It's Sunday and some of you might go to a church. But starting on May 11, and for a duration of three months, you'll be able to go to a virtual church. Only the building, with its altar and pews, will be virtual. The preacher, congregation and prayers will be real, according to this BBC News article, "Glimpse inside the virtual church." This experiment is launched by a Christian website, Ship of Fools, and will be named Church of Fools. Even with such a foolish name, the virtual church project has been approved by the church hierarchy.
Let's start with some illustrations coming from the Church of Fools website.
||"With pews made from pixels, the congregation logging in from their home computers and the collection sent in by mobile phone, the world's first 3D online church is going to be church like never before. The House of God is set to become the Mouse of God." (Credit: Ship of Fools)|
||Here is the preacher addressing the congregation in the virtual church (Credit: Ship of Fools).|
Now, let's see how why this kind of environment is new.
Website editor Simon Jenkins says: "Some websites help people meditate and pray, but no one has built an interactive 3D church environment before -- complete with gothic arches and hard wooden pews."
A real-life vicar will control the actions of a cartoon double, including welcoming the flock, announcing hymns and preaching.
[People] "will choose a pew to sit in, introduce themselves to other worshippers through speech bubbles, 'sing' a hymn, listen to the sermon, chat to each other afterwards, perhaps pray together."
As this is a pilot project, with an unknown costs, the congregation will be invited to give money via SMS. And after the service, people will be encouraged to continue discussion in chat rooms.
Let's turn to the website to see how it's been endorsed by the church industry.
The first service from the online sanctuary will take place on the opening day of the UK's Christian Resources Exhibition (CRE).
"When Future Church was chosen as the main focus for this year's National CRE (11-14 May, Sandown Park Exhibition Centre, Esher), we considered it an ideal setting to unveil our online church project," says Steve Goddard, co-editor of Ship of Fools. "It picks up the challenge of Archbishop Rowan Williams' Mission-shaped Church initiative -- to create new expressions for Generation X-Box."
If you're part of this X-Box generation, please tell me if you plan to visit this virtual church.
Sources: BBC News Online, April 13, 2004; Ship of Fools website