The Anglican Cathedral of Second Life

Virtual Theology

34 Comments

As I noted in my recent post about the leadership transition at the Cathedral, we continue to have the interest and support of those bishops of the Anglican Communion who have been working with us on formalizing our standing within the wider church.  There will be a follow up meeting to discuss these matters  held in the UK in July.

Part of this work will involve taking a look at the theological issues surrounding the expression of Christianity in virtual worlds.  We have gotten off to a great start with Rev. Mark’s blog post on the conversation about virtual sacraments.  Below are some of the other questions that have arisen so far.

We would really like feedback from the community on these questions, and want to know what questions you have that we haven’t thought of yet!  I encourage you to share your comments here!!

  • What do you think are the most important questions facing Christians in Second Life?
  • What harms us spiritually in SL?
  • What can help heal us, help us and help us understand the gospel in SL?
  • To what extent does online life and culture allow us to behave in ways that would not be acceptable in RL?
  • What do you think are the most important theological questions facing the Anglican Cathedral in SL?
  • What does it mean for the cathedral to be Anglican?
  • What can you do in a RL church that you cannot do in a SL church?
  • Are we really “gathered” when we meet online?
  • What is the function of a virtual place of worship?
  • What is the relationship between worship in a RL faith community and worship within SL?
  • What is the role, if any, of evangelism in SL?

34 thoughts on “Virtual Theology

  1. I am a bit surprised that you see the SL cathedral as an American one. It isn’t intended to be. While the original Anglicans of SL group was founded by an American, the cathedral itself was founded by Rev. Mark, an Australian living in New Zealand. And the current leadership team includes members from the UK and Australia, as well as the US, and our current roster of worship leaders consists of two Americans, two residents of the UK, and an Australian. I suppose the impression you are getting comes from the fact that so many of our community members are American, but I think that this probably just represents the proportion of SL residents in general that are in the US.

    One point that may cause some confusion to members of our community is the use of the word “Anglican” in the US. First, let me back up and explain historically why we are Episcopalian and not Anglican. As the UK residents will attest, members of the Church of England pledge loyalty to the reigning British monarch. At the time of American independence from British rule, this posed a real problem for the Anglican former colonists. I’m not a church historian and don’t know all the ins and outs, but suffice it to say that we established a relationship with the Scottish Episcopal Church, and from that came the establishment of the Episcopal Church in the US. So we maintained the tie to the Anglican heritage without that political impediment.

    It is no secret that there is much contention in the US church these days about a variety of issues. There are some members of the Episcopal Church in the US who feel that they cannot in good conscience remain affiliated with the national church, but feel very strongly about their Anglican religious heritage and wish to preserve that. As a result, they have formed their own churches (and recently a national organization) with the word Anglican in the title. They use the word Anglican in this context to convey the fact that while they maintain an Anglican religious heritage, they are not affiliated with the established Episcopal Church in the US. This is of course a complex issue, and my intention is not to raise this whole issue for discussion, but only to clarify the use of terminology which may be a source of confusion. I will add that any person who claims an affiliation with any church of Anglican heritage (or indeed, any faith background, or none) is very welcome at the Anglican Cathedral in SL, and will be treated with respect there.

    You raise the question, “How much does it matter to you that the cathedral is not part of an established or state (state in the ‘government’ sense of the word, not Texas, Maryland, etc) church?” I will note that we are in serious conversations with representatives from the Anglican Communion, and are exploring ways to formalize our ties to the established RL church. In fact, we are planning a meeting in a few weeks time with them to further this conversation. We will keep you all posted as to the outcome of these conversations, and encourage you to keep us in your prayers as we explore this new territory of integrating the “real” and virtual expressions of Anglicanism.

  2. Thanks very much, Cady.

    It would probably seem as strange to you to have a church that was the default church of everybody in the nation as it would to me to pay the doctor.

    I was a bit flummoxed when I first came into the SL Cathedral. I don’t know what I was thinking but it didn’t occur to me that the Anglican Cathedral was going to be as American as it is. I should have known because SL was made in the USA.

    Somebody in SL asked me once if I had always been Anglican or was I a convert. At first I didn’t understand how to frame an answer as the very concept was unknown to me. If I’d been in a Catholic site with the word ‘Catholic’ over my head I would have cottoned on to the question sooner. You don’t opt in to the Church where I come from but where the questioner came from you obviously do. In the UK you can belong to any other church you like but if you were found dead and unidentified in the street with no money on you you would be given a publicly-funded Anglican funeral.

    Vocabulary is often a problem on internet forums and chats of all kinds but one usually knows if they are of British or American origin and can ask what words mean. Somehow I had managed to miss the fact that the SL Cathedral was American.Don’t ask me how. I think I was just too keen to get there to think about it. I chose The Anglican Cathedral because I had been under Helene Milena’s leadership before and then when I went to the blog I heard an Antipodean voice preaching. The next night I went to a service and there was a bloke with a West Midlands accent and a Welsh name.So,somewhere at the back of my mind it all confirmed that the cathedral was British, or at least what I was used to.

    At first I got very confused over terms like “I am not episcopal,I am Anglican ” and the word ‘respect’ which deeply shocked me and nearly had me heading for the hills until I realised it didn’t mean ‘respect’ in the way I understood it,it only meant show good manners. That sort of thing is more about the famous separations of a common language,potayto potatto, than a church concern but as a person whose only contact with online interactive churches had been with British ones to which people from all over the world came,it muddled me a bit until I realised I was really on an American site with people speaking the American language. I am one of the ‘people from all over the world’ this time. Now that fact has sunk in I’ll be a little less confused.

    Some of the things that are mentioned when people bump into one another outside services I’ll also understand a bit better since I’ve been reading some things about American churches. I still don’t follow all the Episcopal,Episcopalian, Anglican similarities and differences yet.I do know that when a chap says he is episcopal he’s not telling me he’s a bishop.Andwhen somebody talks about the ‘regular’ people in the church they don’t mean the people who come very week.

    Thinking about this I’m wondering whether one of the questions shouldn’t have been ‘Does it matter to you that the Cathedral is American ?’ And I wonder how different- or similar – the answers would have been from American and non-American members.

    Another could be ‘How much does it matter to you that the cathedral is not part of an established or state ( state in the ‘government’ sense of the word, not Texas,Maryland, etc ) church ? My answer would be ‘I’ve only just found out it isn’t. Give me some time to think about that one.’

  3. hi Rhianwen!

    It is very interesting to get the British perspective on things. As an American, I can’t imagine there being a national church. The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the US (the American province of the Anglican Communion) is actually a fairly minor denomination in terms of membership. So there is absolutely no presumption that anyone is a member of our church. TEC members have by and large made a deliberate choice to be part of this church. Even in the case of “cradle Episcopalians” this is true, as there is not a strong stigma in the US around changing denominations, and we are individualistic enough to “shop around” for a church that aligns with our own theology and ideology. So, a very different experience indeed!

    In the US, when someone is admitted to the hospital, they are asked if they have a particular religious affiliation. But if they give none, there is no fall back option other than “none.” We do have hospital chaplains, and in the scenario you describe, it would not be unusual for the offer to be made for them to pay you a visit. I would expect the chaplain to be Catholic in a Catholic hospital, etc, but in general, there is no set denomination for those holding these positions, and they are generally trained to minister to patients from a variety of backgrounds and faith communities.

    I would also say that most of us (Americans anyway) have had enough exposure to British culture through TV and films to know what a cricket pavilion is, but the game itself is still a mystery to us!

    You ask, “Is a Church more precious to its members in a country where they don’t put “C of E” on the card at the end of the hospital bed unless you’ve told them it’s something else ? Where it isn’t taken for granted ?” That is a very interesting question, and one which I wouldn’t presume to try to answer, not having anything other than my own experience to go by. I would be interested in hearing the perspectives of others on this.

    I am fascinated by the observation that the experience of national church identity might affect one’s experience of church in SL. This is just one more reason that I cherish the opportunity to interact with people from such varied backgrounds at the SL cathedral. I think that we can really break down some barriers to understanding one another by these exchanges!

  4. “In the language of heaven (Welsh): Diolch yn fawr, a Bendith Tad. (Thank you and bless you).”

    Thank you, Petra,I must be a typical arrogant Brit. It would never have occurred to me to tell anybody what the language of heaven was.It’s one of those things one thinks everybody knows.You must be a very sensitive person.

    When I found a message on my answering machine from a Sikh neighbour,”Sandeep says the cricket pavilion’s haunted,can you get the vicar?” my surprise was that she was taking the haunting story seriously,not that she was wanting somebody in authority from the Church of England.

    Despite the number of other denominations and other faiths in England and Wales there is the general expectation that there is a national Church to whom every member of the public is entitled to turn in times of trouble or celebration.It’s like the National Health Service,the judicial system or the Fire Brigade.We expect it to be available when needed.

    I can barely imagine what it’s like to live where there is no official national church.

    Is a Church more precious to its members in a country where they don’t put “C of E” on the card at the end of the hospital bed unless you’ve told them it’s something else ? Where it isn’t taken for granted ?

    I was once admitted to hospital in an emergancy and a nurse came to tell me my dog had died.Then she asked,’Do you want to see the chaplain ?’ I suppose there are places in the world where they wouldn’t do that. If I’m to get used to being in Church in SL it’s going to take some learning about.

    PS Do I need to explain what a cricket pavilion is ?

  5. Thanks for your remarks, Petra. I’m especially happy to hear that you’re a fan of Pickstock, Ward, et al. I sloughed through most of Milbank’s seminal work Radical Orthodoxy and found it very eye-opening. I find it a pity that these theologians aren’t finding more traction amongst Christians. Milbank was a bit too much of a lightening rod for his own good, I’m afraid. He could have critiqued common paradigms of the social sciences without seeming like such a full frontal attack, as Radical Orthodoxy tends to read. And of course the problems of accessibility. But utterly amazing stuff, and what an enormously encompassing mind that man has. Jean-Luc Marion is also worth a read. If you’re looking for thinking on the issue of how Christianity best addresses the internet media, some of the best writing I’ve found to date is in Paul Watson of http://reachingTheOnlineGeneration.com.

    Let’s think though for a moment on their best-known anthologies, “The Word Made Strange.” The title addresses a situation amongst believers where the Word has become so familiarized that in some sense, it loses its power – that in new expressions of the Word, which are at first alienating, we eventually “come home” in a rediscovery of the Word as inspired by the Spirit.

    I don’t bring up RO thought in our own group because the level of Biblical and theological education amongst members and leaders is often very, very low. The initial familiarity often isn’t there. There is a great deal of enthusiasm for “theologies” but I detect very little staying-power of thought, and very little knowledge of the source texts (the Bible). When it does come to “theology,” the main name I’ve heard is “Spong,” I suppose since we have so many members and leaders from the Episcopal Church. Unfortunately this brings with it almost a pre-Scholastic naivety in hermeneutics and a very unhelpful, black-and-white way of classifying interpretations as either “literalist” and “non-literalist,” really a regression from the Victorian type hermeneutics prevalent in Bultmann. What’s especially unhelpful is the attitudes that Spong tends to inculcate in his readers with the vitriolic language he uses against those who disagree with him, as “backwater fundamentalists,” and rather fantastical descriptions of how beninghted one must be to believe in something like the Resurrection. Of course, this also tends to put his readers off of reading classical theology, or even the Bible, so sometimes people will, e.g., talk about “grace,” but have little idea of what grace is. So it’s really an uphill battle here, when it comes to the theology front, and I think it will be quite some time before we’re profitably able to engage the theology front. I do like the little I’ve read of Balthasar, I’ve enjoyed some Küng but not fond of some of his emphases, Moltmann is someone I’ve wanted to engage for some time. We’ve recently engaged in discussion of “virtual sacraments” and many of the comments were mostly … sentences with lots of words like “sacred,” “holy,” “spirit,” “creativity,” “grace” … sort of use of the vocabulary of theology, but without much content to actually chew on with the old brain, or connectedness with theology, Scripture, or the teachings of the church. I think this comes from the rather impoverished background in theology which Turner describes in the article linked above. Many of our discussions consist of a lot of people throwing out their opinions on things, without much grounding in fact, church history, or philosophy, often with little interconnection, but somehow we’re also frequently implying that we are more rational than other churches! If you want to see something “exclusive,” it’s there, implying people from other churches are rationally inferior without giving any indication as to how they can improve this condition. We certainly aren’t better theologically informed than the people at other Christian sims, but still somehow we don’t mind mocking other churches in the “reason” department and sometimes have comments implying people from other churches “leave their brain at the door.” Sad and very un-ecumenical.

    I think there is a will on the part of the Leadership Team to help shake the Spong influence amongst us that’s so prevalent in the Episcopal Church, but it will be difficult. So as to your thoughts of our church being grounded in “modernism (or even pre-modernism),” in some ways Spong is modern, in other ways (hermeneutics) I’d say thoroughly pre-modern – basically, hermeneutically uninformed, from any era’s standards. And that’s largely where we are starting from. I think we’re headed in a good direction, though. I’m not sure to what degree SL itself is a “post-modern environment” more than any other environment – it certainly brings up post-modern challenges, such as encouraging reductive soundbytes in the chat medium, but remember Derrida’s preoccupation was largely with something so simple as the contrast between the written and the spoken word. I tend to see postmodernism as a critique of modernism, and SL doesn’t really seem to embody this critique – if anything, it exacerbates some of the gnostic tendencies of modernism.

    The church is simply grounded in God’s word. It’s worked through the interpretation of His word, as inspired by His Spirit, through the ages, but there’s an amazing continuity in that interpretation. There have been differences of opinion, but all in all, these have been quite minor, considering the agreement on the most important issues. It’s continued its task of interpretation up through the insights of phenomenology (which I think are probably the most important for the Church – look, for example, at the influence of Heidegger – what’s come from postmodernism hasn’t gained much ground), and into post-modernism (which in the hermeneutics department, hasn’t been terribly productive, but has highlighted some interesting issues). Probably the best source on this would be Hans-Georg Gadamer’s work Truth and Method. Anthony Thistelton also writes on hermeneutics, but then specifically from a Christian perspective, and is less dense and more accessible. Alasdair MacIntyre’s books After Virtue and Whose Justice, Which Rationality? are also good reads in the department of going beyond the modern. If you are struggling with issues regarding the self (you say you are doing so with your “SL self”), check out Charles Taylor’s wonderful book Sources of the Self – it will situate your thinking regarding the Self – back to the pre-Socratics, up through present thinking.

    But much more important than all of the above is simply knowlege of the primary source, the Bible.

    I’m sure you’ll do just fine at the Cathedral and don’t mean that you can’t think of joining us “without physically expressing that part of my identity” while you’re with us – what you do off-sim is none of our business unless you make it our business. I didn’t mean to make you feel “excluded,” simply inform you of what the mind of the Communion is when it comes to human sexuality (though a minority is in rather fierce opposition to this resolution). It’s important that you know, before you make too much of a commitment to the Communion or the Cathedral sim. Unfortunately, this issue has resulted in a great deal of conflict, you’re surely aware of the province that “rended the fabric of the communion” as the Windsor Report puts it. But I’m sure you can worship with us and profitably fellowship with us without having to resort to discussions of sexuality or orientation, if this is your worry. The gifts God has given you are valuable, no matter what your orientation or sexual practices. And it seems most of us don’t believe that teaching Lambeth I.10 is part of our calling either, so you aren’t likely to encounter people who “throw” this at you or go “Bible-bashing” with Romans or Deuteronomy, I doubt it will ever come up in a sermon. If you really want to discuss sexuality issues in a Christian context, I’d encourage you to do it in IM, or somewhere privately off-sim – this would probably also be the most appropriate for yourself, as well – there’s something beautifully private about sexuality. There are also other sims that aren’t beleagured with the nasty problem of the struggle going on now in the Anglican Communion where you can discuss sexuality without our own sad reality of strife in the backdrop.

    I’ve prayed with quite a few gay guys in Second Life without ever bringing up the sexuality issue, and even helped one make a commitment to Christ, and helped him keep his RL job by talking him through a tough time. In my experience, most gay / lesbian people don’t really want to talk about sexuality and orientation issues here, it’s better done in a richer medium, where we have the advantages of eye contact, body language, etc. … so we know when we’re likely to be treading on sensitive territory – it’s also best done when, if we do hurt someone, we can actually invite them over for dinner, to show that we’re earnest in the love we’re showing for one another. Second Life is very, very limited in its ability for us to show our love. It’s so easily reduced to “words, words, words …” … and pixels.

    I think it’s probably best for gay and lesbian folk at the Cathedral to be able to worship with us, without having the human sexuality conflict always looming in the background. We had one woman tell us that she felt that the conflict “was her fault.” This is enormously sad, no one should feel this way. But I think the reality is, if we start discussing this, we will start debating it, and gay and lesbian people will likely feel like a football during game season. I think it’s much healthier for us to refrain from teaching on human sexuality and implicit advocacy through discussion, so as to avoid conflict, and to encourage worship between those in the vast majority of the Communion who support Lambeth I.10, those who don’t, and gay and lesbian people, whatever their position on Lambeth I.10 (some support it strongly) all together. Of course, there is temptation toward “activism” on both sides, implicit and explicit – but in reality, I believe it’s the activism on either side, and attempts at modifying the Communion’s resolution in either direction (e.g., excluding LGBT people from pastoral care and worship, or blessing same-sex sexual unions), which are most likely to create conflict and make people feel excluded. People who expect a certain kind of teaching regarding human sexuality do need to know what the Communion’s teaching is – I don’t think there’s any point to going “hush hush” about it – but we don’t need this to be part of our pulpit ministry or discussions, as we’d likely get into the sad state of division, scathing language, and vicious nastiness (if one looks at the lawsuits) which now characterizes the Anglican situation in the United States. I’d like to be more positive about this, but we have a whole lot of American Anglicans with us, and things haven’t turned out nicely there.

    And however sad the situation is, know clearly: this is a problem we have as Anglicans. It is not your fault. You did not cause this. We have made a mess of things. We know this. Our Christological problems are much, much more worse than any possible teaching on sexuality or actual sex act. We must make clear that we serve Christ; the most important Anglican teachings (or Christian ones for that matter) are about the identity of Christ.

    So come worship with us in peace.

    And God bless you.

    • Many thanks, Wilfried, for such a complex and thoughtful reply. Just a brief(ish) response, then I’ll hold my peace and let others carry on the discussion. Sure I’ve said too much already.

      I would first of all endorse your recommendation of MacIntyre and Taylor. Along with Martha Nussbaum, they amongst the most immediately compelling of any living philosophers. I am just coming to terms with Taylor’s recent book, ‘A Secular Age’.

      I read the articles you linked with interest, and would encourage everyone to look at them. They defend a more ‘traditional’ (for want of a better word) Anglicanism than I would. I admit to having some sympathy with the challenges posed by the non-realism of Don Cupitt and the Sea of Faith movement (who I take it are the British equivalent of Spong). I find Richard Holloway’s writings reflect an interesting and thoughtful struggle with these challenges.

      As to SL, perhaps the underlying question is what sort of Anglicanism (even, what sort of religion and spirituality) can and crucially should thrive here, and I seriously think that it is worth reflecting hard upon the debates and visions represented in the various readings we are bandying about. If Anglicanism is a tradition, then it must (as MacIntyre reminds us) be dynamic if it is to remain vital and relevant. In part that dynamism will mean shaping itself to the potential SL congregation, and making the breadth of the ‘broad church’ of Anglicanism available to SL.

      One last reading, and I do dearly wish I could find this one line. Dorothee Soelle, ‘Speaking of God’ in her Theology for Skeptics. This, for me, is an essay that speaks to the compassion and vulnerability that should lie at the heart of any Christianity (and indeed, any religion worthy of the name).

      Gold bless

    • Petra,
      Thanks for your own thoughtful reply. I also enjoy Nussbaum a great deal.

      “Anglicanism” is indeed dynamic and will continue to be so. Things will be thought out, worked out, and sadly enough also fought out as long as it’s around.

      I have hope for the SL congregation, but we must also be patient. There’s little point in our congregation’s speculating about what it should be like at this point, I think, until we find a means to educate that congregation better in what the Anglican Communion agrees that it is, and what it holds dear. Until now we have mostly had quite a lot of speculation which wasn’t terribly well informed, partially due, I think, to the great desire of everyone to say their thing, resulting in multi-threaded conversations going everywhere and nowhere. The discussions were more aimed at welcoming newcomers than at engaging issues seriously, I think. The Leadership Team still has a good number of things to settle, and once that has happened, we should have a clearer vision of the way that they have chosen.

      I haven’t seriously read any Cupitt. In the 90’s I remember seeing an article or two of his – looked like weak postmodernism sprinkled with Godstuff. A challenge like that to a robust faith can be interesting indeed, though from what I read of him (just review stuff), I think I’d probably prefer straight Nietzsche. Is your faith pretty much creedal? Nourish that first, though an intellectual challenge is fun, we all need guidance, and some challenges aren’t healthy for everyone, no matter how intelligent and critical. I hope you’ve got a good RL faith community.

    • AND –
      I really doubt Cuppitt is anything like Spong. You really have to *try hard* to … produce scholarship which is so artfully pathetic. Spong sometimes almost seems like an evangelism tool for pointing out to TEC people what’s wrong with their leaders. Sad, really.

      • Spong cites Cupitt as the source of many of his ideas. Perhaps you should try reading both of them before dismissing them.

      • Mary/Patapon, I have read enough Spong to find him to be a very poor scholar, as many others have, including the Archbishop of Canterbury; I have also read Cupitt in the 90’s but was not impressed, but also did not read enough or give it enough time to really consider this an informed opinion.

        Though Cupitt may be a good scholar, it is not enough for a shoddy scholar to quote a better scholar to rid himself of shoddiness. More than that is necessary. I simply don’t know about Cupitt.

      • I’m sorry if some of these things sound snarky – Spong tends to drive me toward snarkiness. I find it terribly discouraging that the church has so embraced a man with such pathetic scholarship who also denies the most basic things the church teaches. It speaks volumes of the theological education, and education in church history and hermeneutics of the church at large, but particularly in TEC.

        I think one of the most important points I’m trying to make here is that we have a great pastoral need to provide some basic theological education – especially regarding our “source text,” Scripture. If a lot of us have read Spong and found him interesting, it’s probably an indicator that we need something in the hermeneutics category, and maybe in the church history category, but that especially – we need to get to know Scriptures better, and some of the basic, core theology shared by all Trinitarian churches – “Who is God?”, grace, salvation, redemption, all these things need to be a bit better clarified and unpacked. Otherwise our opinions about “what does God’s grace mean in a virtual setting” won’t be worth much, since not knowing much about God and grace in the first place won’t bring about the sensibilities that we’d want in asking these types of questions. I’m not saying this is the case with you personally – I haven’t had enough discussions with you about this – but I think, in general, with our group, it’s our most pressing pastoral need, if we really do want to engage these questions. We’ve brought up the thought of having an Alpha course, I think something like this would help. It would be fun to give it a bit more of an “intellectual” feel though because I think a lot of us yearn for something to engage our minds, and that really helps – but we do need to go over the bases – and if we can bring the right attitudes toward it (NOT like my snarkiness – I can be WRETCHED in the “attitude” department), we can learn these things – and even better – grow in faith. And this would make me so, so happy. And my dirty snarky side wouldn’t be so tempted.

    • Petra, I’ve enjoyed this discussion quite a bit. I’m letting you know that I’ll be missing out on this discussion for a week or more, so if you happen to post again during that time and I don’t respond for a few days, it’s not because I’ve left it.

      May God bless you and give light on your path.

      • Wilfried, you posed a very interesting question in asking if my faith is creedal. It is simply a question I’ve never thought about before, but it has made me reflect upon how I would justify my Anglicanism, and what it means to me. (So the tardiness of my reply is in part having time to think, as well as the pressures of rl.)

        I grew up in England and Wales. As of course you know, Anglicanism is the established church, with a precisely defined position in the country’s political structure. I am not sure what the American (or indeed other communions’) experience might be, and I’d love to hear other people’s experiences and stories. They may be vital to SL, as people from different Anglican communions come together. Nonetheless, I think I was fairly typically in seeing no choice about being an Anglican. I did not and do not choose it. I am constituted as the person I am by being brought up Anglican, and especially in the influence of my school. If I make choices, I make those choices from a taken-for-granted, but perhaps vaguely understood, notion of myself as an Anglican. If asked what it means to be an Anglican, then again I don’t think I’m untypical in appealing immediately to Howells’ settings of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, Holst and Vaughan Williams’ English Hymnal, John Betjeman’s (‘Lenten Thoughts of a High Anglican’), the spire of Salisbury Cathedral, all those Anglicans in Jane Austen novels (and of course Anthony Trollope), or just the sound of a peel of church bells on a sunny Sunday morning. The Book of Common Prayer perhaps gets an honourable mention. In that way, Anglicanism is soaked into my identity and history, and of many people here who would not consider themselves religious.

        (By the way, I’m sure you know this novel, but I’d encourage all Anglicans to seek it out H.F.M Prescott’s A Man on a Donkey. A profound and disturbing account of the origin of our church, that does not shy away from the violence and injustice inherit in that genesis.)

        Personally, when I began to think seriously about religion, and returned to regular church worship, what was perhaps more important than consideration of the creed was the framework provided by my own intellectual development. I’d become an academic, whose job was to read and teach social theory and philosophy. So, my religion was, and continues to be, tested against the theorists I read, be they theologians (I did read McQuarrie when preparing for confirmation), sociologists (a friend of mine, if asked what sort of Christian she is, replies, ‘Durkheimian’), or philosophers. It gets tested against ideas of feminism, critical theory, existentialism, and on and on. Personally, I am afflicted by an almost continual crisis of faith.. It keeps me on my toes.

        What I think this means is that I take Anglicanism as that which makes my personal spiritual quest, my feeble attempts to make some sense of it all, possible. In the jargon of philosophy, it’s a condition of possibility. But the journey is one that is shaped, in all its steps forward and steps back, its twists and contortions and loops, through dialogue with other faiths, ideas, visions, as well as, of course, personal experiences of love, fear, distress. This is not, and should not for a moment, be everyone’s journey. It is working, I think, for me.

        Thank you Wlfried for bringing a new twist to this personal journey. God’s speed on own your journeys, spiritual and otherwise.

  6. I’d like to thank Rajani and Wilfried for sympathetically reading my comment… I’m flattered. Wilfried will not be surprised to find that I don’t find phrases such as ‘while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture…’ and ‘cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions’ sufficiently liberal. I know this is all meant very compassionately, and in the spirit of loving understanding, but it comes out as exclusionary. I am not sure I can be a lesbian without physically expressing that part of my identity. The virtual sexual expression of SL has become an important, and I would stressing loving, resource for me.

    But I’m in danger of pursuing a personal agenda, not the point of this blog. Let me try to make this relevant.

    Personally, I see the pressing moral issues that face the rl church to be those of social injustice, poverty, oppression, discrimination and prejudice in all their forms. The SL church may have a role in promoting this work (and perhaps raising awareness of and funds for Anglican charities and organisations, such as the Children’s Society in the UK). However, in SL, it would seem that the more pressing moral and pastoral issues concern interpersonal relationships and our (spiritual) self-understanding. That is perhaps why it is worth dwelling a little longer on questions focusing around sexuality.

    VR technology over the last two decades has opened up new ways in which people understand themselves and interact, emotionally, sexually and spiritually with others. Speaking in my rl persona, as a humanities academic, I think that these new expressions of personal identity are as yet poorly understood. They pose enormous challenges, not just to us as ordinary participants in SL, but to the humanities (philosophy, sociology, cultural studies, as well as theology) and the arts. Until we begin thinking creatively, openly and deeply about what it means to be an avatar, a person, a lover, a faith member, in VR, any theology, and any pastoral or evangelical practice based upon that theology, will be impoverished and makeshift.

    Am I getting carried away? Sorry. My real point is that, at least personally, I’m still working out who my SL self is, and I’m not sure of the sort of church that can help with that exploration. I am not convinced that a church grounded in modernism (or even pre-modernism) can help in a post-modern environment such as SL.

    If I’m still looking for a theology to help, in addition to my slightly flip remarks about Moltman and friends in my original comment, maybe I’d look to the difficult, challenging but rewarding thinkers of the Radical Orthodoxy movement. Perhaps Pickstock, Loughlin and Ward have something to say, precisely because they use the language of post-modernism, and thereby open up ways of thinking that may be appropriate to such a strange place as SL.

    I’ve written far too much. Sorry.

    In the language of heaven (Welsh): Diolch yn fawr, a Bendith Tad. (Thank you and bless you).

  7. Q1:What do you think are the most important questions facing Christians in Second Life?
    A1:I don’t have any questions myself. Second Life is ‘first life’ to me when it comes to Church. I only bought the computer I use for SL for the purpose of attending the Epiphany Island Cathedral and possibly other churches when there isn’t a service at EIC.

    Q2: What harms us spiritually in SL?
    A2 : Nothing that I am aware of that is peculiar to SL. The Enemy can attack us in the same way he can anywhere I suppose. He usually does it by engineering squabbles in churches and Christian communitites and they can crop up on the internet just as they can in RL.

    Q3: What can help heal us, help us and help us understand the gospel in SL?

    A3: The same things that help and heal in RL. There are Bible Studies,prayer groups,services,social gatherings.The difference is that in SL there is much more of the above than in RL. In SL there is much more flexibility and wider availability. There is less time constraint in SL than in RL. If,for instance,I am a mother of a young child whose bedtime is 7.30 and the RL Bible Study meets on the same night of the week my husband has his evening class I can’t go to the local RL Bible Study.I can,however,on another evening at a time the children are tucked up and my husband can come with me,go to a Bible Study in SL. The RL Bible Study might have been recorded for my benefit but there is no chance to interact.On SL I and my husband can take our turn to read the verses of the passage and take our turn in answering questions and saying a prayer.

    Q4: To what extent does online life and culture allow us to behave in ways that would not be acceptable in RL?

    A4: To the extent that we can’t be seen and may not even be heard.There is no camera and the use of the microphone is optional. In SL we can : dress our avatar smartly for church but in reality in our own home at our own computer turn up for meetings and services without our best clothes on or any clothes at all for that matter,without being taken to the nearest mental hospital;turn down the volume on the vicar’s voice;join in the prayers as loudly as we like;sing whatever hymn we want;play our own music; knit during the long intercessions; have a meal or a drink during the prayers or sermon;take medication; watch TV; talk to friends on the phone;chat online;put our feet up. We wouldn’t dream of doing any of the above in a RL church even if we could.If we sent an avatar to do any of it in a SL service we’d be treated with anything from tolerance to a ban depending on how much it annoyed the others.
    Q5: What do you think are the most important theological questions facing the Anglican Cathedral in SL?

    A5:The same as those facing any other church I suppose but I can’t imagine what they would be. It shouldn’t have any. A church is supposed to have its theological ideology settled before it opens its doors or goes out to engage the public.

    A6: What does it mean for the cathedral to be Anglican?

    To me it is the Church which crowned its titular Head when I was five years of age watching TV for the first time and was not to see another TV for four years after that.”Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law?” echoes in my memory and is part of the underlying,understated ethos of my country. I have never lived anywhere but England or Wales and after looking at other denominations in my early adulthood I came to realise that the Anglican Church was true. It had everything. I like it that Epiphany Island Cathedral has Bishops involved because it feels bona fide and I know the teaching is sound. I wish there was a British Church on SL.

    Q7: * What can you do in a RL church that you cannot do in a SL church?

    A7: Polish the brasses. Put the tea urn on. Arrange the flowers.Sing hymns with others yet until sound technology resumes.

    Q8 : Are we really “gathered” when we meet online?

    A8: Yes of course. Just as gathered as if we were all talking individually or in conference on the phone in a prayer web or ringing in to a phone-in programme on the radio or TV or following a service on the radio or TV. Even more so as we can see one another.

    Q9 : What is the function of a virtual place of worship?

    A9: To subsitute for a corporeal place of worship; to complement or supplement a corporeal place of worship.Above all it is to be available at all times.A RL church is not open round the clock. You wouldn’t phone the vicar or a fellow RL church-member at three in the morning if there wasn’t an emergency but you can go into a SL church any time of the day or night for no other reason than you are awake and you may find someone for whom it is lunchtime and who wants to pray with someone else about a troublesome time at work or boast about a child’s achievement in the classroom.

    Q10: What is the relationship between worship in a RL faith community and worship within SL?

    A10: It depends what you mean by worship. To some it is merely the taking part in services. To others ‘worship’ includes fellowship throughout the week with other believers and helping with the fabric.In many RL churches the members will email and talk to one another between services and meetings just as they used to talk on the phone and still do. Online costs nothing so there is longer communication time available than by phone. If the RL church is one in which the members live some distance from one another then prayer meetings and Bible Studies can take place online.In this way the internet enhances worshipping relationships between people.

    In SL the worshippers come from all over the world and many of them have RL churches they attend on Sundays and midweek.Some of them know other SL members from their RL church. I do not have a RL church to attend regularly,mainly because of health and disability issues, so I cannot talk about a relationship between SL and RL church in my own life. I gather from other internet users that they are happy to have two communities if their SL ( or other internet ) one is different from their RL one.

    Q 11) What is the role, if any, of evangelism in SL?

    This is up to the member. It depends what other communities in SL he/she belongs to.

  8. Thank you for your clarification, Timothy. I am glad that we have provided a safe and worshipful space in SL for Anglicans and others. I think there is a great deal more we can do however, and a course for seekers such as Alpha or Emmaus may well be a good thing to do at some point in the future, perhaps the near future.

    The need to focus on evangelism has been highlighted on more than one occasion in the Leadership Team. I am certainly not aware that there has been any decision made to stick with some kind of pastoral model only. I wanted to check my understanding of what you were saying to be sure I knew what you meant by your comments.

    I’m writing here as an individual rather than expressing the opinion of the Leadership Team, when I say that I think establishing a worshipping community has been a way to get a good base from which to begin to broaden what we offer. I am a teacher by profession and currently use the opportunities I have to teach in the Cathedral and hope we can extend that further.

  9. Petra,

    Good to see you here. There are a number of LGBT folk with us.

    The Anglican Communion is quite “liberal” concerning LGBT issues – this is its teaching regarding human sexuality: http://www.lambethconference.org/resolutions/1998/1998-1-10.cfm

    This Conference:

    1. commends to the Church the subsection report on human sexuality;
    2. in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage;
    3. recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God’s transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ;
    4. while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex;
    5. cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions;
    6. requests the Primates and the ACC to establish a means of monitoring the work done on the subject of human sexuality in the Communion and to share statements and resources among us;
    7. notes the significance of the Kuala Lumpur Statement on Human Sexuality and the concerns expressed in resolutions IV.26, V.1, V.10, V.23 and V.35 on the authority of Scripture in matters of marriage and sexuality and asks the Primates and the ACC to include them in their monitoring process.

    This might not be “liberal” in the sense you’d like, but it does unequivocally state that we need to provide pastoral care to people no matter what their sexual orientation.

  10. Hi, Helene, I think Wilfried answered pretty well as to what I was getting at. I also want to say that the folks who are identifying sexual exploration as a reality in SL are doing a good job of understanding the culture, which is vital to establishing any sort of church presence in any new environment.

    I got an email today about a forum w/ Charlie 12string Lax that sounds great – open discussion of whether “coincidences” are something more. What a great way to engage in spiritual discussion! These sorts of “open doors” into the church are commendable.

    But we need to have some clarity on the guiding mission and role of an SL Anglican presence. One of the things that confounds us sometimes is cultural – folks in the UK are used to having a national church that is there as pastor for key moments in life. In the USA, the churches are more intentionally evangelistic, seeking to form identity in those they reach.

    If we see the Anglican presence in SL as primarily a way station for support, comfort, encouragement and maybe some guidance to folks, that is fine. Even as a long time Christian, I am blessed by being able to pop in when my schedule allows to take part in the prayer services – you all have done an amazing job creating an environment that is restful and spiritually nurturing in prayer.

    My question is: is that the sum of the mission? If so, well and good. Let’s then be clear about that.

    But will there be any opportunity for more complete Christian formation? Will there be an opportunity to express the Gospel to non-Christians in such a way as to invite them into relationship with Christ and life as a disciple, or will that be seen as “going too far”?

    Like I said above, it is OK to say “that’s going too far.” But we need to have the clarity to say it. It will define who opts into the Anglican presence in SL, and who does not. To do the right mission, you need the right team with the right gifts – if what I’m calling a “pastoral model” is the primary mission, then you will need people who are committed to that model. People who want to evangelize or teach become frustrated under it, just as much as people who want to nurture sexual identity exploration will be frustrated by any perceived pressure to set up programs aimed at conversion.

    Again, if you are UK, look across the pond. What I am describing is exactly what took place in The Episcopal Church. The defining division of the denomination is between those who prioritize the care of LGBT and those who prioritize evangelism. At some point, one becomes primary and the other becomes secondary – and the folks defined as “secondary” will perceive a compromise of the Gospel as they understand it.

    So I am saying be as clear as you can in stating the primary mission of the Anglican SL presence. It is better to have a few folks opt out early than to limp along with folks working at crossed purposes, some feeling “less than” others.

  11. Scrolling up and reading other people’s comments, I find myself nodding along with pretty much everything Petra Janick says about the relationship between typist and avatar and also about sexuality. (Closeted LGBT folk being able to be out in SL is a classic case…and so is things like the mentioned discovery of how much or how little importance one places on permanence and monogamy in relationships. I am not sure how that relates to the church exactly, but it is a big big part of the SL culture.)

    Also agreeing that the pastoral and prayer focus so far is very valuable. I think that SL church doesn’t necessarily need to try to copy RL church. It’s its own thing in its own world, in some ways.

  12. What do you think are the most important questions facing Christians in Second Life?
    Probably things like how “real” we want this to be, how connected to the church in the offline world. Are we playing church or is this actual worship? It can be different things for different people, I imagine.

    What harms us spiritually in SL?
    The same things that do offline–temptations to not love each other as whole people. In SL, there is sometimes a tendency to think of the people behind the avatars as not quite real, because we see them as just pixels and text. But they ARE real people–our neighbours.

    What can help heal us, help us and help us understand the gospel in SL?
    A virtual space can give us space to try things out (whether dancing, learning to manage a business, stepping forward into leadership roles, or simply friendships) that we wouldn’t be brave enough for or have the opportunity to in offline life.

    To what extent does online life and culture allow us to behave in ways that would not be acceptable in RL?
    Everything is so much faster. Everything is much more ephemeral. And you can leave at any time. So it is easy to drop people or commitments. There’s also anonymity, which can be good or bad. It can be very freeing, for example someone being able to be “out” about things that they can’t tell anyone about in real life.

    What do you think are the most important theological questions facing the Anglican Cathedral in SL?
    I have no idea.😀 Probably the question of whether we can do the Eucharist virtually would be an important one.

    What does it mean for the cathedral to be Anglican?
    To me it means that the service order is Anglican liturgy, the leaders are in from the Anglican tradition, and we hold discussions openly, honestly, mindfully–the Anglican communion is a place to love God with your mind, among other things.

    What can you do in a RL church that you cannot do in a SL church?
    Hug people physically during the peace. Hear voices saying the responses together. Take the Eucharist. I miss these badly, so I do still need RL church!

    Are we really “gathered” when we meet online?
    YES. Absolutely. If we only gather online to the exclusion of offline, that may be a problem (if we *can* meet offline–some people may not have that option). But it is a REAL gathering. I believe that 100%.

    What is the function of a virtual place of worship?
    A place to come and pause, reflect, and meditate in the middle of our virtual entertainment (which can actually get quite stressful and just as involved as RL sometimes!). A way to connect with others of like mind and heart.

    What is the relationship between worship in a RL faith community and worship within SL?
    For me worship in SL is subsidiary, assistant, to RL worship. However, sometimes I can get to a SL service when I have missed one in RL. Online and offline relationships and communities have different functions: offline, you can meet face to face, have the physical and verbal contact you don’t get online, and sometimes members of the community can help each other physically. Online communities can often respond to immediate needs, and can be very helpful if one is moving physical locations (and therefore uprooted) or has a hard time in social situations IRL. Both are valuable.

    What is the role, if any, of evangelism in SL?
    The same as in RL–actions speak louder than words. But SL is entertainment for most people, so that may make it difficult to use many words at all and not come off “preachy.”

  13. nb. the above article by Turner was called “the best, most concise, and well-written explanation of the problem the Episcopal Church faces that I have seen” by Dean Munday of (Episcopal seminary) Nashotah House [he recommends it here: http://toalltheworld.blogspot.com/2009/01/unworkable-theology.html ]. So it’s got the backing of two Episcopal seminary deans. A must-read if you’re interested in theology and also the problematic surrounding one of the provinces in the communion.

  14. Helene, being pastorally sensitive to needs is always part of the #1 package. Tim means that the theology incorporates more than simply “being sensitive.” The #2 package demands that every message is somehow articulated in terms of being sensitive, love, or preventing / reacting to harm or offense.

    There are extremes in theology that are rather monocular in view – have basically one value, and try to reduce other values to that one value. These are sometimes referred to as a kind of “theological kudzu.” In reducing all other concerns to this monolithic concern, eventually there’s very little left besides … the kudzu … it reduces and chokes out the rest.

    For example, “legalism” tends to reduce everything to moral imperatives. We believe in grace … because we should. We love others … because we *** well should.

    On the other hand, “fuzzy love” theology reduces everything to some kind of ill-defined sympathy. See e.g. William Witt on this – http://willgwitt.org/the-episcopal-church/should-we-blame-the-seminaries/ – and previous Yale Berkley (Episcopal) Seminary Dean Turner on how sermons in this strand of thinking are often boring because they always boil down to the same thing: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/01/an-unworkable-theology-26

    Both kudzu variants miss the theology of grace and are far from what Christ taught us. Not for me though to tell you what to do.

  15. I’d be interested to see your idea unpacked further, Timothy. It must be possible to challenge people with the demands of the gospel while still being pastorally sensitive to their needs, surely?

  16. Thank you, Tim, much in agreement here.

    I think some decisive action needs to be taken if it chooses 1 and not 2. If it’s 2 you choose, you really do need to change the name of the sim or it’s a bit of a bait & switch type situation – the Communion is clear on what “Anglican” means with the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral.

  17. Good comments and good clarity by the folks posting. I think it important that whichever identity and mission the Cathedral takes on is stated with the same clarity – some of the priorities stated are mutually exclusive (at least as defining primary mission).

    The main division I see emerging here is between evangelism that sees a need to bring people to Christ and a pastoral model that affirms people as they are and allows for but does not promote voluntary change.

    This is a fundamental point of division, and it is on display in the Anglican fragmentation here in North America.

    So, whichever direction is selected, that needs to be honored – but it needs to be stated very clearly so that those who do not buy in are not frustrated and can make an informed decision about their level of participation.

  18. I very much hope that you can steer conversations away from the topic of sacraments and into areas where Epiphany already has a vital ministry: services of worship, praying together, discussing the faith, healing those whom the RL church has damaged, and on.

    That discussion of Eucharist that has already started on Mark’s blog can be continued, and there can be other discussions in both RL and SL, but we are unlikely to reach any sort of agreement easily. Meanwhile there is a wonderful ministry going on that needs support and extension. Theology is a wonderful topic to talk about: what does it mean to love our neighbor, indeed, who is our neighbor? How do we take the gospel forth into new places? What is the Church’s role in new worlds.

    • Very good points, Joyous.

      Personally I couldn’t care less about Eucharist or any other sacrament. I know these mean a lot to other people but like you I think this is the time for building on what we have rather than dwelling so much on what we don’t yet do that the issue overshadows the positive aspects of Epiphany’s ministry.

    • Joyous said:
      I very much hope that you can steer conversations away from the topic of sacraments and into areas where Epiphany already has a vital ministry: services of worship, praying together, discussing the faith, healing those whom the RL church has damaged, and on.

      Well said, Joyous. I agree we need to pay serious attention to what we already can do and are doing.

      Thank you!

  19. * What do you think are the most important questions facing Christians in Second Life?
    SL is an opportunity for Christian outreach, but it is also a challenge to Christianity. It requires a Christianity that speaks to people who are typically far younger than the membership of most (British) Anglican churches. That perhaps means forgetting a lot the institutions of the church, and coming down to the core spiritual and moral engagement of Christianity.

    * What harms us spiritually in SL?
    SL is a place of experimentation, especially for many people, about their sexuality. It is a place that makes certain forms of venal indulgence very easy and pleasurable. People will make mistakes, and may understand those mistakes as threats to their spiritual identity. (Speaking personally, SL has taught me how important commitment and loyalty in relationships is to me. A sort of spiritual discovery.)

    * What can help heal us, help us and help us understand the gospel in SL?
    Given what I’ve just said about sexuality, an SL church has got to take a liberal line on gay and lesbian matters. I’d tend to assume that the Beatitudes (and thus what I take to be the core spiritual and moral demands of Christ’s teaching) should lie at the heart of any SL engagement (mind you, I tend to think that about rl Christianity too, so that comment probably doesn’t count).

    * What do you think are the most important theological questions facing the Anglican Cathedral in SL?
    There are, I suspect, profound and difficult questions centring upon exactly what the relationship between the rl person and their avatar is. My avatar is not rl me. I have even asked myself the question as to whether my avatar should have the same religion as the rl me. My SL partner is Jewish. Should or could my avatar reasonably also be a Jew? (That relationship led me to reflect a great deal on the Jewish roots of Christianity throughout and beyond Lent this year.) Perhaps SL then gives us an opportunity to shed the restrictions of our rl religious identities, and in a very powerful way, to explore and experiment with ecumenical experiences. I’d ground a theology of SL in close reading of Hans Kung (for the multi-faith perspective), Jurgen Moltmann (SL is a place of hopes and utopian dreams) and perhaps von Balthasar (for the drama of it all).

    * What does it mean for the cathedral to be Anglican?
    I wonder if we need a cathedral. What would seem to be most valuable is a chaplaincy, which is to say a place where people can come for counselling, advice, guidance, and maybe just someone to talk to. Call it a cathedral by all means, if that lets people know it exists, but 24 hours chaplaincy services would seem to me to be a priority.

    * What can you do in a RL church that you cannot do in a SL church?
    Anticipating the answer to the next question, I can gather together with people from across the world who I would never otherwise met, and in a safe environment when I can control exactly what they know of me, and how we then interact.

    * Are we really “gathered” when we meet online?
    Yes. In my experience, people invest a lot emotionally in their avatars (I certainly do). My avatar has become a very importance aspect of me, and I like the thought of that side of me gather with others, in a way that would be unlikely or impossible in rl. Remember that radio services have been a valuable part of Christian outreach in the UK (on daily BBC radio 4) for years, and serve a vital role for people who cannot otherwise join a physical church. SL is potentially an interactive form of such outreach, and possibly to a very different demographic.

    * What is the function of a virtual place of worship?
    Guess I’ve already covered this, in part, by discussing chaplaincy, above. But a virtual place of worship will also allow those who are not (yet) church attendees to learn what our services and liturgy is like. I am interested in visiting SL synagogues and mosques. I have very little idea what a Jewish or Muslim service is like, and SL seems like a good place to find out. I expect many have the same curiosity about the Christian services that I accept as second nature.

    * What is the relationship between worship in a RL faith community and worship within SL?
    Does a serious SL church need the resources to direct people to their nearest or most appropriate rl church, if and when the time is right? This is not necessarily evangelism. It is rather having ensuring that if people come to the SL Cathedral with rl needs, then there are rl resources there to meets those needs.

    * What is the role, if any, of evangelism in SL?
    Evangelism worries me in rl Christianity. We evangelise by example, living a good life (and remembering that crucial bit about not casting the first stone). It is good for people to know that Christianity and Anglicanism are present in SL, and that if they come to the Cathedral they are welcomed, and meet interesting, open-minded and sympathetic people. If they become interested in Christian doctrine, then great if we have the resources to talk to them, invite them to services and reading groups, or guide them to rl churches.

    (Sorry if I’m ranting in all this… God bless!)

  20. You make a good point, Diane, about those for whom SL church needs to be their only or primary church. Having been involved in online church for 4 years, I am very much aware of the way it offers an experience of worship and Christian community to those who cannot access it in RL due to illness or disability. Sometimes geography denies people the opportunity to worship in a tradition in which they feel comfortable so once more the online version can help out.

    People in these categories form a significant minority of members of online churches, judging by two surveys of different online churches I have seen. We obviously need to be aware of what we need to provide to give such people as full an experience of church as is practical.

  21. What do you think are the most important questions facing Christians in Second Life?
    Who are we? Are we people sitting at home, or are “we” the avatars themselves? That defines all other questions
    What harms us spiritually in SL?
    The tendency to think of the avatar as the “we” that we are serving or interacting with.
    What does it mean for the cathedral to be Anglican?
    And what does that mean for people who live in parts of the world whose own bishops define Anglicanism differently?
    What can you do in a RL church that you cannot do in a SL church?
    You are present in a different way. The experience, while multi-sensory in SL, is much more so, more compelling in RL.
    Are we really “gathered” when we meet online?
    Oh, yes. We really are.
    What is the function of a virtual place of worship?
    I think one function that’s been really overlooked in the discussions I’ve read is the ministry to shut-ins and others that otherwise cannot attend church at all. I hear people talking about “SL shouldn’t take the place of RL church,” but some participants may not have been to a RL church in years for mobility or other reasons.
    What is the relationship between worship in a RL faith community and worship within SL?
    Your RL faith community can bring food when you’re sick. SL provides much of the same spiritual support, but not the physical support of a real community of interdependent people.
    What is the role, if any, of evangelism in SL?
    See above. I think people might “try” church in SL that wouldn’t be comfortable in RL, but primarily I see it as bringing in people who would love to attend church regularly but can’t in RL.
    🙂 Diane

  22. What do you think are the most important questions facing Christians in Second Life?
    “Christian missions, historically, have been undercut by rivalries between denominations, religious orders, etc. The question of ecumenical sharing and perhaps even some formal agreements in SL is worth taking up – how can we allow people to explore our distinctive offerings, yet not present Christianity as divided and fueding?”

    What harms us spiritually in SL?
    “We might not now until we step into the trap. This is a new means of ministry, and the evil one is creative. We will be harmed if we are not praying together to ask God’s guidance and protection of our efforts. I would esp. encourage Luke 11:13, taking up the Lord’s promise that the Holy Spirit will be given to disciples that ask, seek and knock.”

    What can help heal us, help us and help us understand the gospel in SL?
    “It would be helpful to have more insight into how those who come to SL engage virtual relationships, how they process information, and what they hope to get (and avoid) via virtual experiences. With that kind of information, we would be better poised to mediate the Gospel in this environment.”

    To what extent does online life and culture allow us to behave in ways that would not be acceptable in RL?
    “Pain and suffering are not present. Certainly, people can come and express the suffering they know in RL, but online life is somewhat detached from life’s challenges, choices and consequences. So I would guess there is more experimenting with and less committment to virtual relationships than to those in RL… but I could be totally off on that.”

    What do you think are the most important theological questions facing the Anglican Cathedral in SL?
    “Same as in RL Anglicanism. How to be a church when people disagree about important matters. How do we establish a virtual ‘Via Media’ – what are the outside boundary markers for Anglican Christian witness?”

    What does it mean for the cathedral to be Anglican?
    “I think that the Cathedral is onto it with the regular cycle of prayer, sanctifying SL time with orderly worship and Scripture reading. The Anglican Cathedral idea might have us learning more and more about all SL communities, and weaving regular prayer for them into the Cathedral cycle. Meeting others, finding out their hopes and needs, and lifting these up in prayer. Much as the Books of Common Prayer include regular intercession for Government leaders, the community and concerns beyond those of the church and its immediate participants. Aiming even higher, perhaps a good Cathedral program for inquiry, such as Alpha.”

    What can you do in a RL church that you cannot do in a SL church?
    “I think that the opportunities for Christ-like sacrifices are still greater in RL. One can simply quit SL and be uninvolved when one wants – RL doesn’t always allow this. And sacramental life much fuller and richer in RL.”

    Are we really “gathered” when we meet online?
    “Yes. The prayer fellowship in particular is palpable and sincere.”

    What is the function of a virtual place of worship?
    “Right now it strikes me as a mission outpost in the virtual environment – a spot where Christians might make the Gospel available to others.”

    What is the relationship between worship in a RL faith community and worship within SL?
    “I think that the SL faith community, to fulfill the missionary opportunities in SL, needs to be composed of people grounded in RL communities of worship. I think that SL disicipleship should ultimately bear good fruit in RL, so the SL faith community SL).

    What is the role, if any, of evangelism in SL?
    “I think it is the primary purpose of establishing an church presence in SL. The idea that ‘This is where people are, so this is where we go with the Gospel’ is really the only compelling reason to plant the church in SL, otherwise we are just indulging in self-gratification of one kind or another. That’s fine, but I think that evangelism is a higher calling. And in SL, we may find that non-Christians are under much less peer pressure to ignore questions of faith and are more open to evangelism.”

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