The Leadership Team met on 21st May. This meeting came just over a week after five members of the Team, either in RL or SL, had attended a meeting with Bishop Christopher Hill in Guildford. There is a sense that we have moved to a new phase in the life of our ministry as a result of this meeting. We are very grateful for the wonderful support we receive from Bishop Christopher, Bishop Tom and others. We appreciate the confidence they have placed in the ability of a group of Christians working online to build community and move towards being church.
Several members of our community have asked members of the Leadership Team how the meeting went. It’s good to know that there is interest in what was a really key meeting in the life of AoSL. Ahead of the meeting I provided a report on the last two years of our ministry. In it I highlighted the transitions we have experienced: a change of leader; additional members of the Team; a new structure within the Team; a revised vision statement; an increasingly challenging financial situation. I noted the challenges we have faced: the drop in numbers at services in the early days after Mark Brown left; the tension between the freedom of the internet and our wish to adhere to Anglican ways of doing things, including an authority structure; the negative comments on the blog regarding the proposed constitution; differences of view over Halloween which highlighted the wide range of views we try to hold together; the need to build the Team into a cohesive body. I also highlighted our achievements: the many new services and events held on the sim, either on special occasions or regularly; the various changes to Epiphany Island, such as the Peace Garden, new Labyrinth, north door of the Cathedral; the comprehensive survey and how far we have come in fulfilling the hopes of the community; the ongoing work we do to communicate our vision to the wider world. I also outlined some of our hopes for the future.
Bishop Christopher recognised the challenges we face in working across cultures and also across Anglican culture. He considers that we have dealt with differences arising in the Leadership Team in a mature and graceful way.
As those who have followed our blog will know, we have been involved in a process to create a constitution for the AoSL group. The purpose of this is to allow us to become a charity, initially in the UK but later in other parts of the world we hope. The purpose is not to make AoSL into a Church of England ministry. We have benefited from the support of three leading ecclesiastical lawyers in this legal work. A constitution will move us to a position where we are a group recognised by charity law, giving us legitimacy. This is one item we need in place to gain recognition by the Anglican Communion, which is part of our vision. We discussed the possible structure of our ministry in the future, with a Bishop’s Missioner being appointed to act as an intermediary between the Leadership Team who have responsibility for the day to day running of AoSL and the bishop. It was also suggested that the bishop should gather a group of bishops from around the world who have an interest in our ministry to form a network. It is hoped that the constitution will be finalised ready for approval in the near future.
Bishop Christopher has written a paper which defines the framework of our ministry in terms of sacraments. This gives clear guidelines about what will be offered on Epiphany Island. We are aware that many online churches are considering whether sacraments translate into the virtual context and some have already offered baptism and communion online. That will not be the case for AoSL, at least for the foreseeable future. Bishop Christopher still has work to do on the paper as the result of comments from those who have seen it. Once it is in its final form it should be available for wider distribution.
This paper and the constitution are key documents in our journey towards recognition by the Anglican Communion. The third item will be a dossier which gathers together various documents which have been written in our four year history plus additional material. We will seek out the voices of members of the community to contribute to the dossier. The dossier is likely to be made available online initially but perhaps in the form of a book later. Bishop Christopher confirmed that once these three documents – constitution, paper, dossier – are complete, he will be in a position to approach the Anglican Communion in search of recognition for our ministry.
The working group which has supported us will be replaced by an authoritative reference panel. Some of the members are likely to be people who have taken part in previous meetings but some may be new. Various names were suggested in the areas of pastoral support, PR, theology/liturgy, legal, financial. This group may meet together occasionally but should be available to provide advice and support when needed to the Leadership Team.
Once AoSL is a recognised charity, some work may need to be done on financial arrangements. Meanwhile, it was agreed that the churchwarden of the ministry should always become the owner of the land in SL. In recognition of this the churchwarden should be ‘Churchwarden and Premises Trustee’. The churchwarden will need the bishop’s distinct approval of their appointment. As in RL, the churchwarden will be a bishop’s officer.There will be a lot of work to do in the next few months as we continue to take this forward. It is a very exciting time.
Obviously the meeting in Guildford occupied quite a lot of the Leadership Team meeting on Saturday. The other big item was that of finance. Anyone following this blog cannot fail to be aware that we have had to raise a great deal of money in order to pay our tier fee (rent) which is due in June. At the time of writing, we have 7% to raise by the end of May with 57% of that raised so far. We continue to be grateful for the generosity of our members in supporting our ministry.
Obviously once June begins, AoSL begins to collect the money needed to pay the tier fee in June 2012. Currently all we ask of the community is enough to cover the price of the tier. However there are additional costs which we incur. The Leadership Team discusses its decisions between meetings in a forum which costs a monthly fee. Various items are purchased for the sim to enhance it. Both of these have been paid by an individual in the past. The proposed budget for 2011-12 includes these costs to more clearly represent the true cost of our ministry. The budget also plans for 20% over the needs of the year to be collected, so that within 5 years we will have a year’s tier in hand, making us more secure financially. The result of these calculations means that we would need to raise $4145 in the year 2011-12. This is very challenging and caused the Team to consider if there is a way to reduce costs. We came to the conclusion that there is really no other way to offer what we do except on a region of our own and that is what determines the high cost. We will continue to look at ways to raise funds. We would be pleased to offer our facilities to others on a regular or occasional basis. We wish to develop the Marketplace as a fundraising venture.
We discussed the number of people who are members of our SL group but who have not logged on for some time. We have agreed that anyone who has not logged on since the beginning of 2010 will be deleted from the group. They will be sent a notecard telling them what has happened and inviting them to rejoin the group if they wish. This process will get underway shortly and will result in our membership dropping from over 700 to a little under 500. The number will more closely represent the true extent of interest in our ministry in world.
We have begun to consider who we primarily reach with our ministry and who we should reach. This is in preparation for a presentation to the Team which will be given by ZoeRose Eiren at the next meeting. We are very much aware that outreach is an area of weakness for us as a ministry at the moment.
In the last report it was mentioned that we were working on improving visibility of the Prayer Team and making the Welcome Team easy to contact. Just before Easter the signage at the Cathedral was changed. This has allowed the access to the Peace Garden to be more open. Details about our ministry have been split into several smaller notecards rather than one long one. The information can also be accessed from the blog, via a link on the ‘About’ page. As part of our overhaul of communication we have begun to send out the schedule for the sim on Monday or late Sunday to give people more notice of what is coming up.
We had a full range of services in Holy Week and over Easter. These were generally well attended and much appreciated. We held our first healing service during Lent, which seemed to be very well received. We hope to hold another in the future. We also followed a Lent Course at the Sunday Bible studies which sparked good discussions. The Easter Day service saw many turned out in splendid attire. Royal Ascot in England would not have been ashamed of the hats! We completed our service by the tomb in the Peace Garden and then stayed to enjoy refreshments and conversation, which went on for a more than an hour. Later we and other Christian sims were subject to a griefer attack. You may have seen reference to this in my Easter Day posting.
Facebook has changed the way they have groups. Anglicans of Second Life now has a new page instead. If you use Facebook, do join the page and add us to your likes.
Team meetings will be on the third Saturday of the month in July, September and November. If you have any matter which you would like the Team to consider, please let us know in time for it to be placed on the agenda. Simple matters can also be considered between meetings of course.
As usual, we are happy to receive any comments and suggestions you may have about our ministry.