In summer, church parking lot becomes haven for swing bowling

One of the rituals at St. John’s Lutheran Church isn’t focused on the Almighty.

WATERLOO, Ont. — One of the rituals at St. John’s Lutheran Church isn’t focused on the Almighty.

Sure, some of the 30 men congregating in the Waterloo, Ont., parking lot might be saying a few prayers. But instead of searching for salvation, they’re gunning for high scores.

Every Tuesday evening during the summer the church parking lot pulsates with the crash of flying bowling pins and peals of laughter.

Five teams of six men recently each squared off in rousing old-fashioned games of swing bowling.

A throwback to the time when TV had just a couple of channels and minor soccer wasn’t a major concern with local parents, swing bowling involves wielding a 10-pin bowling ball that dangles from a telephone pole by a steel cable.

Like its more famous indoor cousin, the object of the game is to knock down 10 pins standing in a triangle formation.

But instead of rolling the ball down a long hardwood lane, a player hurls the tethered ball around a steel post, about 20 paces in front of him, in an attempt to hit the pins on the back swing.

The game was once popular in Lutheran churchyards throughout the region, but St. John’s is one of the few remaining playgrounds for pin-bashers.

Frank Schatz, who was president of the swing bowling league for about eight years, said a couple of decades ago the men’s league at St. John’s (women play on Monday nights) used to have eight teams.

“Years ago there was nothing else to do,” Schatz said.

But now there are more activities available, some older players have passed away and it’s difficult to get younger men to commit to playing once a week, he said.

There’s a definite rhythm and ritual to the game.

Three or four men gather in a scrum and set up the 10 pins. One man swings the ball (twice, if needed) and knocks some pins down. Onlookers make wisecracks or compliments, depending on the shot. Laugh and repeat.

The only time the parking lot is quiet is when both teams hurl their bowling balls at the same time and everyone waits for the crash of scattering pins.

Despite the game’s easygoing rhythm and good-natured ribbing, bowlers do have a serious side.

Games are scored and statistics for individual players are recorded. The top five performers at the end of the season will become team captains next year.

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