In part one of my visit to the First United Church of Christ in Second Life I looked at some of the background behind the church and why they have been embracing virtual worlds. In this part I’ll delve a little further about my discussions with Reverend Jerome Newstart (at times referred to as ‘Jer’) and Reverend Becca Kellstrom (at times referred to as ‘Becca’). A point to note here is that there are two other ordained clergy within First UCC SL but I did not talk to those clergy. However Becca and Jerome both pointed out that the other clergy are a big help with the project.
So what sort of services and support can you expect to find at a church in Second Life? “It’s much the same sort of ministry one would do in RL, except that we do a good deal more being the ‘non-anxious presence; than is generally true in RL churches,” Jerome told me, “We also offer two types of services, worship in the sanctuary on Sundays and Thursdays and Psalter services most evenings,” continued Jerome, “Worship is usually gathering music, scripture, a message, community prayer. We use voice for the sanctuary services, with text. The Psalter is done in text only, and they are centered on the Psalm of the evening. Peace Grove was created for those.”
“Lots of pastoral care and good, deep conversation with folks who are happy, or even relieved, to find us,” Becca added, “With the exception of Thursday at 4pm SLT, all other services take place at 6:30pm SLT right now. We are considering changes, as we’ve long had a request from friends in European countries for an earlier time.”
There we see one of the key differences between virtual world communities and physical world communities. In the virtual world you can attract a global audience, but with that global audience comes the challenge of global audience time zones. However I’m sure most communities would find that a refreshing challenge, First UCC SL certainly seem to enjoy the challenge.
However I had to rewind a little at this point, Jerome had mentioned singing, do people really sing at these services? I mean it’s one thing for people to sing when they are physically together, but are they really singing at home in front of their computers? “No, well, at least not that we hear!”, Becca tells me and then adds conspiratorially, “When I sat next to him at Conference meetings, Jer would only lip-sync, so I only heard my own voice ;-)”.
Jerome isn’t so convinced about people not singing, “At home I suspect they do. I don’t know, I sing in the shower! We use music videos on a viewer during services.”
We move on to First UCC SL’s wider role within the United Church of Christ and I start by asking how the General Synod went when First UCC SL members attended the physical world event in Cleveland, Ohio, earlier this year. “Very well! We got a special shout out to the Synod when we were introduced!” they tell me.