Board games have made a comeback, especially at the Newman Centre, which has married faith and fun into an Adoration and games night. Photo courtesy of the Newman Centre

Gamers flock to God

By 
  • September 12, 2014

TORONTO - Tuesday nights at the Newman Centre are a time to pray and play.

At Pray and Play nights, youth and young adults come for Adoration and stay for an evening of rolling dice and flipping cards at board games.

“The attraction is that it’s very Catholic in the way that it marries things together, like prayer and fellowship and recreation,” said Erin Kinsella, associate director of campus outreach.

The Newman Centre Catholic Chaplaincy and Parish is located on the downtown campus of the University of Toronto and serves as a hub for young Catholics. A former Newman student campus minister inspired the Pray and Play events last year.

“His ministry for the year married the things that he was passionate about: prayer and Adoration and also games,” Kinsella said. “He’s a big board games fan, so he had a really great collection of board games. He decided that for his ministry for the year, he would do Adoration followed by board games.”

That student has left the Newman Centre but his novel approach to combining prayer and socializing lives on. Every Tuesday, Adoration takes place at 7:30 p.m. at the St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel adjacent to Newman. Students and guests then go next door to Newman’s Oak Room to battle it out over board and card games. They play everything from old-school games like Taboo, Mad Gab and Settlers of Catan to more recent games like Dixit, Wizard and Survive. Occasionally, they also play video games.

The concept seems to be working. Since its launch a year ago, attendance at Pray and Play has grown from 10 people for Adoration and a few for games to about 50 or more for Adoration and 20 to 30 for games. The popularity seems to mirror the rise of board-game cafés in Toronto, where there are at least six establishments that cater specifically to board-game enthusiasts. Similar establishments are also popping up outside the city.

Kinsella attributes Pray and Play’s rising popularity to its balanced approach.

“It appreciates the fact that as Catholics our faith is very well rounded,” she said. “It’s not just about being a prayerful person and it’s not just about having good relationships with other people. It’s about being able to find joy and God in everything, whether it’s in prayer directly or whether it’s having fun with other people and growing in your relationships with them.

“It’s a beautiful thing to have friendships that are based in Christ.”

Kinsella notices how often Pope Francis speaks of joy.

“It drives me crazy when I go into a church or some other faith event and there’s no sense of joy... (joy is) such a hallmark of the Holy Spirit,” she said. “Prayer is our relationship with God and we need to have that solid basis... (and) it absolutely should infect the rest of my life so that whether I’m playing a board game, or whether I’m at Adoration, or whether I’m on the street talking to people at a bus stop, or whatever the case may be, that an element that exudes from me is that joy of Christ that’s formed in that foundation of prayer.”

When the student who started Pray and Play moved out of the Newman Centre, he took his expansive board-game collection with him. He lends the centre some of his games, but Kinsella hopes to continue to grow Newman’s own collection. She wants classics like Scrabble, Candyland, Monopoly and the Game of Life, as well as the “really fun” King of Tokyo, to be added to the collection. Guests may bring their own games, and the Newman Centre accepts donations of games that still have all the required pieces.

“Games that people should not bring would be games that would take more than about an hour to play or games that are for very small groups. Individual or one to-two player games are not ideal. Anything where you’re getting into three or four and above players is great.”

Pray and Play is open to young adults age 18 and 35, whether or not they are students. Adoration is attended by Catholics of all ages. 

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