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 23, 2010

Wherever Two or Three are Gathered in My Name, I Am Virtually There: Ekklesia in the Metaverse Church #3

This is the third post in a series from Lara Zinda, a former student of mine and a current student a Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. Read, enjoy, and respond.

Church in the Metaverse-- Examples
by Lara Zinda

Connecting Church

A good example of the connecting church is the Life Church (http://www.lifechurch.tv/) that celebrates one virtual and thirteen real life campuses. Rev. Craig Groeschel is the lead pastor of LifeChurch.tv based in Oklahoma. When they planted the virtual church, various bible studies and fellowship groups gathered. Today, this sense of virtual community has diminished and has been replaced. LifeChurch now serves as a means to broadcast Groeschel‘s sermon and invite people into various events, in the real world and virtual. Theyhave announced a partnership with XXX Church (xxxchurch.com) and welcomed people to attend the Porn Event, a Christian approach to the problem of the use of pornography. Groeschel's model is extremely well thought out, staffed every Sunday by the same individuals, and designed to help people make connections to the ―real church in the real world.13

Experience Church

The nondenominational Calvary Chapel14 is a well established church run by ―born again avatar Sugar Zucker (Alex) and his real life wife of thirty years, avatar Ai Zheng (Caroline). The notecard they offer upon arrival states, ―Calvary Chapel SL is an outreach of a real life Calvary Chapel affiliate that is based in Scotland. Our Pastor is therefore a Calvary Chapel Pastor who with his wife and the help of a number of faithful volunteers run Calvary Chapel SL. As with any Calvary Chapel we teach the bible in an expository fashion - verse by verse - chapter by chapter - not compromising with regard to the teaching of any of God's truths. Calvary hosts two weekly worship services, a men's fellowship group, ladies bible study, a prayer group available 24-7, cafĂ© and art gallery, as well as an island with various dance floors, beaches, and multiple gathering points for fellowship. Planted virtually in 2006 with three people, Calvary now celebrates almost 1400 members. Known for their solid worship services, Calvary features a full community that is active only in Second Life, with members drawing from around the world. They also boast a wide reaching evangelism effort led by avatar HeatherGT Braveheart (of sister congregation House of Prayer).

Traditional Church

While the United Methodist Church15 seems to have disappeared in all but a relatively inactive group presence without land holdings (after a great start in 2008), the Anglican Union thrives in SL. According to their website16, their vision is to

build an Anglican church in Second Life which: is grounded in worship and prayer, seeking to be a bridge between our rich Anglican heritage and contemporary society; gives those involved in Second Life an opportunity to explore or deepen their faith in God, who loves them and seeks a relationship with them; encourages Christians from different countries and theological persuasions to work together to the glory of God; is a community which welcomes and serves others, and is known for its love and care; and is recognised as an integral part of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The Anglicans offer seven worship services a week (welcoming 80-100 people who attend each week), a bible study and discussion groups, daily morning and evening prayers, pastoral care, and several fellowship opportunities to more than 600 people17 from more than 20 countries.18

Next Wednesday: "Theology in Virtual Practice-- The Anglican Cathedral"

Previous Posts in the Series:

Part 1: "Second Life and the Metaverse Church"

Part 2: "Defining 'Church' and the Virtual World"



13 During worship, a message from the internet pastor is shared that includes instructions to email yourself notes taken during the sermon, ways to connect to one of the thirteen real LifeChurch campuses, and a scriptural reading (read from his iPhone).
14 You can visit Calvary Church online at http://www.calvarychapelsl.com/.
15 http://slmethodist.blogspot.com/.
16 http://slangcath.wordpress.com/
17 "About the Cathedral." The Anglican Church of Second Life. The Anglican Church of Second Life, n.d. Web. 19 May, 2010.


Ailsa Wright said...

I must apologise for some confusion over what the Anglican Cathedral currently offers. In a fast moving world things change rapidly. We currently offer morning and evening prayer every day. On Sunday our main service in the Cathedral replaces evening prayer. On Wednesday and Thursday there are also worship services with sermons in the Cathedral. We have a bible study on Sunday. On Friday we have a new social gathering in our redesigned community centre. We are busy developing our labyrinth for those who wish to use it as an aid to prayer. We offer a prayer ministry and counselling to those who would like such support. We are currently looking at further ways to develop our ministry.

Helene Milena - Lay Pastor Anglicans of SL

PamBG said...

I remember the virtual church in Ship of Fools which disappeared a few years ago due to lack of funding for keeping it on the web. This sounds very similar although I don't personally feel that I have time for a First Life, let alone a Second one!

Allan R. Bevere said...

Pam, you raise an interesting point. I am intriqued by those attempting to be an ecclesial community in SL, which is why I wanted to post Lara's series, but I feel the same way; First Life will not permit me to have a Second Life.

So I will ask Lara and Ailsa and anyone else involved in SL to weigh in here. Obviously the level of involvement in SL varies from person-to-person in the same way some spend little to much time playing Mafia Wars on Facebook. But there seems to me to be something different going on for those who take the time to build an ecclesial community in a virtual world.

Can Second Life become a First Life for people, even Christians? Is this a good thing?

Vayhi said...

In discussions, I always note that people approach the idea of a SL Church personally, that is, is it something I would do? To them I ask the question, is a regular Sunday morning five hour worship something you would do? Or a service in Latin? Or perhaps a punk rock service? The reality is that the church in SL is not collecting the occasional person who logs in for the fun of it. It welcomes regular users who choose to spend their time logged in (the leadership may be a different matter). Many of these people spend 6-20 hours a day online.

To respond to your question Allan, "Can SL become a first life for people, even Christians, and, is this a good thing?" I offer the following. It is a first life for some people, for good or bad (various articles etc have addressed this). The question then becomes, how do we as Christians serve this population.

To humanize the question a bit, I met at a service I attended for this paper, a person who ran a virtual strip club. He was angry at God, at the Church, and at me for talking to him. He makes his living online through the virtual club and spends most of his day and a good part of his evening online, logging off for real life meetings, grocery runs, etc. After two hours, we had a very deep conversation about his relationship to God and he claimed he found some peace. I put him in touch with others in world who were able to love him through this dark time in his life so he was connected to a community where otherwise, he would have none. I understand he has been attending a regular worship now and continues to work through certain personal challenges. Ultimately, the Christian community helped connect this person back to God.

It's not a matter of if because it's there. The question is, what should it be? What should it look like? And how do we best serve those who are seeking, who find, and who want to serve in that capacity? It's no longer a virtual church but instead, a church in virtual space. Or is it? If not, then what? ~LZ

Ailsa Wright said...

Obviously it takes a lot of time and effort to maintain an online church presence. All of us who are involved in leading at the Anglican Cathedral do so as volunteers, ministering in our spare time. I find that as this is a 24/7 community I can be awake and meeting people at 2am, or leading a service at 6am.

For some people the Anglican Cathedral is their one and only church and I know from experience with other online churches that that is not unique to us. We offer church at many times without the need to travel. For some people they simply couldn't get to church very regularly due to distance, commitments, disability. For some, there is not an Anglican church within easy travelling distance.

I believe that our members find real community, a real sense of belonging, of being loved, cared for, prayed for. They enjoy the international gathering which helps us all to learn more and to overcome ignorance and prejudice. There is often an opportunity for good conversation after worship. We may discuss the readings and sermon or perhaps simply talk about what's going on in our lives. Either way, the fellowship is real.

Where else, when you can't sleep, could you find people gathering to worship God at 3am or 11pm? Quite often I have been joined at prayer by someone who is distressed and unable to rest. Often a time of prayer and listening to scripture, especially the psalms, can comfort and calm someone enough for them to rest. Would you call your real life pastor in that situation - never!

From surveys we have done, the majority of people look on online church as complementary, additional to their face to face church. For a significant minority, online church is their only church and a real lifeline for them.

In my experience the amount of time spent online varies hugely between individuals. We can still have 'regulars' in our community even if they only spend a couple of hours a week in SL. In that respect I suppose it is no different from any other church where you meet for a couple of hours on a Sunday and then head off to the rest of your life with all its joys and challenges.

Jesus told us to go into all the world and SL is simply another part of the world. We are fulfilling the great commission.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Thanks Ailsa and Vayhi (Lara, just how many names do you have? :-])

So, I suppose then that churches in SL end up involved in similar kinds of squabbles that happen with church communities in "First Life."


Ailsa Wright said...

We can certainly have disagreements and we have the disadvantage that often what we know of another's point of view is given in text with no nuances such as one would get with voice and no body language to fill the picture in. Misunderstandings can happen so easily and these can be passed on rapidly as people are in contact near enough 24/7, not just on Sunday mornings.

We have members from many different countries, different denominations and different points of view within denominations. It is beholden upon each of us to listen to one another as generously as we can, assuming the best rather than the worst.

The leadership team at the Anglican Cathedral in SL is drawn from across the world. All but one of us are Anglicans but we have widely differing views on some topics. Nevertheless we work well together, we pray for one another and we support one another. When we disagree we do our best to sort things out.

It's all very challenging but I'm sure it's character forming!

Anonymous said...

Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.

Anonymous said...

Hello Allan - I just wanted to point out that Calvary Chapel SL is not connected to the House of Prayer in any way or HeatherGT Braveheart.

Calvary aims to deliver the same standard of service that it does in real life, pointing Christians toward real life, born again fellowship and service. We have many disabled, hurt and damaged members that see the work here as a way back to real life fellowship.

God bless you brother.