Is there no wheeze the Church of England won’t try, no stunt it will decline, no straw it won’t clutch at to halt the precipitous and catastrophic decline in its congregations? Sunday attendance has halved since 1970. Of course, these shocking figures are relentlessly massaged by the boys and girls in C. of. E. PR and Marketing PLC. The “overall” numbers are not falling, they claim. Look at all these people who turn up for dancing classes on Wednesday evenings, for weight-watchers three afternoons a week and for community thumb-sucking daily. According to the authorities, there are so many “exciting new ways people are finding to do church.”
To “do church” – the phrase says it all. What a procession of sheer ridiculousness there has been, an infinitude of bottom-of-the-barrel banalities: from Bingo to aisle dancing, from the “music group” with guitars accompanying “worship songs”; and ultimately to the liturgical squalor of “messy church.” I say ultimately, but today I discover messy church was only the penultimate. For here comes something else – something blasphemously insane. Clergy have been told to exploit the fashion for Pokemon Go as a means of increasing their congregations. The craze for hunting virtual creatures gives vicars an unprecedented chance to “meet people from their area who might not normally come to church,” according to the official advice.
And to think, the church that once dealt in ultimate reality is now descended into virtual reality.
Vicars are urged to take advantage of passing players by offering them drinks and snacks, free charges for mobiles with low batteries, and free use of their church’s Wifi. They have also been told they should download the game themselves, so they can check if their church is in use as a PokeStop likely to attract players. PokeStop? Sounds painful.
Am I pulling your leg, making all this up? Have I gone mad? Nope. It’s all true. Is your church “in use as a PokeStop?” Surely, in that phrase, the church has achieved its ultimate fatuity. But beware the dark side of your PokeStop: clergy have also been warned that Pokemon could be used as a grooming device by child abusers – or could lead them into danger of sex abuse allegations. The guidance proceeds thus:
“We all need to be aware that this game means that children may come into contact with people who may present a risk. Our first priority as a church should be to provide a safe place for children and vulnerable adults with regards to Pokémon Go.”
So our “first priority as a church” is to provide a safe space for Pokemon. Where have I been all these years? All my life I have thought that the first priority of the church is something else entirely. Obviously, I am in need of enlightenment. Indeed enlightenment is forthcoming, for the Archbishop of Canterbury has appointed a Pokemon Lady by the name of Tallie Proud. (Sounds like someone out of Trollope). Proudie says, “The game has been an overnight sensation with millions playing it around the world. Your church might be a PokeStop, one of the real life buildings and landmarks that players have to visit to get certain items they need to play the game. Pokemon Go is therefore giving churches around the country a great opportunity to meet people from their area who might not normally come to church.”
She added, “Through the game you will be able to see if your church is a PokeStop or a gym. You might also spot people standing outside the church on their phones who may be playing the game at your PokeStop.”
You know, I truly believed I wasn’t mad when I started to write this column, but I am now: crazy, bonkers, a gibbering wreck and foaming at the mouth. I have been driven to it by the church’s institutionalised insanity. We can tolerate a lot of nonsense, but there comes a time when we’re overwhelmed and then we snap. I have just snapped. I know I have, because, since reading this muck, I find I am asking myself certain questions such as, Are there differences between high church Pokemon and evangelical Pokemon? I’m sure there’s a charismatic Pokemon – that lot has been doing virtual reality for years. For myself, I would prefer, please, an Anglo-Catholic Pokemon with incense and bells and, if possible, some nice music. But I don’t suppose that is possible, as Pokemon wouldn’t sit easily alongside Thomas Tallis and William Byrd.
I’m sure our more go-ahead clergy are already wiggling Pokemon lore into their sermons. But really, this stuff is too important to be left to the clergy and their congregations alone. It should command interest and involvement at the highest level. The Liturgical Commission, no less, should participate and lend its renowned expertise, creativity and poetic insight to give us An Order for the Administration of Pokemon. In fact, knowing the Commission’s reputation for providing umpteen versions of anything and everything, they should give us Pokemon Order: Series I, II and III. Pokemon intercessions in which we pray for, “Pokemon addicts not only in this country but among the underprivileged people in developing nations.” We need Pokemon versicles with alternative responses. For high days and pokey days, we require Proper Pokemon Prefaces. And a Pokemon carol service. There should be an ecumenical Pokemon Club so that Catholics and Protestants can play together for the church that plays together stays together. And an Interfaith version open to “moderate Muslims,” Jews and Scientologists.
Sorry. I’ve lost it, completely off my trolley. What can I do? I know: I’ll get along to Church House and ask for a job. They won’t even notice my deranged condition. They’re all mad there, aren’t they?