Gamers offered a warm welcome as Pokemon puts church on the map
Published 12/07/2016 | 14:01
A small city centre church is expecting a deluge of gamers after being featured in the Pokemon Go mobile phone craze gripping the globe.
Players in the United States, Australia and New Zealand have been hooked to their handsets since the game's release there last week but copies have also leaked on to UK phones, despite an official release being some way off.
The global phenomenon would have probably passed by parishioners at Birmingham's City Road Methodist Church, which has a full-time 20-strong congregation, until one avid gamer turned up on their doorstep.
It was only when church-goers asked the man, in his 30s and sitting hunched on the front steps gazing at his phone, if he was OK that he told them the church was a Poke-Stop - a key location in the game.
In the augmented reality game Pokemon Go, developed by Niantic and The Pokemon Company, players travel around the real world to capture and train creatures known as Pokemon - the most famous of which is Pikachu.
The church, designated as one of the game's special Poke Gyms, has since had a steady stream of people turning up in cars playing the game.
In response, perplexed parishioners have been offering tea and biscuits to all visitors.
They have also put up posters next to signs advertising its 11am Sunday services which read "Pokemon Go Gym, you are welcome - Jesus Cares About Pokemon Gamers".
Church warden David Hallam, standing in the cavernous hall which usually echoes to the sound of the gospel and not cartoonish Pokemon, said: "God does work in mysterious ways".
He said the church more often welcomed the homeless with a warm cup of tea, a hot shower and a roof above their heads, but was now preparing to become a gaming landmark.
Mr Hallam said it was an opportunity not to be missed and believes the location could be the UK's first identified Poke-Stop for the free-to-play gaming hit.
He added the congregation was now "really quite excited" at the prospect of people visiting the church and said the doors would be open to all, no matter what.
Mr Hallam said: "The game hasn't even been launched yet and we've already had people ringing up, asking where we're located, what time we're opening, cars stopping outside, sitting there playing the game.
"On Sunday morning we came here and we had somebody sitting on the doorstep for two hours.
"We couldn't coax him into the church, we said 'come and have a cup of tea, come and worship with us', but he was too busy and he said 'you don't know what's going on in there (the church) at the moment'.
It was only when Mr Hallam and minister the Rev Dr Paul Beetham Googled the game that they realised they were set to be caught up in a worldwide phenomenon.
Mr Hallam added: "So, we're going to have young people - we beg young people to come to church - and now they're going to start coming to church.
"We're really quite excited.
"We've put a notice outside acknowledging the fact we're a Poke Stop, we're a Poke Gym and we know what you're here for.
"And then we'll see what happens, see if there's any needs, see if we can build up and show the love of Jesus to them in some way.
"We don't want to thrust it down their throat but we want to know they've come to a place of Christian worship and they'll be welcome and hope that they do worship with us at some point."
Mr Hallam said it was "a great opportunity" to spread a Christian message to people who might not usually walk through the doors of a church.
He added: "We're delighted to be the first identified Poke-Stop in the UK.
"But what we're saying is Jesus cares for Pokemon gamers."