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A sign outside of Gaetz Memorial United in Red Deer, Alta., welcomes Pokemon Go players. Photo courtesy of Gaetz Memorial United Church

Pokemon Go craze sends gamers to church

By Noah Richardson

Last summer, some United Church congregations turned to the wildly popular video game Pokemon Go — the smartphone game played in real time, in real locations — in an effort to promote radical hospitality.

Since the game’s Canadian launch, United Church buildings across the country have been home to Pokestops and Pokegyms, locations where players collect items and battle other players. A Facebook post from the United Church asking congregations whether their churches were Pokestops garnered nearly 100 responses.

Rev. Jeffery Rock, a minister at Gaetz Memorial United in Red Deer, Alta., says his church is a Poke-stop located in an area highly trafficked by players. He’s been playing the game, recently preached a sermon about it and put out a sign saying, “Welcome to the Gaetz Pokemon stop.” Gaetz Memorial has also invited players to come inside the church to charge their mobile devices.

While he is a proud player of the game, Rock says congregations should be wary of using Pokemon Go as a way to bolster Sunday service numbers or increase donations in the offering plate. “I think to see . . . churches being Pokemon Go stops  . . . as an outreach tool is to miss the point, because it becomes transactional rather than hospitality. … To me it’s about authentic and unconditional hospitality,” Rock says.

Rev. Molly Bell’s church in the Ottawa suburb of Orleans is also a Pokestop. Bell says since the actual Pokestop is quite a distance from her church’s doors, providing hospitality has been a challenge. “I’m hearing other churches saying ‘you should offer refreshments and you should have charging stations’… we would have to bring all that to the side of the road. People would not be coming into the church for this,” says Bell, a minister at Orleans United.

While Orleans United hasn’t been able to provide a welcoming spot for players, she’s been impressed by the creativity of other congregations. “What I’m seeing is different churches trying to leverage the popularity of this game in different ways to build community.”

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