Conversation & Cake is a monthly meeting on Epiphany Island when I share what has been happening in our ministry and listen to views and ideas from members of our community. Here is the report from the 12th May meeting. Comments made by those present are given in italics:
The evening began with a bang as fireworks exploded on the sim, courtesy of Ana. It had been my 60th birthday the day before. There was a fantastic birthday cake provided by Celberon. All very exciting. Mike managed to land in the cake but luckily by then most people already had tasted it. Ana was a little worried about Easter (our rabbit) getting fat if Mike trailed cake all over the sim for him to eat.
We used the normal format with me sharing news and answering questions from those present, listening to suggestions and comments. These are given in italics between the wording of the report I presented.
Beginning with finances, by the end of March we had raised 75% of our annual goal, and by the end of April 83% of that goal. As in March, that was 8% of our annual goal, approximately the correct amount for a month. However we have had months which have fallen well below that level.
(Celberon became prematurely excited at this point).
Cady had set the target last month at L$131778 of which we raised L$83690. The target for this month has been set at L$179866 which is approximately $694.46 US, £452.30 or €534.94. We had raised 4% of this before the service today, L$8714. As you can appreciate, this would normally not be a good place to find ourselves in financially as our tier has to be paid if we want to continue as a ministry. However, I have some good news. We recently received our bill and we have been returned to the non-profit level of tier, which means a 50% reduction in tier. We now only have to pay $1770 US each year instead of $3540 US, an amount we can easily pay.
At this point there were lots of expressions of celebration including some Alleluias from Ana which startled Abinoam, causing laughter all round.
I have removed the thermometer which tracks donations. It seems unnecessary as the monthly target on donations fonts plus monthly report on finances at C&C should be adequate.
Abinoam asked how we had lost our non profit status in the past. I gave a brief outline at the time but perhaps the easiest way to give a comprehensive answer is to quote from a document I wrote as we were putting together our budget for June 2011-May 2012:
“In the first two years of owning its own island, the AoSL group benefited by having its tier fee paid by Mark Brown. Obviously this gave the group a wonderful opportunity to get established. As a result of this, fundraising in world was extremely low key with a simple donation box which stated how much had been given and by whom (this was later changed so that the names of donors were not shown). There were no targets as there was no need. On the other hand, we had a fund raiser on the Team (Craige Gravestein) who was hoping to acquire grants for funding. The early vision was to have at least one paid post and grant money would be needed for this. As we do not have charitable status, no grant awarding body would take us seriously. Craige stepped down when RL commitments became more time consuming.
In June 2009 Mark stepped down as priest-in-charge and the group became self-funding, still benefiting from the half price tier which Mark had negotiated for us as a non-profit organisation. Despite being low key about seeking donations, we had gathered enough funds to pay our tier by March 2010. This gave us over a year to raise the next tier and a realistic hope that we would be able to have money in hand which would allow us to build up a year’s tier in reserve, which was another hope we had. The monthly target for donations was set at $151.93. In the six months when that was the target we raised between 64% (May) and 113% (August) of our target. Despite there being a shortfall in every month but August, the monthly target was not revised.
In September 2010 we were suddenly faced with raising double the tier as the reduction for non-profits was taken away by LL without warning. This caused some hard thinking for many organisations, not least our own. Fundraising became more intentional. The community was informed of the problem. We gained a thermometer to show how far we had to go to reach our target for the year. I began to add an appeal for funds to every service sheet. Fundraising was a topic of conversation. The new monthly target was set at $325 and the community responded. In October in world donations were double our previous best month and Paypal donations increased, settling at a regular level of around double the previous level. In November we had another spike in giving but after that it has settled down. The regular amount donated in world, though much lower than the October/November spike, is about 2.5 times the regular monthly donation when we had a lower target. There is no doubt that the community has begun to contribute significantly more to our needs. In the six months since we have had the higher target, donations have ranged from 81% (January) to 147% (March) of our monthly target. Unlike in the past, the monthly target has been altered to take account of the requirement if we are to pay our tier. From a starting point of $325 in October it rose to $353 in March to account for the shortfall. Due to a large Paypal donation in March, the April target was able to drop significantly to $270.
Received wisdom says that a church needs 7 years to be able to maintain itself financially. We are four years old and have so far weathered huge changes, finding our community willing to rise to the challenge. In the space of 16 months we have had to move from not needing to concern ourselves with money at all to raising $3540 per annum. We have done this at a time of transition in leadership when many churches struggle to continue. It is natural that some people will not like change and will leave, taking their money with them. We have been blessed by many coming and finding a church home with us, whether their only one or an additional one. What we do means enough to them for them to pay to keep it afloat.”
One of our newer members, Skijør, wanted to know how long Anglicans of SL had been around. He was very impressed to learn that we are 6 years old and commented what a good witness it is to SL people. The resulting celebration just about exploded Mike’s speaker. I explained that we have had people arrive on the sim using old landmarks and being very glad to find we are still where we used to be. So many landmarks change as people move on or money runs out. Celberon confirmed that he is one of the people who has found us using an old landmark.
We have very good reason to be very grateful to God for his provision for us. We might otherwise have been considering at this time whether we could continue to operate or not. There is now no problem. We will need to set a realistic budget for the year to come but that should be easily achievable. This takes the pressure off us in terms of fund raising unless we ever decide to do what was planned long ago and take on another sim!
At this point Ana fainted and Joyous expressed surprise that we would do such a thing, but it really was part of the vision some years ago. Skijor wondered if we were planning to have an additional residential sim.
This will obviously have an impact on our fundraising plans, perhaps allowing more emphasis on the FUN of FUNdraising. We can still go to Vaino’s for a social time of course and still look at having concerts and contests. The art exhibition and auction will happen in September from what I can tell. If we construct rooms for people to use as homes, we will not be able to charge for them as we are now non-profit but we could accept donations. Whatever money we raise will mean we are less dependent on donations.
Skijør could see that our having rooms might be helpful to newbies whom he meets at the Shelter when they come into SL. I explained that the rooms would probably be adjacent to the Community Center which is due for a redesign.
Last time I updated you on the Leadership Team. There have been further changes. Wave Rodenberger has accepted the invitation to join the Team. The new Leadership Team members are beginning to get to grips with all the work it takes to keep this ministry functioning. All members have been trained to use the extra abilities they now have around the sim. We are hopeful that large buildings will not be inadvertently ‘disappeared’.
At that moment Ana looked pointedly at Joyous, who has gone down in sim legend as a person who disappeared the whole crypt of the Cathedral early in her time of having super powers on the sim. Celberon was impressed (hopefully impressed enough not to try to emulate Joyous’ achievement). Joyous warned us: Watch out! I could do it again. Celberon wondered if bunnies could be disappeared. Skijor sympathised as he has zapped his club and parts of his home in the past.
After much deliberation, Cady has decided to step down as Churchwarden and Treasurer. I know this has been a difficult decision for her to make but I think it’s a wise one. Cady has given us so much from the beginning of this ministry. Much of what you see on the sim is due to her work. However, doing so much has taken its toll and I think Cady needs time to enjoy herself with less responsibilities. She will also take a 6 month sabbatical from the Leadership Team but will continue running the Friday socials. I know this is one more significant person on Epiphany stepping back and that will be difficult for members of our community. However, this will happen from time to time. The Leadership Team is committed to continuing to support members and develop the life of the community. Please feel free to contact any of us if you are concerned about changes or need any reassurance.
We are currently in a time of transition. We need Cady to do some handover work so that the Technical Team can pick up the tasks they should do. I have appointed Ana as Acting Churchwarden. She has been dealing with much of the day to day work for some time already, albeit unseen. (Ana blushed at this point). She and I will work with the Technical Team as we develop a way of handling all that has to be done on the sim. It seems likely that Able Shepherd will take over as Treasurer at least for the time being. Lord Charles Esharham has offered to do an audit of our financial situation. Cady will send him all the details she has to allow that to happen.
One of the major items the Technical Team will work on is the signage around the sim. There are likely to be some changes, with paths put in place to make navigating simpler. The signs outside the cathedral are likely to be changed. Obviously once this is done we would be happy to have feedback on how you think everything is working. If you have ideas we are always pleased to hear them. Some changes are already in place on the sim. If you stroll by the chapel you may notice there is a playground there now. This has been enjoyed by several people. We may eventually be able to incorporate it in the design for the new Community Center.
Mike found this idea interesting. Ana confirmed that there is no age limit on using it.
Freezing rezzed the ubiquitous model of Gareth and commented: You must be this tall —>
You will also notice two new rabbits on the sim, Penny and Benny. (Ana corrected me; there are three. I missed Lenny out). They are pathfinding bunnies which you can pet as you can Barney our resident dog.
The bunnies came on command and went to various people on command also. Charlie was very naughty and started offering bunny stew to those who wanted it. Barney was not prepared to be upstaged and continued greeting everyone, receiving greetings in return. Symeon made sure Barney had a share of the birthday cake. As Freezing said, the new bunnies are very realistic and make Easter look like a mutant by comparison (I hope he wasn’t listening). Pathfinding means that the bunnies can make their way to someone around barriers as well as being limited to where they can wander. As Ana pointed out we won’t find them on the roof as has happened with Barney. Freezing was perhaps less than complimentary in calling the new bunnies ‘glorified Roombas’. You may want to watch your step on the sim as Freezing made a note to provide rabbit holes on the sim. Celberon added: Charlie’s homeland has much experience of rabbits … perhaps he could head up Ana’s new Rabbit Death Squad?
You might like to take a look at the new river which has been installed.
The blog should change soon. I intend to meet with Ana and Freezing to discuss what needs doing. I hope it will prove to be an even better resource as time goes on. We have agreed guidelines for researchers and for organisations which want to use our sim. Those will go on pages on the blog soon.
Some of you may realise that we are a registered Fresh Expression of Church in the UK (also called Emerging Church elsewhere). There will be an hour of prayer for all Fresh Expressions of Church on May 20th at noon. Of course noon is very different for different members of our community. We will join in by having a slide show of prayer ideas showing in the cathedral all day, and will finish our contribution with the noon SLT service being held in the Cathedral that day.
It seems not everyone knew that we are a Fresh Expression of church. Perhaps we should say more about this on the blog.
There will be an opportunity to post prayers during the day. These will be used during the prayer time at noon SLT. http://www.freshexpressions.org.uk/prayer gives you further information. Do call in and spend a few moments in prayer for churches of different types which are trying to reach people who have not been reached by conventional church.
Celberon found himself being nibbled by a bunny and was looking for a bunny catcher. Perhaps this serves him right for his earlier comment.
The survey has now closed. 59 people responded with 39 completing the whole survey. In 2009 we had 41 responses. Ana has gathered the responses we have had in the free text part of the survey. The survey itself was very well received, which is good to know. Ana’s hard work on this is very much appreciated. One section of the free responses concerns suggestions for things we could do to improve what we offer. Ana has gathered them under the same categories as last time for simplicity. Some were suggested in the last survey and so perhaps need particular attention. These are marked with a star in the list that follows. Some are already addressed even though suggested this time. There is a lot of information here. I think the best way is simply to present the suggestions and allow comments as we go along. The statistical data will be available at the next C&C when Ana has had time to analyse it.
Suggestions for services
(*) More services to include other walks of life who might miss all weekly services and not prayers (x4)
Time schedule isn’t nice for West-Europe; the service at 9 o’clock in the evening breaks the evening. The general view seemed to be that the timing was ok for most people.
More services for late-night (6-8pm EST/CST) Americans, Canadians and South Americans (if any)
Have a changing timetable
Put the service up on events in SL. We have done this in the past and are planning to do it again.
Encourage use of voice after services
Using other approved liturgy is ‘safe’. But we are a different medium and it’s possible we should figure if we need to change the liturgy to reflect our difference. The current services work, don’t get me wrong. But could we do something better with a liturgy that is distinctly Anglican but deliberately focused on a Virtual world experience? As Able pointed out we have limited degrees of freedom in the liturgy used although we do have some freedom! Joyous wondered how a service for a virtual world would differ. We have done one where the context is reflected in the wording of prayers and so on. Celberon suggested: How about a multinational celebration? Coming in national dress? A service of thanks for diversity and unity through medium of SL. SL brings all churches and timezones together, a unique step in the christian church.
Charlie pointed out that we could have temporary exhibitions on the sim, perhaps of typical church buildings from different parts of the world. Possibly this could just be in the form of photographs. The idea was well received.
Consider having weekly or monthly services using the Book of Common Prayer.
As Wilf said, BCP usually means 1662. (Of course we don’t know if it actually means the American Book of Common Prayer). There were general comments of approval. I said I thought the service would be less accessible and would be a little difficult for an international congregation when it includes a prayer for the Queen (though Able thought the Queen might appreciate prayers as she’s getting older). Of course, as Symeon pointed out, the Queen is queen of other countries too. Wilf thought the 1662 prayer might be a turn off for a lot of people but as Symeon pointed out, some people like the old Book of Common Prayer and it’s not too hard to understand. There was a general sense that using the BCP occasionally would be good for a change and welcomed by some. (Ana wondered if we might start churching women). Wilf suggested caution: I am all for structure, for quiet, for respect of tradition … but I do think that the 1662 is … something we need to be careful about. It is better to “be traditional” in ways that we appreciate the tradition, and understand WHY we do it that way. Wilf was also keen that we should keep our sacred space sacred, in reference to the fact that we tend to converse together in chapel after the prayers.
Able suggested using BCP Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer in Lent only as it is a more penitential form of prayer. Joyous was not sure that introducing something like this in Lent would not be best as it would be something people are not used to. I wondered if we might have a monthly BCP service and then perhaps weekly during Lent. If we announced ahead of time which service it would be, people would be prepared.
Able pointed out: There is something to be said about “otherness” or “alterity” – I have known BCP be used at seeker services. We cannot assume the language is a turn off. Freezing commented on the brilliance of the literary quality but it’s still hard going for some. Others agreed that they like the English of the BCP. With a written copy in front of us, it would be easier to understand. As Able said, some people of course may be loosely familiar with it already.
Celberon suggested other languages be used for services. We do, of course, have our German Evening Prayer already. He thought Common Worship was in other languages but there is not a lot available yet. The conversation wandered to the idea of a Latin service which seemed to have some support. Klingon was also suggested by Joyous. It seems she was reading Freezing’s mind. Latin resources are fairly easy to find. Able was unsure why anyone would want to do a Latin service as they are not done in Latin in the Anglican Communion as far as he is aware although there is a move in the Roman Catholic church to reintroduce Latin services. Abinoam thought it would be fun; Symeon thought it would be ultra-traditional and cool. Joyous suggested that when the Anglican Church joins with the Roman Catholic Church we can use Latin. Symeon wondered if Charlie could lead a service in Maori. Charlie mentioned that we have the Lord’s Prayer said during services in other languages, in voice and in text, which is wonderful. Wilf made the point that it’s good to work out what we do well and to just do that as well as we can.
Celberon suggested an outdoor service, an Easter morning sunrise service perhaps. (Of course in SL we can arrange for sunrise to be when we want it to be. We usually switch from midnight to sunrise at our Easter vigil service). Ana is keen on an outdoor service and offered to demolish the chapel so that it can happen.
More use of voice during the service, i.e. participatory, said rubrics (x2)
Celberon likes using voice but doesn’t want to distract others by doing so. Abinoam is the same. Charlie likes to hear voice being used. Wilf finds it difficult when voices other than those of the service leader and any readers interrupt the quiet. Joyous made the point that anyone can use voice with their mic off. Feedback and echo are off putting when voice is used without a headset. Wilf sometimes hears people breathing (not sure if it would be a good sign if they weren’t breathing!). Wilf wondered what the advantage of voice is. For me, I like the sense of being connected to others when I’m leading (though I have led worship in a text only environment in the past).We use voice in RL services but Wilf was not sure if mimicking RL churches makes us more effective. Joyous looked forward to the day when the technology will allow us to all speak at the same time.
(*) Music/singing (x4)
Of course, even with improvements to technology, it’s not possible to sing together but we could have a single voice. As Symeon said, hymn singing wouldn’t work in SL. We could use music but in the past the streaming was such a problem to get going that it was a great distraction in services. It was pointed out that some churches in SL use prerecorded music which works well. Tracy thought having a song or two to listen to at services would be nice.
(*) Eucharist would be nice, though probably not currently possible (x2)
(*) Get people involved with doing readings as already done in the chapel – just ask before the service, no timetables.
I have always asked for readers for special services. I have been trying to get people to read in the cathedral services with limited success.
Sometimes a greater emphasis is placed on Orthopraxy at the expense of Orthodoxy. This is difficult to solve.
We were a little confused about the comment. Celberon suggested a series of linked bible studies perhaps on a Pauline letter, an aspect of doctrine, church history. It would need to have people committed to it, a small group who might do some pre reading for the study time.
Able suggested we could start with an Alpha course as a way of having teaching sessions. He has powerpoint presentations that could be used.
Wilf was considering tradition and wondering why more people don’t stand for the gospel and creed in the cathedral services. I explained that we had never asked people to stand for the creed and that standing can be hard work for some avatars. He wondered if there is a way to encourage this. We have a diversity of members and some won’t have the tradition of standing. Perhaps some in the congregation could agree to do it as a way of encouraging others. As Joyous stated, the American Prayer Book does not suggest standing for the gospel for morning and evening prayer. She wondered if it’s a tradition outside the eucharist. In RL Able likes to say “Let us stand together as we affirm our faith in the words of the creed”. As Joyous said, standing then sitting would be difficult for new folk. Wilf agreed that the current pews seem more difficult to manage. Ana asked for an explanation about how a mermaid stands. There was some agreement that the current system of inviting people to stand if it’s their custom works well. Freezing found the church very open and accommodating when he came without familiarity with Anglican tradition.
The conversation became a little distracted at this point (as did I) because Ana kept trying to get Lenny the bunny to do tricks. Able shot Lenny and Wilf began to look forward to bunny with Trappist beer.
Celberon wanted to know if there is any church rule for not having blessings in a service. Able confirmed that a collective blessing can be said or the word ‘us’ instead of ‘you’ can be used in the words of the traditional blessing. The idea of Able popping up at the end (like a vicar-in-a-box as Ana said: one button for Benediction, one for Absolution…) to say the blessing didn’t appeal to him, nor to me. I’m not sure what message it would send out about my leading a service.
The time ended with sharing something to give thanks for on Epiphany and then prayer led by Able as we committed ourselves to the changes that are coming to Epiphany.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor