Being involved in the ministry of Anglicans of Second Life can lead to some interesting experiences. Members of the Leadership Team have addressed conferences and training sessions in various parts of the world. We have had a service broadcast in the national gathering of a denomination. We’ve provided a service of Evening Prayer for a gathering in Heidelberg who were considering ‘How virtual is reality?’ On 6th March I led a special Morning Prayer for students in a school chapel who had the service projected on screen by their teacher whose avatar was in the Epiphany Island Meditation Chapel. The event led to some very interesting conversations between students and teacher. Having heard that, I invited the students to contribute to a blog post about their experience of online worship. Below are their comments:
This review of a service in the Chapel of the Anglican Cathedral in Second Life is written by Bloxham School third form. (@Bloxham3f on Twitter)
On Tuesday we had a service in the school chapel. It consisted of a 30 minute long Morning Prayer service. It was slightly different from a normal chapel service. Firstly the leader of the service was not in the room but was connected to us via the internet. Also the internet host for this service was a programme called Second Life. It was held in a computer simulated chapel.
My favourite part of the service was the actual virtual church because it was very well designed. The time and effort put into the 3D making of the church was very much appreciated and helped create the atmosphere, although I felt it was lacking in colour.
The good thing about Second Life is that an avatar can host the service to make the service feel more real. Also doing it in an actual church building helped the reality of the service. The service was well hosted and identical to the service Father Michael takes every morning in Chapel. I thought that having a virtual priest was different but it sort of worked. It was interesting how you could just be a part of a service and be on the computer at the same time. Although at some points it was difficult to hear what was being said, it was a good way to be at a service. The surroundings on the computer screen were just the same as in a real church, but I didn’t feel like it was real.
It was a great experience. Although the service was held online it still covered the main aspects of a service (praying, reading scriptures from the Bible) that would be in a service held in a real chapel. Although the service was held online it was still a very new way of worship, and it was still held in a real chapel so it was about the same just the service was held on a screen.
When we were watching the Second Life service I had mixed feelings. I thought that it was a very new and different experience, and until a couple of weeks ago I didn’t know that there was such a thing as online worship. It is a very useful way to let people go to church who find it hard to leave their home. Despite technical difficulties it was very beneficial to me as I learnt other ways to communicate and worship with others in a Christian environment.
On the other hand, I didn’t like it quite so much because it felt too different. As I see it, if you don’t have agoraphobia, it is quite a lazy way to attend a church service. You could be doing anything you wanted at that time: you could have one eye on the TV, you could be reading a magazine, you could have just popped out to let the dog out or something. Worship online was a strange experience because although we were in a chapel it didn’t actually feel like we were there and it was easy to lose concentration. For example we couldn’t be heard by the people using Second Life because we didn’t have a microphone, so it made it easy for people to mess about and not be heard.
On Second Life it all depends on the technology: if it cuts out you don’t have a service. Also you don’t actually know the people you are with. In the bible it says nothing about God having a computer. God didn’t need electricity and modern technologies to worship so why do we?
The argument might be that unless you are sat in a real place with lots of people like we were, then there isn’t really that sense of being part of a real community. But you could say that for some people being part of a virtual community is like being part of an actual community. When we were in Chapel and Helene was taking our service, it really it made everyone come into a community. I found it a bit strange but exciting.
And a special message for Helene from one student:
When I heard that you had given up your time to run this service I thought that to be very thoughtful. Overall I enjoyed the service, and thank you very much.
I’d like to express my thanks to the third form for making the effort to write their thoughts about their experience. I was very happy to provide you with the opportunity to try something new and to consider if this is ‘real’ worship or not. It’s probably better to meet face to face for worship for most people but for some, virtual spaces provide worship which they could access in no other way. It’s a very exciting ministry to be part of.