First UCC SL All Set For Christmas Plus Plenty Of Other Festive Attractions Available

First United Church of Christ

The virtual world offers an escape from the physical world this holiday and after spending time shopping this morning in a supermarket where it looked more like the Zombie Apocalypse was coming this weekend rather than the supermarket being closed for one day, I have to say that a virtual setting has distinct advantages.

I decided to pop along to the First United Church of Christ and Conference Center in Second Life to see how they were getting on with their Christmas preparations and a very festive sight it is.

This region changes with the season, so a change to a snow filled setting was not a surprise, but snow works well in Second Life, rather oddly I find it doesn’t work so well for snapshots from Second Life, you really need to visit the snowy settings to get the full and immersive beauty.

Away in the Manger, by Ciaran Laval on Flickr!

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Part Two Of A Look At The Progressive And LGBT Friendly First United Church Of Christ In Second Life

Inside The Office

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.

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Part One Of A Look At The Progressive And LGBT Friendly First United Church Of Christ In Second Life

Jerome Newstart & Becca Kellstrom

This will be part one of a two part blog post regarding my visit to the First United Church of Christ in Second Life. In this part I’ll provide some background information on the church, discuss why they came to Second Life and why they feel virtual worlds are an important place for a church. In the second part I’ll take a closer look at what they do and how they embrace diversity in their ministry in Second Life.

I find myself in an office of the First United Church of Christ in Second Life. I’ve been joined by Reverend Jerome Newstart, known as Rev. Dr. Jerold Garber outside of Second Life. Reverend Becca Kellstrom has also joined us. I’ve spoken to Becca on Twitter and I’ve also blogged about First UCC in Second Life before; First UCC SL To Attend General Synod In RL. That post concerned members of the First UCC SL attending the General Synod of the United Church of Christ outside SL and in the physical world in Cleveland, Ohio. However this is the first time I’ve sat down with members of First UCC SL and they made me very welcome.

Their mission statement reads :

First United Church of Christ and Conference Center is founded and exists to be the voice of Progressive Christianity in virtual universes. We live out the United Church of Christ notion of extravagant welcome by providing for all who desire a place to worship and who seek a community of love and acceptance.

We are proud to be a part of the world’s fastest growing LGBT-welcoming church movement, the Open and Affirming Coalition of the United Church of Christ.

Jerome Newstart explained that both he and Becca are actually both ordained UCC ministers. ” We’re actually recognised by the denomination as a church,” Jerome informed me. These people are the real deal, indeed that came up in our conversation, the challenge of people actually believing there is a real church operating within Second Life.

“Some want to be sure we are ‘real.’ I had that happen this morning.” Jerome explains.

“Particularly early on in this ministry, people wanted to verify we were who we said we were.” added Becca. This is unsurprising of course, in virtual worlds people can play many different characters and we see plenty of churches within Second Life which don’t actually have ordained ministers within them, if people are going to embrace their faith, then they will want assurances. In the physical world, a church speaks for itself, people have trust in the building, in a virtual world where anyone with the time and talent can put up a building, it’s more difficult to convince people you are genuine.

Why did First UCC come to Second Life though? Becca explains that this incarnation is the second or third time UCC have had a presence in Second Life, and it’s here that Jerome’s belief that this was the right platform really shines throught, “I saw a need for a ministry that welcomed everyone,” Jerome explains, “When I conceived of this ministry some two and a half years ago I recruited Becca to our RL Board of Directors. She serves as a pastor here as do I. Becca is also our social media person.”

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First UCC SL To Attend General Synod In RL

First United Church Of Christ

I’ve blogged about places of worship in virtual worlds before, for example looking at the challenges of virtual worship for places such as The Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life and looking at Giulio Prisco’s more unconventional views on types of religion in virtual worlds. The latter also looked briefly at the tongue in cheek First Church Of Rosedale.

One observation on worship in a virtual world such as Second Life is that for a place that is considered in many quarters a den of iniquity, it does quite well when it comes to a religious presence. This is exemplified well by The First United Church of Christ And Conference Centre.

However more to the point, what struck me recently was the news that First UCC SL will be at Booth 834 at the General Synod in Cleveland Ohio. The General Synod runs from June 26th-30th.

First UCC Notices

The mission of First UCC SL is :

First United Church of Christ and Conference Center is founded and exists to be the voice of Progressive Christianity in virtual universes. We live out the United Church of Christ notion of extravagant welcome by providing for all who desire a place to worship and who seek a community of love and acceptance.

We are proud to be a part of the world’s fastest growing LGBT-welcoming church movement, the Open and Affirming Coalition of the United Church of Christ.

So this is quite a progressive outlook in many ways.

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