What shape does worship in the virtual world take? How do we connect with people when they are represented by a collection of pixels? Columba Lane considers these important questions in this engaging post.
Like so many of you, in our first service last Sunday I rejoiced to connect with new friends in our uniquely Anglican way, to share the love of God, to admire the fantastic cathedral and praise God for the talents and vision of those who brought it to life. And I could not help but smile at the congregation whose diversity included forest creatures and aliens.
Having been involved online since 1982, I’ve participated in “online worship” before, though I am relatively new to Second Life, and still discovering its possibilities. In my First Life, I am an Anglican musician, serving a New York parish noted for its liturgy, where it has been my privilege to participate in planning liturgies both traditional and creative. We love the challenge of finding ways to make the worship experience even more effective, while fully embracing our liturgical heritage. Naturally I am curious, thinking how to do this in Second Life.
More than simply reproducing an image of Anglican liturgy, our challenge is to consider the unique features that make SL appealing, and incorporate them into our worship, while being distinctly Anglican, and respecting principles that hold true in both worlds. The goal is actively engaging avatars and the people behind them; if the liturgy is virtual, the worship experience should be very real. I’d like to share some ideas and find out what you all think.
Hospitality is key, and the first service was very welcoming. Let’s do our best to make people feel welcome, not only with friendly words, but by helping them feel at ease. People may be unsure what to do when they come in the door. Friendly greeters can ease discomfort, make it easy for avatars to sit down (do we need pose balls on the pews?), find an easy way to give them a copy of the service when they arrive, and make sure the service contains clear instructions that are easy to follow. The first service made an excellent beginning, and we can continue to grow. Let’s be sure to help God’s guests feel welcome.
Anglicanism celebrates a via media between catholic and reformed values, tradition and innovation, word and action. I think we should focus especially on the balance between passive and active participation. Although, as a contemplative, I am drawn to long periods of receptive silence, others may need more active engagement. Let’s think about this idea.
A hallmark of Anglican liturgy is that it is physical; we worship not only with our minds, but also with our bodies. We use movement, touch, color, gestures, sound, voice, silence, even taste and fragrance to help engage our hearts and minds in worship. How can we incorporate some of this into SL liturgy, engaging both our real bodies and our avatars? The cathedral itself is an evocative sight. What other visual elements might we incorporate into our worship? Liturgical colors? Symbols? Art? Performances? Naturally I welcome music; live music may even be possible. And what about touch?
We can think about what our avatars see and hear, but also what they are doing: what they say, and even how they move. Are they just sitting, watching and listening passively? What else could they do? Designing our liturgies with very brief, easy to type responses could help: litanies, antiphons, responses. Can we make it easy and enjoyable? Can we help them participate with animations or gestures?
These are just a few opening ideas. Are you as intrigued as I am? If so, I would like to hear from you. With the Holy Spirit’s guidance, I am confident that through our worship we can help people find a connection with God, and with a community present in Second Life and beyond.