It’s a great privilege to be able to stand here and reflect on our ministry which is now ten years old. That’s quite an achievement! What started off as a bright idea has stood the test of time, not because of our human effort but because of God’s grace.
The human beings involved in this ministry have changed over the years. People have come, contributed, and moved on leaving us changed as a result of their presence. Each has brought their gifts and remained while it was their season for doing so. I would like to think that each person has taken something positive away with them, after being part of this community. From a personal point of view, I’ve enjoyed meeting with people from all over the world and learning about them and from them, since I joined SL in AoSL’s infancy in November 2007.
In an offline church, the folk involved tend to change also of course. However, the buildings are likely to stay the same for quite a long period. Here in Second Life the buildings change more often. This is our second cathedral. The chapel is a second one also. The Community Center is a third design. The Parish House is being changed at the moment too. These changes represent the wonderful creativity of the residents in SL and a response to our needs as a community.
Thinking about the buildings, I was really struck by the first phrase in the reading for today from Hebrews: “You have not come to something that can be touched”. In an offline church, you would expect to be able to touch the things that surround you. Here we cannot touch the stones of the cathedral, however ancient and solid they may look. However, we can enjoy the same good news that the author of the Letter to the Hebrews was highlighting for his readers.
The author was contrasting the receiving of the Law and the receiving of the Gospel. When the people of Israel received the Law at Mount Sinai it was a fearful thing. Lightning, thunder, darkness and fear as they were addressed directly by God. The people were physically close to God, so close that they could hear his voice. Mount Zion (Jerusalem, God’s city) represents the new covenant, another mountain, but one where there is a wonderful party going on. Those reading the letter had heard the voice of God through the teachings of Jesus. Instead of God being set apart from his people, he had come to live as one of them through the life of Jesus. Jesus had drawn God and his people together by his death on the cross.
A lot has changed since that letter was written, not least the fact that we can meet in a place that cannot be touched, as a result of the wonders of technology. What hasn’t changed is the good news of the Gospel which we can share here. Our cathedral on Epiphany Island is part of the city of the living God just as much as any physical church is. Here we can remind ourselves that our relationship with God, though expressed when we meet through the liturgy of the Anglican Church, is something real, not ritualistic. I hope that many who have come here in the last ten years have connected or reconnected with the living, loving God to whom Jesus introduced us. As part of our vision statement puts it: Our vision is to build an Anglican church in Second Life which gives those involved in Second Life an opportunity to explore or deepen their faith in God, who loves them and seeks a relationship with them.
The Gospel reading reminds us of another part of our vision statement, our wish to build a church which “is grounded in worship and prayer, seeking to be a bridge between our rich Anglican heritage and contemporary society.” Jesus had to remind those who were using the Temple as a market place that: “My house shall be called a house of prayer”. Every day of the year members of the community gather for prayer in the chapel and have done for many years now. In that time, we have prayed for world situations and for individual people. As the Psalmist urges us, we have prayed for the peace of Jerusalem and of many other cities. We have brought all sorts of needs before God, believing that although we can’t travel to troubled parts of the world or even go and hug a person in need, we can nevertheless make an impact through prayer. We’ve never been tempted to turn Epiphany Island into a marketplace. However, in case we lose our focus, we have been given encouragement to keep praying because we have received reports of healing and hope replacing illness and despair through the grace of God.
We have three other parts to our vision statement. I believe that we have achieved what two of them aim for. When I was first involved with this ministry there were disagreements between people. I think that’s inevitable when something is new and also when we consider that we come from all over the world and from many different backgrounds in terms of faith. I think we now manage to concentrate on what we have in common, while accepting that we are different in many ways. I hope that brings glory to God as our statement says. Closely related is our wish to have a community that is welcoming and is known for its love and care. Once again, though I know we will get it wrong at times, I think broadly we are doing what we hoped to do in terms of welcome and love.
In one respect, we are further away from our vision than when we began. The hope from the beginning was that we would be a recognised part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. In our early years, we were blessed by coming under the guidance and care of Bishop Tom Brown of Wellington, New Zealand and Bishop Christopher Hill of Guildford in England. Since they have retired, despite my efforts, I have not managed to find another bishop to replace them. That saddens me as I am sure we have a lot to offer the Church and would benefit from a closer connection with the offline Church.
To conclude, I commend our community to your prayers – prayers of thanks for our past and for guidance in our future. We may not be able to touch the stones of our buildings but the sense of community is nevertheless real and special. I am certainly very grateful to have had the privilege of being involved for most of its life and of being Lay Pastor for the past eight years. I hope that, however long you have been involved, it has been a positive part of your life.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor