The cellphone game Pokémon Go was all the rage this summer. and some Presbyterian churches had fun offering hospitality to players in their neighbourhoods and garnering some attention from the local press.
In Pokémon Go. players use their cellphones as they walk through areas of the real world in search of Pokémon (short for “pocket monsters”). These cartoon creatures appear on their phone screens and can be captured using items in the game.
At St. Andrew’s. Edmonton. it all started when the church put up a quote from the Pokémon Mewtwo on its sign. Rev. Mark Chiang. the church’s minister. sent out a photo of the sign on Twitter and it generated over 1.600 likes.
That sparked interest from the Edmonton Metro newspaper and CBC News. which did a television interview with him.
“For me it was to show church in a fun light.” he told the Record. “We have such a reputation as Christians of being against everything. and angry all the time. To show that we can have fun too is an important message for the community.”
Rev. Susan Mattinson. minister at First. Thunder Bay. Ont.. was excited when the game was officially released in Canada on July 17.
Many culturally significant locations. including churches. are flagged in the game as Pokéstops where players can collect items. or as gyms where they can compete with other players.
Like most churches. First is a Pokéstop. This means not only that players can pick up new items there every few minutes. but in the game an item called a lure can be attached to the location to attract a higher than normal number of Pokémon.
Mattinson proposed hosting “lure parties” with snacks and drinks. The session loved the idea and one elder offered to donate the $90 it would take to run lure parties for three days a week throughout August and the first week of September.
The initiative garnered a lot of online attention. said Mattinson. with its poster getting 35.000 views and prompting a CBC story.
Usually about 12 people showed up at First for the two hours of lures on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday mornings. A few were regulars. but there were always new faces.
“I think every day I’ve met new people.” Mattinson said. “Most of the people who come live in the immediate neighbourhood. They’re walking from their houses or they’re biking to get here.” The goal. she said. was simply to meet people and show that “the church can be helpful in a very practical way. And just to show people the church is not a scary building; it’s not filled with really strict. not-fun people.”
“Some of these kids who are coming have never been to a church.” she noted. “Never physically to a building.”
First plans to run its lure parties until Sept. 9. at which point younger players will be back in school.
St. Andrew’s. Edmonton. also hosted a lure party on a Thursday evening after its sign drew a lot of attention online. About 20 people who just happened to be walking in the neighbourhood stopped by to play.
“When it [the game] first came out you had … those who were just complaining about people staring at their phones all the time. not seeing this as an opportunity to be engaging with people.” Rev. Mark Chiang said. “I’m just grateful that we had taken that opportunity and that it got us talking to our neighbours in ways that our church hasn’t before.”