The Anglican Cathedral of Second Life

Proposed constitution of AoSL

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Discussions have been held among the Leadership Team and between Bishop Christopher Hill and Rupert Bursell in order to move forward the proposed constitution of our ministry. This is necessary to establish us as a recognised entity. We have received a set of notes about the constitution and have been asked to invite comment from the community before a final version of the constitution is drawn up. The document sent by Rupert Bursell is reproduced below. Please add any ideas or thoughts in the comments or contact me directly at ailsa[at]ailsa-wright.net All comments should be received by the end of July.

Helene Milena

Second Life Constitution:

Bishop Christopher and I discussed the constitution for Second Life and especially the various points made by members of the Second Life ministry team and congregation in relation to that draft. This paper is intended as a summary of those discussions and an explanation as to the conclusions that we have reached. We are very happy that it should be disseminated amongst the congregation and other interested parties and will, of course, consider any further comments. However, we both feel that it is necessary to bring the constitution into being as soon as possible. To that end, once there has been a time for reflection and prayer, it is my intention to approach Canon John Rees, the Provincial Registrar of the Province of Canterbury and the Registrar of the Diocese of Oxford about the final drafting of the constitution. He is far more able to advise upon some of the issues that have been raised than I am, especially as he has been involved with the legal side of i-church. Bishop Christopher and I will, of course, consider any such advice very carefully in the light of our discussions.

1. Company/charity: This is a matter that we particularly need John’s advice about. The present draft is based upon the legal requirements for a company because John’s initial advice (as I understood it) was to the effect that a company was the better way forward. I will ask him particularly to consider the pros and cons of a charity rather than a company. (This is particularly so as I understand that a new type of charitable entity may be being introduced next year.) However, as I understand it, international charities do not have international legal identities. For example, there is a Red Cross in England but the ‘international’ Red Cross is, I think, run by a Swiss company with whom the English Red Cross is closely associated. In addition, in England the charity commissioners are being more difficult (from the Church’s perspective) as to what they deem to be charities. We have chosen English law as that is the jurisdiction with which +Christopher and I are more familiar and because, at least initially, the episcopal oversight is likely to be from England and New Zealand whose laws are to a large extent based on English law.

2. Objects: +Christopher and I discussed, but reached no decision, on two different approaches to ‘objects’ if these need to be spelt out. One would be to reflect the preface to the declaration of assent made by those being ordained: see Canon C 15, para 1 of the English Canons. The other would reflect the basic ideas underpinning the Lambeth Conferences, namely, to uphold and propagate the Catholic and Apostolic faith and order as they are generally set forth in the Book of Common Prayer authorised in the constituent Churches and to promote the expression within Second Life of the Christian faith, life and worship . Any question of doctrine should be referred to those with episcopal oversight to decide subject to a provisional ruling by the vicar.

3. Financial aspects: Clearly Second Life needs a reliable treasurer and we are most grateful for Mary/Cady for having taken on that role for the present time. +Christopher is very happy that the accounting should be done through the auspices of the Guildford diocese and he will ask Mark Rudall to set the requisite machinery in motion. This is especially important as any accounts will need to be audited whether a company or a charity is set up. You will see later our suggestions as to how a treasurer should be appointed in the future.

4. Land/Assets:
(a) We take on board the very important points made about the definition of ‘land’ in Second Life but there should be no difficulty in incorporating this into the corporation now that the actuality of the situation has been spelt out for us. If necessary the final drafter of the constitution can seek guidance/confirmation any definition.
(b) We are unclear whether it is intended in the near future to purchase Epiphany Island from Mark Brown or, indeed, whether that is financially feasible within the near future. Once it has been transferred to the Second Life community under the umbrella of the company/charity it will be necessary to appoint a ‘land’ administrator to control the technical aspects of the property. I suspect that it is unnecessary for that administrator to be a member of the ministry team but the constitution must provide for some control over that administrator on behalf of Second Life. (I imagine a loose parallel between the position of such an administrator and that of a church architect or surveyor in Real Life.) The other possibility is that the ‘land’ is held in trust for Second Life by for example, those having episcopal oversight but that would require a separate trust deed. Nonetheless, +Christopher and I both think it best if all financial aspects (capital and otherwise) are controlled within one legal identity if at all possible. We will, of course, take John Rees’ advice. Part of this advice will be the necessity or otherwise for trustees: we agree the fewer levels of intervention the better.

5. Episcopal oversight:
(a) We both hope that the present arrangements for episcopal oversight from England and New Zealand will continue but we appreciate that an eye needs to be kept on the future. For that reason it will be necessary to make arrangements as to succession. I have suggested that Archbishop Rowan might agree to appoint a successor or successors as and when the necessity arises, perhaps if the bishops in post cannot themselves agree such an appointment. +Christopher is considering that suggestion. It occurs to me that such an arrangement would add credibility to the Anglican identity within Second Life. (And, yes, I accept that it already has credibility but one can never have too much!) As the cathedral is Anglican we think that such episcopal oversight must be by Anglican bishops.
(b) We envisage that those with episcopal oversight might, if the necessity should ever arise, appoint an episcopal visitor to enquire into any problem that might have arisen and to report back to those having episcopal oversight for any requisite decisions. This is similar to universities, theological colleges and charitable hospitals in England. +Christopher will discuss this with +Thomas in New Zealand.

6. Episcopal vicar: Mark Brown has in effect been acting as the bishops’ minister and we very much hope that he will be able to continue to do so. After some thought +Christopher and I came up with the suggested title of ‘episcopal vicar’, although +Christopher is open to any other suggestions from the leadership team. We do not envisage such a ‘vicar’ as having a place on the ministerial team but as being there to give guidance when required and to carry out some particular functions including ministerial oversight. (We would like some input as to whether the episcopal vicar should be entitled to ‘attend’ meetings of the leadership team but not participate as a voting member.) We think s/he should be formally licensed by those having episcopal oversight and, if the vicar already holds an episcopal licence, that would require the agreement of whichever bishop has given that original licence. (We hope that there is no necessity to build in an appeal machinery in relation to the removal of any such licence to Second Life!)

7. Vestry:
(a) Titles carry their own significances, we know, but we thought that the leadership team might collectively be called ‘the vestry’ with the chair being titled the ‘pastor’. The latter has the benefit of being gender neutral and would embrace either a lay or ordained chair. The pastor would be appointed by those with episcopal oversight after consultation with the vicar and members of the vestry who may suggest appropriate candidates. The pastor would be appointed during the pleasure of those with episcopal oversight.
(b) In addition to the pastor, we think that there should be a vice-pastor to chair meetings when the pastor cannot do so or would prefer to delegate that responsibility. S/he would also help to ensure continuity and would be in charge if the pastor were unwell or during a vacancy.
(c) The pastor should be Anglican while the vice-pastor need not necessarily be Anglican but should be a member of a Church in communion with the Church of England or one of the Churches designated by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York as ones to which the Church of England (Ecumenical Relations) Measure 1988 apply. (See the lists in The Canons of the Church of England (6th ed, 2000) at pp 203 & 207, also available online.)
(d) The functions of the individual members will need to be spelt out (although not necessarily in great detail) but the overall function of the vestry would be to oversee (i) the cathedral services, (ii) the provision of pastoral care to the congregation, and (iii) the day to day administration of the cathedral. Clearly a balance needs to be kept or the vestry might become unwieldy. We therefore feel that the vestry should number 9-12 with the power to co-opt up to three additional members. The power to co-opt has the benefit of enabling the vestry to be more diverse.
(e) There should be a quorum of, say, 6 and decisions made by a majority of those ‘present’ and voting.
(f) We appreciate that the leadership team is working less formally at present but we feel provision should be more specific in case problems arise in the future. This does not preclude a fairly flexible process in practice.
(g) We envisage the whole of the vestry (other than the co-opted members) being individually licensed (see above). This does not mean that a member of the vestry must be ordained but, if a member is ordained, he or she would need his/her RL bishop’s permission.
(h) There should be a treasurer and secretary. (The latter would keep minutes and send summaries of the vestry’s decisions on a regular basis to the episcopal vicar.) We also suggest that there should be one member of the vestry entitled the ‘warden’ with the responsibility of looking after the day to day aspects of the cathedral ‘building’ (including ‘fabric’) and its appropriate use. The warden should be a different person from the pastor and vice-pastor.
(i) Other than the pastor we feel that both the office holders and the other members of the vestry should be appointed (subject to licensing) by the members themselves after consultation with the vicar.

8. Other than the pastor and the co-opted members, the members of the vestry should hold their appointment in the first instance for a period of three years but with the possibility of re-appointment for a further three year term. (Any further extension should only be with the agreement of both the vestry and the vicar.) Co-opted members should serve for a period of one year with the possibility of co-option for a further succeeding one year. This would be subject to their continuing to have the required qualifications for office.

9. Services: +Christopher is preparing a paper on the theological aspects of Second Life services but we feel that the vicar should give his/her agreement to what form of service may be used from time to time in the cathedral. This includes changes other than minor changes. (Compare the provisions in Canon B 5 of the English Church.) If necessary the vicar will, of course, consult those with episcopal oversight.

10. Authority:
(a) At present we do not think that those who take services need to be episcopally licensed but those who take such services should be authorised to take similar services in RL: see 7(c) above. (Here we have in mind the approach adopted in Canon B 43 in the English Canons .)
(b) Within Second Life any authorisation should be given by the pastor (or in the absence of the pastor by the vice-pastor) after consultation with the vicar. The vicar should have a veto but with an appeal to those with episcopal oversight. Interim authorisation might be given by ordained members of the vestry.
(c) We entirely accept that pastoral care/counselling is often carried out by a quiet word from the person taking a service. But even online this is unlikely to be in depth counselling. However, any in depth counselling should only be carried out by those authorised to do so both in RL Churches and in Second Life. The latter authorisation will be given by the vestry after consultation with the vicar.
(d) We feel that there should be some initial training in how to take services in Second Life. How this is done can be left to the leadership team. This could include some instruction as to where passing pastoral advice changes to in depth pastoral care or counselling.

11. Disclosure:
(a) We believe that it is essential that there should be disclosure of real identities to those with episcopal oversight, the vicar and other members of the vestry by all those in the leadership team; if that person is ordained (and in any other case where the need seems to arise), the person’s standing in RL should be verified by the vicar with the person’s bishop or other person under whose authority they may act. The same applies to those taking services, leading bible study and/or giving pastoral care or counselling; these persons should already by authorised to carry out such activities in their Churches in RL. (We do not think this verification would be too onerous, at least after the initial round of enquiries.)
(b) Disclosure to the wider Second Life community should be further discussed by the vestry and the vicar. We feel that the nuances of this question are best understood by those intimately involved.

Author: Helene Milena

Lay Pastor of the Anglican Cathedral in Second Life. Teacher, counsellor, wife, mother and grandmother.

20 thoughts on “Proposed constitution of AoSL

  1. Just adding a link: the Episcopal Cafe has a post up on this.

    http://www.episcopalcafe.com/lead/church_20/cathedral_of_second_life_nuanc.html

    And a thought: in SL its possible for people to worship together who might otherwise never meet in the same geographical or philosophical space. In these times, this is a precious thing and I applaud the Ministry Team for nurturing our community into this new model for doing church.

  2. Other points:

    1) I am worried that this is all about a few people playing church. If one is catering to those how are already churched in RL, then what the he** is the point? I would propose instead that this be about outreach to those whom the church in RL has discarded. But of course the .1 % who are churched and behind all this would be aghast at the thought of mingling with the unwashed.

    2) Sounds like this is all about Church of England. If so, then call it that — CofE. Don’t pretend to be universal Anglican. Because the CofE is 50 years behind those Anglicans in the senior Commonwealth, and in America, and take my word, honestly — those provinces no intention of finding a time machine to go back to match up with CofE policy and bad English showers.

    3) I’m a Canadian Anglican, no secret. Bonjour! I have no intention now or ever of submitting to a far right reactionary from the 18th century such as the Bishop of Guildford, who presumed to lecture the Church of Sweden from his red-brick (ugh) cathedral. See point 2 above about time machine.

    4) The Cathedral to me has become a beacon torch signalling all those who are NOT welcome, except in the back seats with Rosa Parks. (Welcome, and we’ll change your skin colour so you fit in.) I will not check my human rights in the vestibule of any church. I won’t sit with Rosa, though: I’ll give her the funding to start a new bus line and bury the old one.

    5) Speaking of funding, where’s the funding in all this, and who is getting it?

    6) This whole movement is not mainstream Anglican. It is a minority of hardcore fundamentalists. I don’t question the devotion. Just signalling that the minority is you.

    • As you know, Chaz, I am the chair of the Leadership Team at Epiphany. I am also an American. The Anglicans of SL group was founded by Rocky Vallejo, also an American. The cathedral was founded by, and led for two years, by Rev. Mark Brown, an Australian. The current Leadership Team consists of four Americans, one Australian, one New Zealander and three members from the UK. Whenever we have occasion to invite new members to join the Leadership Team, our goal is to have as broadly representative a group as possible, both geographically and in terms of ideological outlook. As Helene has pointed out, we are availing ourselves of (and are most grateful for) the assistance of our ecclesiastical supporters in the UK as a starting point. There are at present no international bodies that could give us the same level of support and guidance on these matters. Our goal is to one day become a truly international organization. We are creating a new framework here, and we have to start somewhere.

      I must say that I don’t see myself at all in your characterization of the Cathedral. As I stated above, I am an American. I claim an affiliation with the US Episcopal church, but I am not currently a member of a RL parish. I would describe my own political leanings as liberal. Although the leadership of the cathedral, and the members of our community, come from different backgrounds and represent differing political and theological outlooks, what brings us together, and what we hold in common, is our acceptance of and welcome to all who come to Epiphany Island, regardless of race, creed, color, background, sexual preference, etc.

      Our current funding comes directly from members of our community, and all of it goes toward paying the tier payment for Epiphany Island. As I have stated elsewhere on this blog, any funds raised beyond those needed to cover our current tier payment will be placed in a reserve fund to help ensure that we will always be able to maintain this space for our community. We make regular reports to the community on this blog regarding our finances. I can assure you that no one involved in this ministry is making any sort of financial profit from it.

      Thanks for giving us the opportunity to address your concerns about our ministry.

  3. Helene,

    Thank you for sharing the link to the Fresh Expressions website. Being an American (another ex-colonial like my neighbor to the north?) I have not heard of it before and read it with great interest. I enjoyed seeing how the established church is making the effort to be adaptable and flexible to the needs of new contexts.

    This sounds similar to what we are doing at St Matthews-by-the-Sea Episcopal Chapel. St Matt’s actually predates the Cathedral, but we have chosen to remain on a small plot in the midst of the surrounding LGBT community we are working to reach out to as opposed to the model of acquiring an entire island and attracting people to that location. (This also has the added benefit of helping to keep costs down.) Being small also means we can be more casual in our leadership style and decision making process, seeking consensus of the regular members who are interested in having their voice heard. Certainly a larger group like the AofSL needs a more structured and formalized way of doing things.

    ~Caoilin

    • I would say that St Matthew’s does fit very much within the scope of what we call Fresh Expressions, Caoilin. Obviously, as you recognize, we have a somewhat different situation at the Cathedral even though we also minister in SL. This is why we cannot take any structure already in existence and apply it as it is. We have to adapt due to our context while keeping what is essential to maintain our Anglican identity. The choices made for the Cathedral would not necessarily be right for any other online church. I have no doubt that other internet churches will build on what we have done, discarding what doesn’t work and making their own mistakes along the way. I’m hopeful that we manage to get it more right than wrong but it’s certainly not easy!

  4. Great discussion – very helpful.🙂

    zr

  5. *and* on another note entirely, it would seem that the proposed vestry and pastors are going to spend a great deal of time in administering things.

    How are they going to be compensated for this. Will anyone be eligible to receive salaries or honoria for the time they have given up earning other RL income in?

    After all, British Telecom and Inland Revenue don’t care if you are a nice guy – they still want their dues.

    • The point of opening this document for comment from anyone who wishes to do so, is to hear the views from all over the world. I am very glad that we are hearing voices from several places and I hope that continues. It’s in this way that we will find the best possible way forward. I doubt if the eventual outcome will be perfect or please everyone, but it will be the result of a lot of listening and mutual respect.

      Although the work on the legal aspect of this is being done for us in Guildford, by English ecclesiastical lawyers, the hope is that we find a way forward which is suitable for an international, online situation. We are building on work done by other online churches but each situation is different and needs different approaches.

      In case anyone is concerned, no member of the Leadership Team is looking to gain in monetary terms for their work. It’s certainly true that we spend a great deal of time in the administration of the Island and its services and so on. That is likely to always be the case for those who join the vestry of this ministry in any capacity but we give up the time willingly and will continue to do so.

  6. >> One thing I must comment on is how much I would personally resist the idea that those with a say in the running of a church, or eligible to be voted on to a council governing a church, should be determined by financial commitment. That is open to abuse,

    In the interest of full disclosure, how much is living with range of a cheap train ticket to Guildford, wherever the heck that is, with senior discount, open to abuse?

  7. AA further concern I have is this. It can’t all be about how to establish the past in the future – even if you drag in some colonialist white men from New Zealand to try to make things look different.

    Teensy example: There are six Royal Chapels in the world, as I’m sure you are aware. Two of the six are First Nation chapels in Canada — Brantford and Desoronto.

    The Queen was recently in her Canadian realms as Queen of Canada independent of her UK roles. The Queen was tending to her role as governor of the church in the new worlds, which she takes very seriously. A quick peruse of the first two weeks of July in the news would show how the Queen knocked herself out in Canada to acknowledge ties, concerns and indeed debts to the First Nations, including presentation of new silver to the First Nations Royal chapels.

    What strikes me is in stark contrast how this proposed constitution is one for a very small, bankrupt, old world *white* country. I see no consultation with the First Nations of New Zealand, Australia, America or Canada. I see the voice of the First Nations nowhere in this, even though they have gifts of understanding and humility that as Anglicans that we need.

    Proposed instead is a charter for a parochial country called England. The Queen’s most loyal subjects abroad as Anglicans and by treaty are completely disenfranchised by it. I am offended beyond words, and I cannot accept it.

    My first loyalty is to the Queen as Governor of the Church in all her realms, and if that means a raspberry to Bishop of Guildford, wherever the hell that is, who doesn’t have quite the same grasp of the scope of things as Her Majesty — et voila. Que ca soit.

  8. Hi.

    I’m a Canadian Anglican.

    You know, just a colonial.

    I’d like to know what place in all this there is for us Canadian Anglicans. The Aboriginal Anglican Canadians abused by Church schools. The LGBT Canadians. The dispossessed and rejected by the Church of England — that many other Anglican churches, and Christ, would accept. I don’t see us in any of this. Tell me where us those of us outside of Guildford see ourselves in this.

  9. I think we all have to work very hard indeed to try to step out of what we have known in the past, because this is simply not like anything else, hence the problems. My comments may sound as though we are aiming to be a traditional parish but that is not what I intend. We cannot be a parish in the usual sense as we don’t belong to any diocese or province exclusively but we are an entity.

    Bearing this in mind, the solution suggested is something along the lines of Bishops’ Mission Orders which deal with entities operating across traditional boundaries. Information can be found here: http://www.sharetheguide.org/section5/bmo

    Such organisational structures allow for churches of new types to be led by either lay or ordained people so that would not be a problem.

    One thing I must comment on is how much I would personally resist the idea that those with a say in the running of a church, or eligible to be voted on to a council governing a church, should be determined by financial commitment. That is open to abuse, with those able to make big donations possibly doing so in order to exert undue influence.

  10. Helene, thank you for sharing the comments from Rupert Bursell on the ongoing process of finalizing a constitution for the group. In response to your invitation to add ideas and thoughts, I offer the following for the Leadership Team’s consideration.

    Vestry

    I see a mixed message in your original posting and subsequent comments. On the one hand, the comments from Rupert Bursell indicate that the group is looking to be incorporated in England as either a company or as a charitable organization. Yet your own comments indicate that the goal is to be recognized as a parish. These are two different types of organizations. If the goal is to be a company or charitable organization, then the group needs to structure itself with a board of directors and by-laws to govern its operation. Additionally, the role of members is quite different if the group is a company or charity rather than if it is a parish. Also, the use of such titles and terms as “vicar” and “vestry” to describe leadership roles suggests a church rather than a company or charitable organization. If the group is going to be incorporated as a company or charitable organization, then the use of these terms sends a mixed message.

    If the goal actually is to be recognized as a parish or church, then of course the use of titles such as vicar and vestry are appropriate. However if this is the case, then the way that members will be chosen for the vestry as described in section 7 (i) does not reflect the actual practice that is the norm in western Anglicanism. In the Episcopal Church, which I am most familiar with, members of parish vestries are elected by the members of the parish who have made a financial pledge to support the parish and who have been fulfilling that pledge. Even in the case of mission parishes, which are under the direct oversight of the diocesan bishop, some of the members of the bishop’s council, which takes the place of the vestry in a mission parish, are elected by the members of the mission parish. Additionally, this representative bishop’s council has a voice in the choice of who is appointed as a vicar to the mission parish. Similarly, in the Church of England parishes are governed by Parochial Church Councils (PCC), the members of which are elected by the members of the parish. Yet the model being proposed for the group is that new members of the vestry will be chosen by the current members of the vestry without any input from the members of the group.

    The proposed vestry is a continuation of the current way that members of the Leadership Team are chosen, which is that a closed group that is not accountable to the members of the group (many of whom provide the financial support for the continued operation of the group) selects new members and makes decisions behind closed doors. If the group has as its goal being recognized as an Anglican parish, then it needs to adopt a leadership model that is the norm in Anglican and Episcopal parishes.

    Whenever I have raised this issue in the past, I have been told that the issue was being discussed, and that it was too difficult to implement a representative form of government given the unique challenges of Second Life. Yet if the the group has as it’s goal being recognized as a parish, then it must do the difficult work of figuring out how to set up a form of leadership that is accountable to the members it purports to serve. A simple solution could take the form of setting up a category of “voting member” that would require the contribution of a predetermined minimum and reasonable amount of Lindens to join. This would be akin to joining a parish and making and fulfilling a financial pledge. These “voting members” would then be eligible to take part in voting for members of the vestry at an annual meeting, and would identify the active and interested members as opposed to the residents of Second Life who visit Epiphany Island once or twice, join the group, but never come back again.

    Additionally, if the group does achieve the goal of being recognized as a parish, has the Leadership Team considered which diocese it would be a parish of? Is it envisioned that a diocese will be established in Second Life? If so, what province would this be a part of, or would this represent the establishment of a new province in the Anglican Communion. Or will the group be a parish of an existing real life diocese? In the case of the latter, will this parish then have a voice in the decision making processes of that diocese and province? For example, if the parish will be part of a diocese of the Church of England, will this parish, like other Englsh parishes, have the right to participate in the selection of members of the House of Laity that participates in the General Synods of the Church of England?

    Episcopal Oversight

    The proposed structures detailed in Section 5 demonstrates a divergence between how bishops are chosen in real life dioceses versus how it is being proposed for the group. Whether it be the Episcopal Church model where dioceses choose their own bishops, subject to the consent of the larger church, or the English model in which the diocese in question has a role in the choice, this needs to be in some way followed in Second Life. The suggested idea that the present bishops of Guildford and Wellington would simply choose who oversees the group, or that the Archbishop of Canterbury would make the choice without any input from the membership of the group is troubling. Even in the Church of England, while the Archbishop of Canterbury has a vote in the selecting of bishops, it is one vote amongst many.

    However if the model that the group chooses is to be a corporation or charity, then it needs to follow the practice of church associated charitable organizations. Perhaps it would make sense to ask the Bishop of California in the United States, in whose diocese Linden Labs is headquartered, to provide episcopal oversight similar to how charitable organizations associated with the church seek oversight from the bishop of the diocese they are headquartered in?

    Another issue is that since the Anglican Communion consists of independent churches, the proposed constitution will ask members of the various provinces to potentially accept the authority of a bishop from a diocese and province other than their own. While this probably is not an issue for most lay people, it could greatly complicate the role a clergy person from a diocese other than Guildford or Wellington since there will be conflicts of interest and loyalty. This has the potential of seriously restricting the involvement of clergy from any church other than the Church of England. I know of several Anglican/Episcopal clergy persons who have expressed reservations about getting involved with the group for this very reason.

    Cathedral

    I would also like to raise the issue of using the term “cathedral” to describe the church building on Epiphany Island. A keyword search for groups and places using the terms “anglican” and “episcopal” will show that there are indeed a variety of legitimate and authentic Anglican and Episcopal groups and churches in Second Life. Yet most of these groups are in fact independent of each other. To call the church building on Epiphany Island a cathedral suggests that it is the seat of a bishop and that there is hierarchical relationship between the AoSL group and the proposed episcopal vicar and the other Anglican/Episcopal groups in Second Life, which is not the reality.. Perhaps it is more correct to state that the Anglicans of Second Life represent the Church of England or more specifically the Diocese of Guildford or the Diocese of Wellington?

    Approval process

    Will the constitution, either in draft or final form be available for the members of the group to read and comment on before it is officially adopted? Also, what is the process of approving the final version of the constitution? Will the members of the group have a say in this?

    Thank you,
    Caoilin Galthie

    • Thanks so much for your feedback, Caoilin. I’d like to address some of the items you mentioned.

      The Anglican Cathedral in SL is, for all intents and purposes, a parish. A parish is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “the ecclesiastical unit of area committed to one pastor.” Of course, this definition does not take in to account the matter of virtual parishes. There is yet no such definition. In fact, we are the ones who are in the process of crafting such a definition. But I think our structure follows the spirit of this definition, in that we are a unified religious community under the direction of one pastor. The purpose of becoming incorporated as a company or charitable organization is to create a recognized legal entity for our ministry. This will, in part, make us eligible to apply for funding grants from outside organizations. One of our goals is to take whatever steps are available to us to help ensure the financial security of our ministry, so that we may be able to continue to serve our community for years to come. This is not unlike the legal requirements that US churches adhere to in order to maintain a tax-exempt status.

      I too am most familiar with the governance structures of the US Episcopal Church. I have voted for, and in fact served on, a parish vestry. The members of the parish deemed to have a say in the election of a vestry in RL are those who are “communicants in good standing” of that parish. I have never heard of the right to vote for a vestry being determined by one’s ability to make a financial contribution to that parish.

      As you say, we have considered various means of determining who will serve on the Leadership Team. We agree that the accepted model in RL Anglican communities is to have a governing body elected by the community members. But the unique challenges of Second Life make this model very problematic. In RL, one can verify the identity of the person casting the vote, and also verify that each person only casts one vote. In order to set up an analogous system in SL, we would have to verify the RL identity of each avatar casting a vote (to ensure that one person does not cast multiple votes under the guise of alt accounts). We would never want to compel any member of our community to disclose their RL identity. This would in fact be a violation of Linden Labs Terms of Service. The only exception to this rule is for those in leadership and ministerial roles that we deem appropriate. I would add that assumption of any such role would be completely voluntary on the part of the person assuming such a role, and their decision to accept or decline such a role would have absolutely no effect on their standing as a member of our community.

      We are exploring completely new territory here in our attempts to adapt what has been in the past a geographically based system to an international one. You raise some very good questions, all of which we have been grappling with in our efforts to construct this constitution. Even with the advice of some of the most knowledgeable ecclesiastical legal authorities in the world, the answers are not clear. We are all working through this together, and I can assure you that those authorities are eager for input from the Second Life community to help inform their deliberations on these matters. We will keep the members of our community informed as we move forward in this process, and as always, we appreciate feedback from all of you.

      • Cady,

        Thank you for your thoughtful reply. As you and I have certainly discovered, the task of being church in Second Life presents unique challenges that real life church communities do not face. I too have served on the Congregation Council of my ELCA congregation, as well as having served in several Synod Assemblies, where I have also been elected as a delegate to the next bi-annual Churchwide Assembly, so we both have great experience of the complexities of taking on leadership roles in our churches.

        I think the risk of describing the Anglicans of Second Life as a parish is that when people come into Second Life and make their way to Epiphany Island, and hear it described as a parish that is led by a vestry and a pastor, they bring expectations that it will be led in the way they have come to expect in their real life parishes. The problem comes when their expectations clash with the reality of how decisions are made for the group. I have seen this played out in our group and witnessed the disappointment that people feel when they realize that they have no voice in the leadership of a Christian community that they have come to identify deeply with.

        Additionally, while the goal of becoming a parish, even a new type of parish in a virtual world, is a laudable one that I support, simply calling the group a parish does not make it one. As I am sure you and I both know, parishes typically begin as missions supported by a diocese, with a vicar appointed by the bishop and built with the dedication and hard work of all involved over a period of many years. The process does not consist of a group of Episcopalians who gather in a space and then decide to call themselves a parish. You and the rest of the Leadership Team, both past and present members, have done the hard work to build a wonderful Christian community that has many of the marks of what a parish is. But it lacks some of the essential characteristics of a parish, including representative leadership, the celebration of the sacraments and the leadership of a pastor who is an ordained priest under the leadership of a diocesan bishop. Until the Anglicans of Second Life can figure out how to do these things, perhaps it is better to describe the group as a mission that is working towards becoming a parish as we know them in real life.

        Regarding the difficulties of determining who would be eligible to vote for a vestry, I agree that there are unique and difficult challenges in a Second Life community. Yet if the group aspires to be a parish and to have the hallmarks of a real life parish, then it is the responsibility of the Leadership Team, and those real life church authorities it is working with, to figure out how to do this. Simply stating that it is too hard or not possible to meet all the requirements of becoming a parish is not acceptable. Maybe it is just not possible to achieve the goal of establishing a parish in Second Life but to instead be a group of Christians who gather to worship, study and engage in fellowship in Second Life. Yes, we are moving into new territory that is beyond geography. However we need to make sure that as we move into this new territory, that we establish our presence in ways that meet peoples expectations of what a parish is. One of the beauties of the Anglican way is that while Anglicanism has adapted itself to the many cultures of the people who call themselves Anglican, it has retained common forms of worship and church governance that are the hallmarks of the Anglican reformation.

        To draw on a real life example, I also serve on the steering team of a prison chaplaincy in my area and also participate in the weekly worship service and Bible study. We worship, we engage in fellowship, all hallmarks of a congregation. Yet for specific reasons, this group can not be given status as full-fledged congregation in the ELCA, and we do not present it as such.

        I also wanted to respond to your statement that the sharing of one’s real life identity is a requirement for serving in a leadership role in the group. Again, there are complexities and difficulties in determining where the line needs to drawn. Accountability of those in leadership positions is essential. But the Leadership Team also needs to make sure that it does not err on the side of establishing requirements that are too rigid and that have the effect of setting up virtual stained glass ceilings that discourage members from taking on leadership roles in the group, as it has done in the past.

        I have been away from the group for a while focusing on other activities. I am glad to be able to reengage with the community and participate in this discussion!

        Caoilin

  11. Another problem with the parish model is that the AoSL church is a truly global expression of church, not localized geographically or nationally or even culturally, in its expressions of worship. In fact I believe that is one of its gifts to the wider Anglican Communion.
    We are attempting to be, in a sense like Paul, all things to all people, but within an Anglican framework.
    I personally hope that we may in future be able to develop a more globally relevant liturgy, recognising that people attending a service are actually in different time, and seasonal zones around the world and from different cultures.

    • We are actually already at the point you hope for in many ways, Charlie. I use the structure of a Service of the Word as given in Common Worship, used in England. That gives us an Anglican framework for worship. Within that structure I use prayers from all over the world, from different cultures and denominations. I try to avoid references to time and season as we are all at different points when we come together to worship and that will always be the case.

      I have often thought it would be good to offer more times for worship, and maybe it would, but then we might lose the times of coming together from all around the globe which is one of the joys of our global church.

  12. 10. Authority:
    (a) At present we do not think that those who take services need to be episcopally licensed but those who take such services should be authorised to take similar services in RL: see 7(c) above. (Here we have in mind the approach adopted in Canon B 43 in the English Canons .)

    Did someone forget that SL is not real life? What if I, theologically consider the way I go to church to be the Church in Epiphany? What does this actually mean?

    In fact, let’s turn this upside down.

    Any minister, bishop or even the Archbishop of Canterbury Himself cannot hold such ministry unless they can do so in Second Life as well.

    That is just plain SILLY.

    What if, for stupidity’s sake, the Archbishop of Canterbury can’t join SL because he has no computer…

    The elephant we’re all walking around is that SL is almost like its own universe. And it by definition has no reference to real life. If I want to make the AOSL my parish and never go to my local parish why shouldn’t I? If God is all pervasive, He’s there as well. He will hear my prayers, my needs and such whether I state them in a bricks and mortars Anglican Church on Payneham Road as much as He will when I type them out over SL.

    So, my question is:

    WHY isn’t the AOSL treated like a real parish? Why can’t it have a real bishop who can do real bishop like things, such as approve priests and such, who is from Second Life ONLY. If he happens to be a RL bishop too, so be it.

    Or to put this another way: why don’t we treat SL as another continent, world, country? It seems rather STUPID to tie SL to the real world when it’s plainly NOT the real world. Why should I, Jamethiel Wickentower, happen to need my local priest’s permission to take services in SL when, say, the leadership team has said I am able to? What if I’m crippled so badly I CANNOT EVER get to my bricks and mortar church?

    But I can get to AOSL…

    I guess this might be food for though.

    JW/DSL

    • Food for thought indeed Jamethiel, and something that the Leadership Team has also flagged up in their own discussions on this. If we actually were to need to be licensed in RL in order to lead services in SL then I would no longer be able to take services. Thank you for raising your concerns. This is a very important opportunity to think things through.

      Having the support of RL bishops is helpful to us as it helps to give us recognition as a parish in our own right, something that I personally hope will be the case one day. If we want to be classed as Anglican then some RL considerations will be involved but they will have to be adapted for our context also, as happens with all Fresh Expressions but with the necessary authority structure.

      As you will see from our vision statement, recognition as a church/parish is something we are aiming for. The reason we are asked for our input on this document is that we, you, me, others in our community, have a good grasp of the context and so are well placed to point out any possible errors or misconceptions or misguided directions. This is a really important time and we need to work to get it right together.

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