GAITHERSBURG, MD—Six weeks of meticulous planning and preparation by the clergy and congregation of Sacred Heart Catholic Church culminated Saturday in an excruciatingly tedious Fun Fair.

A marquee luring community members into the Sacred Heart Catholic Church basement with promises of "fun" and "games."

"The whole parish has been pitching in for weeks to make this event a reality,"said Father Earl Gimble, motioning toward the church's musty, harshly lit basement, where blank-faced fairgoers wandered past food tables and makeshift game booths. "And now it's finally here!"

"This is our second biggest fundraiser, next to the Mother's Day pancake breakfast," Gimble added.

Nearly 120 parishioners devoted countless hours to the mind-bogglingly dull event, from the organizers of the very first meetings in early November to the crew that arrived at 6 a.m. Saturday to put up religious-themed decorations, set up the "Win A Goldfish" ping-pong-ball game and plug in the rented popcorn machine.

"I started crocheting the snowflake decorations in October," said 89-year-old widow Edna Huppe. "I made 42."

"JoAnne and I made 14 dozen batches of our world-famous Nutty Bars," said Diane Elsinger, working a snack table which sold, in addition to the aforementioned bars, orange Kool-Aid and Sloppy Joes. "You should have seen the look they gave me at the Food Lion when I went through the checkout with nine pounds of butter!"

But despite the lack of anything approaching entertainment, the Fun Fair was attended by more than half of the church's parishioners, all of whom wasted a Saturday that could have been spent shopping at the local mall, playing video games or watching televised sports.

Parishioner Dan Cavatine was among those who, adding insult to injury, not only spent three hours at the Fun Fair with his wife and children, but also volunteered to man one of its game booths for an incomprehensible five-hour stretch.

"Everyone loves the Fun Fair," said Cavatine, watching a child throw a purple beach ball through a hula hoop suspended from the ceiling by a rope. "It's a great way to raise some money for the church and have a little fun at the same time."

"We all worked hard to make this fair go off without a hitch," said regular Sunday usher Larry Hildebrandt, who can never get back the five hours he spent building a booth for the milk-can softball toss. "We're going to have bingo later, and right now Margie Blenker is starting a round of Biblical Trivial Pursuit for kids 12 and over. Should be a gas!"

Outside observers say Hildebrandt's delusions are typical of the entire congregation.

"It seems as if the entire Sacred Heart congregation is participating in an annual mass denial," said Allen Yeager, sociologist and author of Group Dynamics, Group Danger. "It's like there's some sort of unspoken rule that says no one may acknowledge the obviously insufferable nature of this Fun Fair. That is very frightening. This is just the sort of warped group-think that leads otherwise good people to do bad things."

Proceeds from the Fun Fair, which topped $1,200 this year, have been earmarked for the church's outreach fund, most likely to finance an agonizing overnight retreat for teenage confirmation candidates.