Durham News: Community

Durham church finds PokemonGo helps fill the pews

Flo Johnston
Flo Johnston Chris Seward

It turns out that the campus at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church at 82 Kimberly Drive in southwest Durham is a hot PokeStop for PokemonGo. This is the new video game that blends technology with the real world, “augmented reality,” in a craze that’s sweeping the country.

Chuckling about the sudden popularity of his church campus, Father Bob Kaynor, rector at St. Stephens, said that one day last week about 30 people at one time were rambling around the grounds looking for Pokemon.

Responding to visitors on a recent Saturday from noon to 6 p.m., the church issued an invitation to Pokemon Trainers in the Triangle to have lemonade, water, watermelon and a cool place to rest to safely hunt, train and resupply.

Megan Carlson, a member of the Vestry, explained what’s happening in an article for this week’s church newsletter.

“The premise of the game is to capture or hatch Pokemon (creatures) and gather supplies at PokeStops in order to train and battle at Gyms to elevate your team,” she writes. “One of the stated goals of the developers was to encourage adventures on foot with others.”

The creators of the game located stops at places where people congregate, like churches.

St. Stephen’s has eight stops and 2 gyms, which Megan says can be compared to RDU’s main terminal.

“Consequently, St. Stephen’s is the premiere non-retail location for families, teens and millennials to train and level-up in a safe environment in southwest Durham and the wider Triangle,” she says.

At a time when churches across the country are seeing significant decreases in church attendance, especially among youth and young adults, Megan suggests God may be answering prayer in an unexpected way.

She says the dramatic increase in foot traffic on the church campus gives new impetus to the sign out front, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.” She sees these words as “a renewed call to Galilee, that crossroads of the world where Jesus taught and performed miracles.”

She suggests that when church members see someone walking on the church campus while staring at their cell phone, they should invite them to use the premises and to join them for Sunday service.

“As for Sunday attendance, we have had a few newcomers that have cited PokemonGo as the reason for visiting our church,” Megan said. “In one specific case, it was a conversation and invitation on a Wednesday evening that led to Sunday attendance.”

The Rev. Kara Slade, an Episcopal priest and an avid PokemonGo player who lives in Durham, has created a text that might be used by a local church to communicate with Poke players who visit their campuses:

“(Insert name of church) welcomes you to our PokeStop. Make yourself at home and help yourself to all the items you can find and all the Pokemon you can catch. We love being part of the world of Pokemon, and we’re also a church that loves following Jesus by worshiping God, by living in Christian community with each other, and by loving and serving our neighbors. If you’d like to find out more about who we are and what we do, one place to start is to visit our church website at (give address) and visit www.episopalchurch.org. But we really hope you’ll visit us in person. Come and see what (and who) we’re about. We’re here every Sunday at (give ttime).”

Ryan Jeffrey Shaw, an assistant professor in the Duke University School of Nursing writing online this week, praised PokemonGo for getting people off the couch and into walking, running and socializing outdoors.

“PokemonGo might encourage people to be more social by getting them out in the neighborhood … it might improve people’s health,” he wrote.

Contact Flo Johnston at fjohnston314@gmail.com or call 910-361-4135.