The Anglican Cathedral of Second Life

What is the point of going to (virtual) church?


Rev Mark Brown writes:

Today marked a special day for me: I started a new service within the Anglican Cathedral of Second Life and to my surprise my dad showed up!  It is the first time I have preached with my dad present and it was made possible thanks to the virtual setting.  Though we live in different countries we were able to share the church experience.

preaching-in-sl.jpgThe service happens within a virtual building (Cathedral) within Second Life.  Wherever you are, assuming you have a good computer and connection, you can attend church.  The service liturgy and Bible readings are typed and read out and my sermon (see below) is preached live.  This is an interesting experience, I literally preach to a computer monitor; though actually I am speaking to people from around the world. And it is this unusual dichotomy that dominates the virtual experience: being both present but actually not being present.  So in the image above I used the word ‘within’, was I actually within the virtual Cathedral?  Well yes, but also I was standing in my kitchen at home before a monitor.  I was both present and not present, depending on how you define being present.  And it is in this definition that most debate exists.  Are you really present when you are not physically in the same space?  Can one be virtually present?  I would argue we are seeing a shift from where being present is only a physical experience to one that will include electronically generated presence.  It will become more the norm that community is possible without ever actually meeting.  The ascendancy of facebook, the expectation of convenience, the ubiquity of mobile technology all point towards a growth in the acceptance of non-physical community.

This will place pressure on our theology of incarnation, of community, of the Eucharist as we the church wrestle with this dramatic shift.  Whatever you may think (and I welcome your comments!) it was simply wonderful to lead a service that included my own father.

To check out my sermon from the service, entitled ‘What is the point of going to church?’ click the play button below (11 minutes in length).


Author: Mark Brown

CEO of The Bible Society in New Zealand.

5 thoughts on “What is the point of going to (virtual) church?

  1. Very interesting indeed! Although I haven’t actually looked inside the Cathedral, the message was inspiring and I may not have have heard it otherwise from here (New England).

  2. Thanks for the challenging message, Mark 😉 very cool that you record these for us.

  3. I can really relate to this because three weeks ago I was able to attend church with my sister for the first time in years–in Second Life. We’ve lived in different states since I was 13 (with brief respites).

    I’d say “the service happens within” the Second Life cathedral, and while I’m attending the service, I wouldn’t say I was “in” the cathedral. The issue of being present is more difficult because while my avatar is sitting quietly, unless I activate some gesture it’s impossible to know by her behavior (as one could in a live church to some extent) whether I’m being present myself or off on another site or making a cup of tea or dealing with something else virtual or IRL.

    🙂 Diane

  4. Thank you, Mark, for another great photo! This one provides a wonderful illustration of the reminder that “there is a person behind every avatar”!

  5. Hello, Thank you for a great sermon. I discovered you when doing my study on ‘what makes a good priest’. I am on the first steps of testing my calling with the vocations officers of St Albans and it is very exciting. I am enthused by the 3 C’s and will pass them onto as many people in the Anglican tradition as I can!!!!! My church is in Vacancy at the moment and ‘Liturgy seems all to easy just to cling too!
    God bless this ministry

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