July 20, 2016

Pokémon Go and a cup of cold water

Photo by Sebastian Noble

Phoenix, Ariz.: Wednesday, July 13, 8:07 a.m.—Coffee in hand, quickly scan e-mail. One of my pastor pals sends me an article, “How To Use Pokémon Go as an Outreach Tool.” Have no idea what Pokémon Go is, but I like outreach. Maybe I’ll sign my church up, maybe not.

Cross and welcome

9:34 a.m.—Roll into our local coffee shop, across the street from our church building. The baristas (younger and hipper than me, great tattoos) excitedly inform me that our church is a site for Pokémon Go. I’m confused, which happens easily. They explain that Pokémon Go is a mobile app, a smartphone-based video game. In order to play, you walk around to different locations and do stuff on your phone. It’s like geocaching, or a digital scavenger hunt, and it’s hugely popular. OK, maybe I’ll sign my church up, maybe not.

9:46 a.m.—Baristas inform me, again, that our church is a site for Pokémon Go. I assert that I did not agree to this. They patiently explain that nobody signs up to be a site; you either get chosen by the nerds at Nintendo or you don’t. We were chosen. I feel disoriented, and old.

9:51 a.m.—Associate minister (also younger and hipper than me, great beard) informs me that he has seen hundreds of people descending on various Pokémon Go sites around the city. I download the free game on my phone. Can’t figure out how to make it work. I consider taking up shuffleboard instead.

10:00 a.m.—Coffee meeting with a young woman who visited worship on Sunday. She’s a trauma nurse, and tells stories about people getting in car accidents because they were gaming while driving. I privately have a worst-case-scenario fantasy and wonder whether we could get sued if someone died on our property playing this Pokémon thing. Then I chill out and remember that our site is well away from traffic and perfectly safe. Hmmm. . . .

10:30 a.m.—Meeting over, I scramble the associate minister (beard) and a barista (tattoos) and another young adult (gamer) from our congregation. Find out that the precise Pokémon Go site is actually at a stone labyrinth—a prayer path—and cross on our property. Nice. But forecast is 111 degrees F and there is not a shred of shade. We set out a welcome sign, a few brochures about our church, and a large cooler filled with bottled water. Ministry of hospitality. Take pictures and post to social media. Get slight sunburn where hairline is gently receding.

Note from Pokémon Go team

3:17 p.m.—Get contacted by several peers and colleagues across the country who saw my post on social media. They ask me how they can sign up their church to be a site for Pokémon Go. They praise my expertise and amazing technological know-how. I humbly accept their admiration. I do not tell them I still can’t figure out how to make the game work on my phone.

Thursday, July 14, 9:15 a.m.—Come to church building, notice something odd. I almost expect vandalism. But someone has left a sticky note on our Pokémon welcome sign. It reads, “We saw you were running low, so we wanted to return the favor. #Teamvalor. #Giveback.” The cooler has been refilled with several cases of water and fresh ice, supplied by strangers. Consider the irony of a hashtag sticky note, and grateful for the experience.

Wednesday, July 20, 9:25 a.m.—Reflection: The Pokémon craze continues. For now. But soon it will pass. I said “yes” to Jesus a long time ago, and part of saying yes to Jesus meant saying yes to outreach. And hospitality. And being a good neighbor. And offering a cup of cold water. I have no illusions that our little cooler of water will somehow bring about God’s kingdom or create world peace. But with all of the current ugliness in our world, I am grateful to help strangers be kind to strangers. So we will be faithful in the small things. We will seize the fleeting opportunities, in hopes of building lasting bridges in Jesus’ name. And that is exactly what I signed up for.

Photos by Jeremy Ashworth.

Jeremy Ashworth is pastor of Circle of Peace Church of the Brethren in Peoria, Arizona.