The Right Rev. Christopher Hill writes in the Church Times about his introduction to the Anglican Church in Second Life (SL) a year ago, when a lawyer asked him, essentially, if it was possible to take the 450+ member virtual community seriously from a theological perspective. Today, during a "fringe" session at Lambeth, attendees got a tour of the virtual cathedral.
The cathedral is self-consciously gothic-revival in style — thus very Anglican — centred around the Compass Rose at the transept crossing. There are now several services a week, and a ministry team, part lay, part clergy. There is also Bible study, prayer, and general discussion.
Pastoral encounters abound: people wander around the cathedral and precincts to view the art exhibitions that are hosted there, and fall into conversation. The time after services often serves as an opportunity for the unchurched to ask what is going on, or ask questions — often very searching ones — about theology.
It was decided — and both my ecclesiastical lawyer colleague and I endorsed this as important — that there are no sacramental services. Sacraments are personal, even physical, encounters. “Virtual” is not (quite) real. In baptism, the priest needs to know that the answers to the questions and the profession of faith are real. In the eucharist, real bread and wine are consecrated and really shared.
I believe Second Life Anglicans could, however, come close to the concept of making a “spiritual communion”, if they shared in a virtual eucharist. Anglicans have defined themselves by scriptures, sacraments, creeds, and apostolic ministry in the Lambeth Quadrilateral. People are now probing how far this can be stretched.
You can read his piece here.
I stopped in today a bit too late to catch the activities but did meet with several of the volunteers who keep the Cathedral running. One of the things we talked about was the need to help new users with the Second Life interface within the safe and comfortable environment that the Cathedral grounds provides, as many people who could potentially enjoy or benefit from the virtual Anglican community are daunted by the steep learning curve associated with the platform.
But the technology barrier wasn't a concern for those who were greeted by Second Life users at the demonstration, according to the conversations I had with SL residents who had been present for the presentation. Rather, concerns about accountability, transparency and confidentiality came into play, especially with regard to pastoral care within the context of a worldwide Anglican community.
SL user Cady Enoch made note of the event on the Anglican Cathedral in Second Life blog, referencing a meeting in Guildford about SL several weeks back :
A team of presenters, headed up by MikeCamel Albert (the Rev. Mike Bursell) delivered a presentation on “Web 2.0 and the Church,” featuring an introduction to our community. The event was sponsored by the Rt. Rev. Dr. Thomas Brown (Wellington, NZ) and the Rt. Rev. Christopher Hill (Guildford, UK). Bishop Hill was the host of the Guildford meeting a few months back, at which members of our community met with other Web 2.0 church pioneers to explore this new digital landscape, and discuss how to involve the church in this new frontier now and into the 21st century.