Benjamin Isaacs attended Mount Olive Baptist Church recently, guided by faith that he would find some divine inspiration in the Sunday sermon.

Isaacs got a spiritual message -- and a bus ticket for a gambling trip to Atlantic City.

"I was sitting there anticipating the sermon one minute, then I was getting a sales pitch from a young adult group to buy tickets the next," Isaacs said. "I have to admit, though, I was the first person in line for those tickets."

Still, Isaacs said he could not help but wonder about the moral implications of mentioning a gambling trip during church announcements.

For some church leaders and churchgoers, Isaacs had nothing to wonder about.

Gambling, they say, is flat out immoral, something churches should have nothing to do with.

Among those stopping short of condemnation are the Rev. James Young of Metropolitan Baptist Church, who says gambling is an activity he doesn't encourage, and Sheila Bolden, one of the 4,000 members of Metropolitan who embrace gambling trips as an opportunity for fellowship.

"Although certain social groups may engage in several functions, the policy of the church is that {it is} about ministry dealing with educational, spiritual and social growth and development," Young said. Social outings for gambling don't "represent the needs of the ministry," Young said.

But Bolden says the trips are a useful form of recreation.

"I look forward to the bus trips . . . because I can talk with fellow members of my church during the ride," Bolden said. "The atmosphere of the casinos is fun and exciting, but it also allows people to talk about their troubles in a comfortable environment where they are less likely to be so uptight."

A lot of church people in this region are packing buses to go after the same fun in the casinos. Ivy Koster, area charter sales manager for Greyhound-Trailways Bus Lines, said that "on the average, anywhere between 10 to 20 percent of the calls we receive are from church affiliates interested in sponsoring Atlantic City trips."

Groups affiliated with St. Augustine Catholic Church take trips to Atlantic City. The Rev. Michael Kelly said the church does not sponsor them directly, but he said he does not think the outings are morally detrimental.

"The groups that go, go purely for the fellowship and the opportunity to enjoy a day's outing," Kelly said. "If there were individuals that were having problems such as an addiction to gambling, then I could understand not giving support. But the majority of our members taking the trips are senior citizens, usually going for the recreation, not the gambling."

Traditionally, some theologians and clerics have discouraged gambling by relying on a passage from an account of the crucifixion in the book of Mark that tells how Roman soldiers gambled for possession of the robes of Jesus Christ.

In the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Mark 15:24 says: "And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take."

"The general philosophy adhered to by many church leaders is that because the soldiers were wrong in gambling for the robes, so would we be in gambling for any reason," said Wardell Payne of the Howard University Center on Black Religious Bodies.

Theresa Mitchell, a member of Mount Sinai Baptist Church, is among those who subscribe to that point of view.

"The way I see it, gambling shouldn't be encouraged, she said. "The Bible always taught me not to engage in wordly fashion . . . gambling, losing money and all that is simply the devil at work."

Leonard Shelton of Oxon Hill Methodist Church agrees. "The good lord didn't intend for the church to be used as a tool for poker registration." Shelton, a service technician for Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., once lost nearly $1,000 during a trip to Atlantic City sponsored by a group in his church.

"I guess the lord was working His mysterious way by almost making me lose my shirt," Shelton said.

Patrick Ellis, host of a Sunday morning gospel show on WHUR-FM, announces scores of church trips and activities, but he refrains from telling his listeners about gambling outings or even dances where alcoholic beverages are served.

"At WHUR we appreciate and respect the attitude of the church's moral majority." Ellis said. "In the travelogue portion (a segment devoted to church news and notes) of the show, I won't publicize or advertise anything pertaining to gambling or the consumption of alcohol."

Ellis said he doesn't want to offend what he believes is a large segment of his audience.

"In order to avoid the hard feelings, I'll mention the wholesome parts of a church-affiliated function, while deleting "buzz" words such as cash bar and BYOL {bring your own liquor}," Ellis said.