Rev Mark shares his powerful vision for the Anglican Cathedral in Second Life.
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Transcript follows here:
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Well, what I want to share with you today is the vision, the purpose, why we exist for this ministry here in Second Life, this Anglican Cathedral here in Second Life.
It all began in January, 2007. While undertaking some research into this thing called Web 2.0, I came across Second Life. I remember very clearly my idea as I was looking at many different things within the Web 2.0 world, was just to briefly have a look, to check it out, see what it’s about, and incorporate some of it in my research. And that’s why I’ve got the avatar name Arkin Ariantho, I just chose the first two names that were available to me, A and A. And of course, here I am, years later, still involved.
So what happened, what has happened since then to now? Well, briefly, very briefly, is that I realized the opportunity of being church in this place. Back then, in 2007, Second Life was a much smaller place, but still then there were millions involved, and there was ALM Cyberchurch, and not much else in terms of church offering. And I could see that this was a new territory, a new country if you want, and that we needed to be church and offer church in this place. So with just a small group of five, as it was back then, I shared a vision of building a cathedral.
Now I chose a cathedral, as unusual as it is, because I wanted something that would stand out the Second Life landscape and create some buzz. And it has. But I also was wanting to kind of put flesh on the bones of this idea that we are attracted to technology, but also to what I describe as Deep Christianity, a kind of return to some of the Medieval practices of Lectio Divino, and the popularity of things like Taize and other such things, and I thought, well, a cathedral embodies that. Rather than just building a box meeting space, let’s build something grand. One of the members of the group shared that with a friend of theirs, a young German student, and he agreed to build this place, and so for the first six or so months that’s all we did, we built this cathedral. And it is an awesome piece of virtual architecture, and actually won an award as a virtual build.
But of course building a virtual space is one thing, but building a community of people, now that is another thing. And early on, I realized that what our aim needed to be was to be church wherever you are, whatever your circumstance. So we have members of this community who come from literally twenty nations. I know that some of the members of this community are in countries and communities where being Christian can attract negative attention, where they can be persecuted for going to church. And yet, with an internet connection, they can be part of a church community. I know that there are members of our community who suffer from significant physical ailments, who can’t make it to church because they are unable to drive and no one can deliver them, but from the confines of their home they can be part of a church community. I know there are members of our community who have social phobias, or issues that actually being present in a church with others is incredibly difficult, and yet they can be in church if they have that computer connection. Being church wherever you are, whatever your circumstance.
But also, and this for me has emerged more and more over the year that we have been running services, is that we have a burgeoning online community; now more than a billion people use the internet. At any given moment here in Second Life there can be sixty, seventy thousand people that are online, involved in Second Life, and of course their membership is many tens of millions. This is something serious, a growing community. And we need to reach out to them, we need to share the love of Christ with them. Wherever they are, whatever their circumstance.
One of the criticisms that I receive, and just recently have received through Facebook, when someone charged to me, “Well this will never replace face-to-face.” Well let me be clear with you right now, our vision is not to replace face-to-face church. May that continue to grow and prosper. Our vision is to complement, to augment (as Grizzy says). It is to be there as well as. Because there are going to be those who find the physical church experience alienating. There will be those who cannot participate in the physical church experience for medical reason, as I have just shared. Or there will be those who communicate and understand their community online. And we need to be there. We need to be part of this burgeoning revolution, this digital revolution. First we had the Agrarian Revolution, then we had the Industrial Revolution, now we are experiencing the next significant shift in our history as a globe. And it is the Digital Revolution. And rather than us as church, twenty years from now, trying to become part of the movement, here we are right now at the forefront of it. I want to position the church to have a seat at the table, of defining our culture.
So just a little plug before I continue. I’m just finishing up a paper that examines this digital revolution. It kind of explains “What is it? What are the features of it?” And then I ask the question, “How can we, as church, engage with this?” And I’m calling it something like “The Future of Ministry.” And I’ll make this available to you once I’ve finished. And I’m not here talking just about Second Life, but about the internet, about engaging with the online generation.
So here is where we are right now. We’ve been church now for just over a year, running services. We have five services a week. Some of the services are very new, and therefore very small, but they are growing. We have a wonderful bible study, run by Sophia Tulip. I doff my cap to Sophia, for the incredible work that she does. We have a wonderful discussion group, and we have literally hundreds of encounters every week around this cathedral place, where people are praying for each other, where there is some pretty heavy counseling and support going on, but also as people have questions answered about their faith. And we have reached a point, where this is not just a small endeavor. We now have a Leadership Team, which Cady Enoch chairs, and they are meeting monthly. We now have people behind the scenes creating accounting infrastructure, the administrative infrastructure. We have a team behind the scenes working on our constitution. How are we going to be legally incorporated?
Let me tell you this, as fact. This is becoming a serious endeavor. This is quickly becoming a real church. And with that comes the need for resources. We need to take the next step up. We need to go to the next level. For myself, I am full time employed, I do this ministry, I lead this ministry, around my other activities. This is not my full time endeavor. And yet, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we have a legitimate, full time ministry now. That we could have people here throughout the week, offering pastoral care and support, organizing prayer groups, a range of activities. Meeting the needs of this online community. We have reached the point in our community where we need to take the next step. And the only way we can do that is by raising funds, so that we can start to employ staff.
So this wild idea that I had, nearly two years ago this January, has become something quite serious, and I believe, incredibly significant and substantial. And now we face the reality as a community, and I’m speaking to each of you. That we need to raise funds, so that we can employ an Administrator, a Coordinator, so that we can employ Pastoral staff. My vision is that we have a Pastor in every major time zone. That we have a Coordinator that brings it all together. That we grow from being 520 members to many thousand members, that we have services in Spanish, in Chinese, in Japanese. We could see this grow extraordinarily, there are just very early days. But we need to release people who can be dedicated on working on this ministry, like I cannot, because of my full time employment, and other things. And the way we do this, the way we take this step, is to raise funds.
And so I’m going to put directly to you a challenge. Prayerfully consider how you can be involved. If you go to our blog https://slangcath.wordpress.com/ I very clearly share how you can make a donation, whether it’s a once-off, or if you would like to become a frequent donor, which I particularly invite. So that is my challenge for you today. We have now reached a level of maturity where we need to take the next step and start to raise significant funds, so that we can start employing staff, to release them to oversee this important ministry going ahead. May we continue to grow in our effectiveness to reach this online generation, so that we can be church wherever you are, whatever your circumstance. Amen.