I had an interesting experience tonight. Mark Brown is the CEO of the Bible Society of New Zealand and an ordained Anglican priest. (I take it he also works on staff at a Cathedral in Wellington, NZ). He is also the pastor of a virtual church—The Anglican Cathedral of Second Life. Second Life is a virtual world much broader than just the worship services at the cathedral. Don’t look for much spiritual significance in the name. (You have to download the free software in order to view/participate in the service). Tonight was the first night of their fifth (count them, FIVE) virtual worship services. That is not five individual worship services…but five different times per week that worship services are being offered. I attended the service at 3p.m. New Zealand time (or 6 p.m. Portland, OR time). The picture to the left is a snapshot of the service. It appears like there were 10-15 people there. In this picture, I believe that Mark (or Arkin Ariantho, as is his screen-name) is preaching from the pulpit at the upper right.
It was a traditional Anglican service (I am told). Lots of scripture and prayer—I liked that. There were a few technological glitches at first…not in the program, but in people’s ability to maneuver the program…but it seemed to iron itself out. You are even given an order of service so that you can follow along.
The whole service was right at 45 minutes. There was more “dead” time than I expected. I’m not sure if it was when stuff was not happening right, or if it was specifically time for prayer. I suspect it was the first, because there was a specific time for silent worship.
“How in the world do you worship online?” my wife asked, skeptically.
I told her: you type your responses. If there is a question, you type it or the answer. When you want to say Amen, you type it. You also see what everyone else is typing. When we prayed the Lord’s prayer in unison, everyone typed it as Mark ‘prayed’ the prayer. It was actually kind of meaningful to me (she didn’t buy it). When it came time for prayer time, people named all sorts of people’s names to be lifted up in prayer. There were two foci. The first was those suffering because of the economic downturn. The other was prayer for those suffering in Australia because of the fires there. Mark is an Australian living in New Zealand and his heart has really been torn by the fires there because of first hand knowledge of the area and the peoples. (I did ask for prayer due to being laid off & my cancer). Then Mark prayed for all those who had been mentioned.
Mark’s sermon (12-15 minutes long??) was simple, but effective:
What is the Point of Going to Church? (3 C’s)
Scripture: Mark 7:14-23.
1. You should be CHALLENGED
a. We need to be challenged to grow
b. To care for the poor & disenfranchised.
2. We must CHANGE: Acknowledging that we need to change, especially our heart.
3. We need to be COMMITTED to the change.
Concl: What is the point of church?
Not to simply walk through a ritual.
But to be challenged & equipped to change our hearts.
I logged back on 20 minutes after the service was done (to get Arkin’s correct name, for this post) and there were still a half-dozen people there visiting (by chat). I “overheard” one conversation about one man’s bad experiences with church. Another conversation related to the fires in Autstralia and one man badly burned in the fires receiving last rites over mobile phone. He survived and is being treated in a hospital. My wife also asked, how is there accountability or fellowship. And I would gather that this happens in those times around the service. I really don’t know what (if any) follow-up Mark does with the congregation….I guess I will find out.
Anyway, a new (or newer) technology used for an old format. Different, but (at least for me) good.
The broader context of the “Second Life” world can be found here. If you are interested in checking out Mark and the ministry of the Cathedral specifically, his blog post here is probably the best place to start.
Blessings on Mark Brown and the Cathedral of Second Life and their ministry on-line.