s definitely not a good message,” she said. “There’s so many negative things that come around with alcohol, and so many negative things that happen with drinking and driving. The church has no business being a part of that environment.”
Faithful Shepherd Catholic School in Eagan annually hosts “Septemberfest,” a large outdoor music festival billed as the “Biggest Rock the Flock Party in the Burbs,” and has included “happy hour” specials on alcoholic beverages.
The concert portion of the event is open to the community, ages 21 and up, and draws crowds of between 1,000 and 3,000, said John Boone, Faithful Shepherd Catholic School executive director.
Eagan police Chief Jim McDonald said few problems have been reported related to the event.
Police received about 30 noise complaints in 2008 that were resolved by repositioning the stage to face away from the lone residential development in the primarily industrial area.
In 2009, a 27-year-old Apple Valley woman was arrested after she and two others began pushing and dumping beer on each other in the crowd near center-stage, according to an Eagan police report.
In conjunction with the All Saints gala, people are invited to pay the church $25 per-person to attend themed parties hosted at parishioners’ homes.
All Saints advertises party themes that include “Oktoberfest!” with “plenty of beer, wine and a darn good time!”
An “adults-only” “Mexican Fiesta!” offers food and “pop, beer and a bottomless pitcher of margaritas!”
“Back to the College Days!” party advertises “plenty of beer, homemade WOP (an alcoholic punch) and lots of dancing music!”
Wilson said the parties help build community and support church educational programs.
While the events are promoted through the gala and their proceeds go to the church, Wilson said the events are “not a church activity” because they are held at parishioners’ homes.
“Those are private parties people are sponsoring,” Wilson said.
He added the party boards are a long-standing fundraising custom in the church that offer an opportunity for parishioners to socialize in the comfort of their own homes.
In the five years Wilson has headed the All Saints Church and school, he said there have been no complaints about alcohol or gambling at the events the church hosts.
He said they will review fundraising activities once complete, but anticipates no changes to continue their fundraising traditions or party boards.
“It’s a custom they’ve had for a long time,” he said.
Catholic denominations are not the only churches that serve alcohol and/or allow gambling at church-sponsored events.
At Nativity Episcopal Church, Burnsville, an annual adults-only gala that in 2011 was themed “Island in the Sun” included a bar and raffle.
Items auctioned at that event included wine and beer.
Saints Martha and Mary Episcopal Church, Eagan, offers wine and beer at its “Oktoberfest” event, said Warden John Waedell.
He said they do not consider alcohol taboo, noting, “There was wine served at the Last Supper.”
He added that alcohol and gambling are not activities their church events emphasize.
“We have families who bring teenagers,” he said. “Everyone is expected to be on their best behavior and have a good time.”
Several churches limit the number of alcoholic beverages served per-person at their events.
Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Apple Valley held an “Oktoberfest” worship and dinner service in October that included a beverage ticket for one serving of wine or beer, as is church policy, according to Jennifer Maxwell, operations director.
She added the church does not allow gambling.
Laurel Gaard, business administrator at Easter Lutheran Church, Eagan, said they do not oppose adults enjoying moderate gambling and alcohol consumption, but do not offer those activities at church functions in part because of liability concerns.
“We would be quite concerned about repercussions to the congregation,” she said.
Gaard added that no alcohol is allowed on church premises except for Communion wine and Easter Lutheran does not hold any type of fundraisers at the church.
“We’ve never done an event with gambling, and I can’t imagine we would,” she said.
Rosemount United Methodist Church has a policy against any alcohol on its property, and serves grape juice for Communion, said Tami Luckhardt, operations director with the church.
She said the Methodist Church has an official policy prohibiting gambling in its churches.
Many of the churches that fundraise with parties that include alcohol are also locations where alcohol addiction recovery groups meet.
Anna Ostenso, director of faith formation at Nativity Episcopal Church, said she sees no conflict that the recovery groups rent their building for meetings.
“We don’t think it’s bad at all,” she said. “ I think we should model responsible behavior.”
She added that the church responsibly locks up all alcohol when there is not an event.
Mike Swecker, pastor at Hosanna! Church, Lakeville, also oversees the church’s Prayer and Freedom Ministries, and expressed concern about church activities that include alcohol and gambling.
“I help people avoid such entrapments,” Swecker said.
He said he regularly sees families torn apart and losing their homes because of gambling and addiction.
“That impacts the community, because now we have a displaced family … the kids need some kind of placement,” he said.
Laura Adelmann is at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/sunthisweek.