A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Wherever Two or Three are Gathered in My Name, I Am Virtually There: Ekklesia in the Metaverse Church #1

For the next several Wednesdays, we will be reading posts from Lara M. Zinda, a student at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. Lara was one of my students a decade ago at Ashland Theological Seminary, and one of my finest students, I am proud to say.

I invite all to read her posts over these next few weeks and join the discussion.

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Second Life and the Metaverse Church
by Lara M. Zinda
In 2003, the virtual world of Second Life (SL)1 opened its metaverse doors to the world. Computer users logged into the ―grid, the platform of SL, created a representative avatar of him or herself, and began to wander in the 3-D virtual universe as ―residents. Over time, residents developed building skills and began to create the virtual world around them, participating in virtual activities just like they do in the real world. Douglas Charles Estes, author of SimChurch reminds us, ―As of 2007, Second Life residents exchange more than one and a half million dollars in commerce every day in that virtual world. Second Life even has its own currency (the Linden dollar), a real-estate market, virtual millionaires and crime rings, and virtual churches.2 Today, Second Life has grown to become a universe unto itself. It has ―grown to become the virtual world leader—owning 90 percent of the market—with a profitable, stable, and growing business. Eighteen million people have registered in Second Life from over 150 countries and this virtual world work solution has already been chosen by hundreds of enterprises, governments, and educational institutions.3 Dozens of accredited institutions of higher learning have virtual campuses in SL, hosting classes with distance learning students from all over the world. This metaverse4 is one aspect of the embodiment of Internet 2.0, or rather, the second phase of the internet in which users no longer simply review static data, but instead, create and share content within three dimensional, virtual space.
When Mark Brown5 became a Second Life resident, he did so in conversation with several Anglicans who discussed the nature of church mission:
At the heart of the mission to the virtual world is to glorify God. Technology is simply a new context in which to express this. Where people are, so the church needs to be also. This is a rather messy process as there are no maps and limited rules of engagement. One of the early discussions the Anglican Group engaged in was around whether sin in the virtual space constituted actual sin. This very clearly displayed a split between those who saw the virtual as an extension of who they are and those who saw it as pure role play.6
Members of that discussion were observing a much debated ethical debate about the nature of sin in the metaverse. They also argue that wherever people are, ―so the church needs to be also. In traditional models of ekklesia, this makes perfect sense. However, the question remains, ―where exactly are these people? According to lay leader and avatar Helene Melina (Ailsa Wright), the people are in her church pews, in a virtual world.
Despite the existence of the church in SL, some suggest that one must be in an ―authentic or ―real church in order to live out one's faith. Dr. Elaine Heath, an ordained minister and professor at Southern Methodist University argues that ―The church cannot be the church without flesh and blood interaction… We have to be in our communities living out our faith together.7 Yet, Melina states, ―You can know the person really well without seeing them. There is no doubt in Melina‘s mind that her church in the virtual world is a community of believers in relationship with God and one another, living out their faith.8 She is happy to share with you her experiences of worship, prayer and study in world (she was kind enough to welcome me to her one of the many bible studies hosted on the cathedral campus). With so many opinions on such a new phenomena, there is much work to be done. As Douglas C. Estes states, ―When the subject of virtual churches comes up, the first question I am always asked is, Are virtual churches real? And the second always is, Well, how do they do Communion?9 This series of posts seeks to explore the nature and value of the Church and its viability in the virtual world.
Next Wednesday-- "Defining Church"
1 To learn more about Second Life, visit http://secondlife.com/whatis/?lang=en-US and enjoy several short presentations about the virtual community.
2 Douglas C. Estes, Simchurch: Being the Church in the Virtual World. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 21.
3 "Why SL Work?" Second Life Work. Second Life, n.d. Web. 20 May, 2010.
4 The Metaverse is a computer-generated, interactive, virtual environment; the term entered the computer industry’s jargon in the early 1980’s.
5 Rev. Mark Brown is an ordained deacon of the Anglican Diocese of Wellington, senior pastor of the Anglican Cathedral in Second Life and Chief Executive Officer of the Bible Society in New Zealand.
6 Mark Brown, "Christian Mission to a Virtual World" Brownblog.info, April 2008. PDF, Web. 19 May, 2010), 7.
7Don Teague, "Online religious observance gains a foothold" NBC Nightly News. MSNBC, 21 May, 2007. Video, Web. 17 May, 2010.
8 Helene Melina [Ailsa Wright], Personal Interview in Second Life. 16 May, 2010.
9 Estes, 115.

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