Today we conclude our series on virtual church. I thank Lara Zinda for her willingness to contribute this fine series to my blog.
by Lara Zinda
Mohamed Taher states, "Behind every [virtual] activity, there is a source of inspiration."33 The model of ekklesia is certainly met in virtual reality by many people who gather to worship and hear the Word. The label of "church" for those of metaverse ekklesia is wholly dependent upon your definition of "church". As Ailsa Wright states, "Robert Warren describes the traditional notion of church as building + priest + Sunday service. He suggests that a definition more closely accords with the current situation is that church is community + faith + action, or 'an engaging faith community'".34 I concur. Those who gather in community to worship our triune God are indeed a church, faithful, and whole. How they live out their theology varies, in part due to the limitations of the metaverse, and in part due to their perceived calling and purpose. To discount a body of believers as "not a church" is disrespectful of their efforts to faithfully live out their call as Christians in their specific community. In fact, as we are all called to faithfulness and encouragement, we fail in our mission.
In England, a new form of church is gaining momentum. A Fresh Expression Church is:
…a term coined by the Church of England report Mission-shaped Church and used in the Church of England and the Methodist Church for the last five years. It is a way of describing the planting of new congregations or churches which are different in ethos and style from the church which planted them; because they are designed to reach a different group of people than those already attending the original church. There is no single model to copy but a wide variety of approaches for a wide variety of contexts and constituencies. The emphasis is on planting something which is appropriate to its context, rather than cloning something which works elsewhere.35
The metachurch is indeed a Fresh Expression Church, serving a population unlike any other, developing and growing in faith. This is indeed unusual when compared to the traditional church. Imagination and flexibility are necessary to prevent the hardening of heart to something different to which God calls some people. As Rev. Mark Brown states, "A mission to a virtual world requires flexibility in that we need to be prepared to examine how we understand church as well as being open to new ways of communicating. For the church to maintain relevance we need to pitch our tent in new lands and set about learning the language. To do this effectively requires that we develop new ways of understanding what it means to be church and provide the resources necessary to see it come to fruition."
Our world, and how we relate to one another in it, is indeed changing. As technology develops, we find new and exciting ways to express ourselves. The Church is called to serve God in these new dimensions by sharing the gospel message, baptizing, teaching, serving, and welcoming into a community of fellowship; it's called to do so in theologically sound ways, not sacrificing traditions but instead, applying them in new ways. To dismiss members of the virtual world simply because they choose to relate to one another in a non-physical way is to dismiss the souls behind the representation simply because we don't like where they sit: behind a computer screen. This would be a failure of the traditional church, and a failure of the wider body of Christ to serve our calling and make disciples. Instead, let us lift up those keyboard jockeys in prayer, welcome them to be a part of faith communities, and honor our traditions and theological beliefs in a responsible way.
Previous Posts in the Series:
Part 1: "Second Life in the Metaverse Church"
Part 2: "Defining 'Church' and the Virtual World"
Part 3: "Church in the Metaverse-- Examples"
Part 4: "Theology in Virtual Practice-- The Anglican Cathedral-- Evangelism and Edification"
Part 5: "Theology in Virtual Practice-- The Anglican Cathedral-- Worship and Social Concern"
33 Mohamed Taher, Cyber Worship in Multifaith Perspectives. (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2006), viii.
34Alisa Wright. "Anglicans of Second Life – some reflections on lived experience" The Anglican Church of Second Life. The Anglican Church of Second Life, April 2009. PDF, Web. 16 May, 2010.
35Graham Cray. "An introduction by Graham Cray." About Us - Fresh Expressions. Fresh Expressions, n.d. Web. 19 May 2010.