“Dad, St. Paul’s is a Pokéstop!”
This was the statement that really caught my attention.
My daughter, Hannah, had been making comments for a few days about a new app she’d downloaded, something called Pokémon Go. I’d listened to her explain how it works a time or two, half-interested, like I am with most things technological. You know how it is: a new app comes out, it’s hot for a few days, then the fad passes and something else catches the attention of those who stay up with these things.
I don’t, though. I’m not one of them. My phone, for instance, doesn’t even have a camera. I can text and call. And I like it that way.
But I keep up with my kids. And so what my kids are into, by extension I’m interested too, or at least half-interested.
But when she ran into my office on Sunday morning, wide-eyed and grinning, and expressed her excitement in the words at the start of this blog, my half-interest turned into full interest.
Here was an app that had caught her attention. Moreover, a few days had passed and not only was her attention still caught, it was increasing.
And the out-the-box idea of a game to get people outside, off their backsides and into the highways and byways!
“So,” I replied, “explain. What is a Pokéstop?”
Which she did, showing me on her iTouch just how this app worked, utilizing something called Augmented Reality (a term which, admittedly, before Sunday I thought referred to cosmetic surgery); something like a scavenger hunt all over the neighborhood, the town, the county, the state, or anywhere else a person determined to catch them all is willing and able to go, except what you’re hunting for are Pokémon, which can be seen only through a screen. (Think of it as ghost hunting, where the ghosts can be detected only through paranormal cameras. The Pokémon are the ghosts; the paranormal cameras your smart devices. The more you catch, the more your rewards.)
And, for whatever reason, the creators of Pokémon Go decided to designate many churches (and gyms, by the way) as Pokéstops, places Pokémon could go to catch a breath, rejuvenate, whatever: a virtual Pokémon nest.
Now, we people in the church business think we’ve got something valuable to offer, namely, the calming presence of Christ to a chaotic world. There’s salvation in this; it’s why we do the “business”—or it should be. And thus we’re always concerning ourselves with the question of how to offer more of this message to the world around us, how to exude even more of Christ’s peace. This question seems especially important now: politics, arguments over the second amendment, tensions over racial and religious differences—these matters are at a fever pitch.
So, my alarm woke me a 3:30am on Monday morning. With another daughter, I was rising early to hike to the top of Telegraph Pass in order to catch the 5:40am sunrise. I do some of my best thinking when I have a few hours of quietude, the heat would be unbearable by 8am, and besides it was a workday—so, yeah, a sunrise hike.
We enjoyed a brilliant sunrise in fact, summited just ten minutes before the eastern sky was pierced by fire; and returned home for breakfast just after 7am.
Unusual morning as it was, it turned even more unusual some ten minutes later when we suddenly realized that all five of us—my wife, both daughters, my seven year-old son, and I—were sitting casually around the breakfast table—all on summer break (except me)!
So, put it all together—concentrated time freshly spent with the younger set; recent more-than-half-interest in this new app; fever-pitched large-scale angst over politics, religion, and race; and a personal constant concern to offer Christ to the world—and a sudden brainstorm came.
“Girls,” I announced, “what if I put a message up on the church marquis about it being a Pokéstop?”
Almost instant and definitely loud yesses erupted.
The marquis, by the way, is a sign with changeable letters. See top photo. The church makes an effort to change it out weekly, offering a sort of calendar or inspirational or humorous message to passersby. And there are many passersby, for it overshadows a main thoroughfare in town. Between you and me, when I first started as pastor I thought, really? So I’ve tried to see it as potentially useful, maybe somehow, possibly, to offer Christ to the world around us, etc., etc. Still, many a Monday you’ll find me agonizing in my office over coming up with something worthwhile to say.
In any event, my girls and I deliberated over the exact message during breakfast, concluding something short and to the point.
And when I arrived at the office, instead of agonizing indoors I took matters into my own hands outside, set up the ladder, removed last week’s message (“Good judgment comes from experience that often comes from bad judgment”), and put up, simply, “Pokéstop!!” (I would have used more exclamation points if we had them.)
So, that was at 9am.
At 3pm a TV reporter stopped by and interviewed me, with the sign in the background.
At 5pm a 20-second clip of this interview aired on the news.
At 6pm the news showed again, but this time the local police told the dark side of the Pokémon Go story: some bad people might use Pokémon Go to lure good people into secluded areas and mug them; and (oh the horror!) in fact teenagers were out hunting for Pokémon last night past curfew!
And at 10pm, the whole minute-forty-nine story aired—both sides of it—giving me a full thirty seconds of air time:
Then today a radio show from Phoenix called me and interviewed me over the phone—supposed to be broadcast on a morning talk show tomorrow—supposed to be emailed a transcript.
All from that silly marquis!
All from wanting to bring Christ’s peace to a chaotic world, and seeing how Pokémon Go is helping to do just that—a fun, community-oriented activity to distract us in a healthy way from the fear and anxiety over recent national and international tragedies.
On behalf of St. Paul’s, thank you for partnering with us, Pokémon Go!