The Anglican Cathedral of Second Life

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At the Leadership Team meeting on 16 July we listened to a presentation on evangelism by ZoeRose Eiren. We revisited the material at our September meeting on Saturday. We were considering how we move forward as a result of what we had heard. We already know that, although we have taken Church into SL, once there we are mostly staying in one place rather than going to find the many who need to meet Jesus. We certainly meet and minister to many people already who come to Epiphany Island. Several of our community have brought friends to our services or have recommended that their friends should seek pastoral care from us. There is still much more that we could do.

We have decided that we will offer a Christian pastoral care/listening course beginning in November as part of our response. So many of those whom we meet need someone to listen to them. It’s good to feel confident that we are doing the right thing when we listen and respond. We hope this course will equip more people to minister to others in this way.

We are also going to continue the conversation and want as many of our community as possible to join in. We will announce times when we plan to meet to chat together. We hope there may also be impromptu conversations on the same subject, perhaps when we meet after services. There could also be conversation here on the blog or on our Facebook page.

The content of ZoeRose’s paper is given here for you to read and consider. Our hope is that we will together hear clearly what God is saying to us and have the courage to do as he asks.

Helene Milena – Lay Pastor

 Presentation to the Leadership Team

Of the Anglican Cathedral in Second Life

Evangelism in Second Life

By Mary Ailes/ZoeRose Eiren

July 16, 2011

1-5 “Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you know he’s up to no good—a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. They won’t follow a stranger’s voice but will scatter because they aren’t used to the sound of it.”

6-10Jesus told this simple story, but they had no idea what he was talking about. So he tried again. “I’ll be explicit, then. I am the Gate for the sheep. All those others are up to no good—sheep stealers, every one of them. But the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for—will freely go in and out, and find pasture. A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.

–        John 10:1-10 (The Message)

Introduction

What is the Purpose of Second Life?

The purpose of Second Life is revealed in its very name.

The purpose of Second Life is to have a “second life,” a place where dreams (and sometimes nightmares) come true.

Historic origins of a “second life”: The Pleasure Gardens

An argument could be made that Second Life is a direct descendant from the Pleasure Gardens of the 18th-19th century England.  Though they find their roots in Ancient Rome, they were in vogue in the 18th & 19th century England as places to gather, places like Cremorne Gardens, Cuper’s Gardens, Marylebone Gardens, Ranelagh Gardens, Royal Surrey Gardens and Vauxhall Gardens.  By the end of the 19th century, there were reportedly 200 outdoor pleasure gardensand tea gardens.  Many contained large concert halls, or hosted promenade concerts, or were places to stroll and have tea.  They also evolved into other locations for encounters of another kind.

Long before the invention of Disneyland, Georgian Londoners enjoyed their own type of amusement park: the pleasure garden. For a modest entry fee, people from all walks of life could escape the noise and squalor of London’s streets for a diverting evening of al fresco entertainment, socializing, romance – or even scandal.

Pleasure gardens featured every sort of attraction, from the sedate to the salacious. There were manicured walks and impressive fountain displays, light refreshments, classical concerts, exotic street entertainers and even fireworks. Away from the prying eyes of polite society, they were ideal places for romantic trysts. Their darker corners were also rife with prostitution…

The magical – and somewhat edgy – air of the gardens was largely down to lighting. In the days before electricity, the sight of hundreds of oil lamps illuminating the trees and bushes must have been sensational.

The most famous pleasure garden was on the south bank of the Thames. It began its life in 1661 as New Spring Gardens, a few acres of attractively planted walks, hedged with fruit and vegetables. But it was transformed under the ownership of a young entrepreneur called Jonathan Tyers, who remodelled and re-launched it under the new name of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in 1732. Four hundred people, including Frederick, Prince of Wales, paid a hefty one guinea to attend the masked gala, which went on until 4am. Vauxhall’s future was assured.

http://www.history.co.uk/explore-history/history-of-london/pleasure-gardens.html

Pleasure Gardens became home to “haberdasheries and harems” and places for illicit sexual encounters, as well as wild adult entertainment, like the Moulin Rouge in Paris.

Though once a place to see and been seen socially in the 18th century before falling into disrepute in the 19th century, they faded away as cities and towns were connected by the railroads.

Those Pleasure Gardens later were reinvented for children and families, becoming zoos and amusement parks, like Regent Park or Disneyland, Hershey Park in Pennsylvania or Busch Gardens in Virginia.

The Pleasure Garden became an obvious place for sexual encounters in a culture that was strict about what social norms should be observed in real life.  Disneyland, while abandoning the more seedy aspects of the Pleasure Garden, still offered its patrons the opportunity to step into “lands” that engaged their “fantasies,” even though the fantasies encouraged were Rated G.

The idea – whether it’s those old Pleasure Gardens or Disneyland – was that a “world” would be created where dreams come true:

http://youtu.be/c6RoRRdyTxw

The Virtual Pleasure Garden

In Second Life, though, one no longer needed abided by the rules of the Real World, for better or for worse – well, except if they violated the Linden Lab Terms of Service.  You could fly, you could build, you could marry, you could be an ostrich – or a hippo – Second Life could be said to be a direct descendent of these gardens and parks, only now they are virtual – and they are global.

In recent months, Linden Lab attempted to change the original vision and link Real Life into Second Life.  They built a Viewer and outlined plans to link Second Life with Facebook.  This is why new accounts may have any name the user wishes to use.  The idea of creating a “Second Life community” by limiting the last names is over.  The idea was that Second Life residents could link the two “communities together” under one name.

This endeavor appears to be a failure.

The idea that Linden Lab could change the culture of Second Life in such a dramatic form is somewhat astonishing.  Second Life is marketed to be an escape, a dream, a platform where people from all over the world may connect with one another – but as an escape from real life, which is the antithesis of Facebook.  It demonstrated that there were many in the upper ranks of Linden Lab that still didn’t seem to “get” what they have actually created.  The same could be said with the inclusion of children onto the main grid.

Why would they think they could make their users go public?  They knew they had to deal with a crisis back in March when they began to shut down companies that sold in-world gadgets that could reveal alt identities to land owners.  The idea of revealing a user’s alt without authorization was considered to be grave act of transgression and would result in revoking of accounts.  And yet at the same time, the Lab was also pushing its users to connect their Second Life accounts with the very–public Facebook.

Facebook exists using people’s real names, real identities.  If you are caught creating a factious profile in Facebook, your account is terminated.  Here comes a community of people who have gathered together precisely because they don’t want their real life known.  It was impossible and it failed.

This is the environment in which the Anglican Cathedral in Second Life exists – an environment where the culture exists as a mask, where fantasies are encouraged, and deception is a rule of the game.

We have had our own challenges.  When we elevate someone to leadership, we require that their real life identity be made public.  This cold dose of reality has caused some to back away from leadership – or try to advocate a change where their real life identity remains anonymous.   The decision of the leadership of the Anglican Cathedral in Second Life was that this was a form of a deception that inhibited a leader’s authority and trust.  Sadly, some have felt the need to relinquish leadership rather than make their Second Life profile public.

Linden Lab apparently now recognizes that its plan to more closely align with Facebook has not gone as expected, the “dream” remains.

Our mission field

How does a church, a community of Christian believers operate in a culture that actually encourages deception and the wearing masks to hide one’s true identity?

Is it not virtually impossible?

What does that say to us at Epiphany, the Anglican Cathedral in Second Life?

Well, I shall tell you an open secret.

The truth is – Real Life is based on deception and the wearing of masks. Second Life actually reveals the reality of real life – where the wearing masks and the life of deception is as prominent in our every day life as it portends to be in Second Life.  The truth is, as people begin to share the dreams and hopes with one another in Second Life – they begin to forge relationships based that can go deep, very deep.

The nature of a virtual world in Second Life is not that people want to hide from being known, but rather that they do want to be known.   They express themselves in ways they may be not be able to do in Real Life, but at the end of the day we do know there is only Life, Real or Second.  As soon as relationships begin to be established, the notion that Second Life is the place of masks and Real Life is the place of transparence is turned up side down.

It is no accident that our contacts in Second Life are not called contacts, but friends.


First Things 

What is the Purpose of the Anglican Cathedral in Second Life?

Last year at dinner I was asked a question by Dr. Graham Tomlin.

Graham Tomlin is an Anglican theologian and author and dean of St Mellitus College,a seminary set up by the Bishops of London and Chelmsford to provide theological education in the Church of England. He is also Principal of St Paul’s Theological Centre, which is based at Holy Trinity Brompton, and part of the wider St Mellitus College.

I was telling him about the Anglican Cathedral in Second Life and he was quite intrigued, but he had a question.  “Do people come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?”

That was what he wanted to know – did people come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?

This is a great question – and it’s a hard one for Anglican Churches and Episcopal Churches to answer affirmatively.  We can measure baptisms and confirmations in real life, but that is not same as knowing if someone has accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  In Second Life we don’t have baptisms and confirmations – a key component to church life, so how can we measure such a thing?  We can measure visitors and those that attend our services, but how do measure if people become followers of Jesus?

This is the question for “evangelism.”  Today, evangelism has become a buzzword for what extensively turns out to be forms of church marketing.  Again, we can measure the success and failure of marketing strategies, but can we measure whether those who fill our pews have come to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?

Most Anglican Churches are neither designed nor expected to be able to answer that question.  In Second Life, we do not have the benefit of checking the baptisms and confirmations  – at least, not yet – of those who attend.  We can quote statistics from our marketing events and plans, but are we able to answer Graham’s question?

I thought of one person I witnessed become a follower of Jesus Christ in my years now in Second Life.  I told him about her.  I thought about how she became a Christian in Second Life and I may submit to you that her journey may be a clue more to the model what we may need to pursue then the one we have inherited as Anglicans and Episcopalians.

We Anglicans and Episcopalians have inherited a model that has satisfied generations of Christians through the centuries.  We have done the same thing in Second Life.  We build a building, we staff it, we hold services and occasional events and then wait for people to come.  This model has worked for generations of believers.  This model worked when the church was a central gathering place for people to share information and build relationships.  Even as young people began to turn away from the faith in our generation, they still would come to church because church was still a place to exchange information and build relationships.

Those days have come to a close.

In fact, as I think many of us have experienced this personally – church is often the last place where we can find authentic and transparent relationships.  It is not a gathering place to exchange information.  All of that now is done elsewhere, if it is done at all.

How does it work now?

Taking off the masks

When J.K. Rowling wrote her series of books about a young boy wizard who goes to school and learns he must fight evil and sacrifice himself so that others might live, it could easily have been a sweet series aimed at children and be done with it.  But as we all know, that’s not what happened.  In this case, marketing had to completely reinvent itself because something unexpected happened.

The greatest “marketers” for Harry Potter were the readers.  In the past, readers might gather at church or at the local café to read and discuss works of literature.  But today, something else happened – and fans from all over the world connected with each other consistently and using all the methods of technology to help them achieve the depth of conversation they craved after reading books.

This was conducted for years online.  But something else happened in the process – even as these readers globally connected and used every avenue of connection possible – boards, blogs, YouTube videos, Skype, Twitter, UStream, ITunes podcasts – it did not smother the desire of all these readers to connect in person.  The desire to meet in person – revealing the truth about their online personas for the chance to meet one another – was extraordinarily strong.  It was and is so strong, that over 3,000 readers are gathering right now in Florida.  The size there is limited by the size of the meeting place.  It could easily have been 10,000.

These are not people who do not know each other – these are 3,000 people who have developed a community over the past 10 to 12 years and what they really wanted to do was to meet in person.

If we do not shy away from all the resources we have to engage with our community, we will find that people will still want to take off their masks and connect.

We are a gateway to Real Life.

People don’t come to Second Life to hide, they come to be found.

How do we find them?

Go into all the world, even Second Life

We go and seek – we go and find – and like the fisherman Andrew, we bring them back to Jesus.

How is evangelism done in Second Life?  I submit it’s done the same way as in Real Life.  We open the doors but we don’t wait for people to come in, we go and get them.

That’s what happened to the one person I could think of when Graham asked me that question at dinner.  She was found, individuals from the cathedral went to her and reach out to her and brought her back.  But what happened next was significant – she went and found a Real Life church community.  Today she is in ministry and walking through sobriety.

Today her Second Life is her now Real Life.

I believe that evangelism is done in Second Life the way it is done in Real Life, by establishing relationships, by connecting and engaging with one another so that we know not the second life but all of life.  That takes time to develop – and it can be quite costly.  It can be very painful.  Second Life does not always follow the polite ways we have in real life to hide.  Because Second Life is not about hiding, we often can be hurt in ways that in real life we can escape.  It can be a hazardous journey – it is a hazardous journey – but that is the way of evangelism.

I believe the Cathedral can offer support to those engaged in sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Second Life.  It can be an oasis, it is an oasis, a place to hear and be heard.  The staff at Epiphany is extraordinary.  I have personally benefited from the pastoral ministry here and that has had an enormous affect on my life – all my life.  I have been able to pass that benefit on to others and I have to say that I have made some of the best friends I have ever had here.

But I also think we are challenged to engage directly into the culture here – to know and live a life here, as we would if were missionaries abroad.  This is time consuming.  It takes time and commitment and evaluating priorities.  So often in the church we measure commitment by how much members are engaged in doing the work at the church – but in today’s culture, we may need to rethink that model.  The church should not be a ghetto for Christians to escape the Real World.  It should not be a Second Life.

The Church should not be a Second Life

The Church should not a “second life.” Instead, we should be encourage one another to get out and do the stuff, to share the love and life and words of Jesus Christ in our every day life, how ever that shows itself.  One of the things that comes up over and over is the hunger for spiritual meaning.  Perhaps it may be that the creative spirit that is encouraged to thrive in Second Life touches the Great Creative Spirit Himself and people feel the longing to connect with the Creator – it is not hard to pray for people in Second Life.

But the truth remains – and we recognize this at Epiphany – is that the bottom line is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is incarnational.  It is meant to be physically present.  Therefore it is my opinion that we should consider the cathedral a gateway to Real Life.  We should strive to connect those we meet and build relationships with a church home near where they live.  Epiphany should not be a substitute for incarnational church, but a St. Andrew – bringing people to Jesus and connecting them to their real life home church.

We are in a unique place

We are especially in a unique position to do this as Anglicans and Episcopalians.  We belong to a world-wide Anglican Communion.  We are engaged in communities all over the planet.  In every spot on the planet we have a bishop and around him parish communities.  We are in a unique position, unlike other Christian groups in Second Life, to connect people to home communities where they may grow and thrive.

This would also encourage engagement from parish communities around the world – that we partner with them to reach out to the world and bring people to Jesus.  We are not a substitute church, but a global arm for the local parish to reach out and pull in the nets.

Imagine if local parishes understood that a vision of Epiphany was to be a place that would connect individuals from around the world into their local parish.  We are in a unique position to do that.  And doing that, individuals – still linked online – build bridges within the communion itself.

That has been an enormous part of my own personal testimony.  Being part of the Epiphany community in Second Life has had a significant affect on how I now engage in our current crisis within the communion.  I have built relationships that I would not have had without Epiphany and it has affected my writing and vision in my leadership positions at home.

I am changed.

Conclusion

The Ministry of Reconciliation

Evangelism is not about marketing the church, though it can grow the church.  It is about experiencing the power of the Gospel and responding to the transformational power in real life.

It is a Ministry of Reconciliation.  In evangelism, we are reconciled to God and as we are reconciled to God through the cross of Jesus Christ, we are also reconciled with one another.

This is what I have known as a member of the Epiphany community and the proactive response is to then go out into all the world and live that life of reconciliation.   Our “world” is Second Life.

In the past it was enough for churches to build a building and open the doors and the people would come.  But now we open the doors and we go out – we go searching, for ourselves and for one another.  And when we return, we don’t return empty handed but hand in hand with friends we make a long the way.  Here we learn the Gospel of Jesus – and then I submit, we should encourage them to go and find a church community near them and join it.

We can help in that search because we are networked with a world wide Anglican Communion.  By connecting with parishes and dioceses around the world, the parishes and dioceses will also have the opportunity to connect with us.  This may open doors to opportunities to engage in the Ministry of Reconciliation.

Why is so hard for us to know reconciliation in Second Life?  I think the resistance is precisely because it is so powerful.  We are not without an enemy who will use all resources at his disposal to discourage this work.  But it is not our own marketing that we promote, but there is power in the name of Jesus as we share His gospel in clearly a broken Real Life.  People come to Second Life looking for hope, for fun, for meaning, for friends, for love – for life.

1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus spoke to them, but they did not understand what those things were which He had been saying to them.

7 So Jesus said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9 I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and [a]have it abundantly.  John 10:1-10 (NAS)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OEhRucEVzH8

Questions:

How do you “experience” or live you Second Life?  What is your favorite thing to do in Second Life?

Do you have a home in Second Life?  What is it like?

What is the hardest thing about having a Second Life?

In what ways do you find your Second Life and Real Life connected outside of Epiphany?

What do you think about having a network of Anglican parishes we can refer people to when they come to Epiphany?

How does Epiphany engage in the “Ministry of Reconciliation?”  What have been our challenges and our successes?

How do we see Jesus alive in Second Life?  How do we see Him alive in our own life – in Second Life and in Real Life?

If our mission field is to those living in Second Life, how should our teachings change to reach those who have built lives and relationships in Second Life?

Author: Helene Milena

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

One thought on “Join the conversation

  1. I rejoice to see that my friends at the Cathedral are still listening to their members, and acting upon what they hear!
    Arundel Dragonash

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