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De-mystifying the Virtual Church

By Jerold Garber

Pastoring a virtual church is interesting for several reasons.  My colleagues and I have gotten used to watching eyes glaze over in about thirty seconds when we try to explain what First United Church of Christ Second Life is, or the nature of our ministry.  We understand.  Most people just don’t have any frame of reference to use to form a concept of a church with no physical location.  We have also had the “interesting” experience of having some folks mention that we might be competition for members.  Actually, the opposite is true; we routinely help people find real life churches.  We are approaching five years of ministry in Second Life, so we are used to the confusion we regularly encounter.

My colleagues and I have concluded that the ministry we have established is really, in part, a demonstration of what is possible beyond traditional brick and mortar churches.  We are also persuaded that the world has changed, but that the traditional church model has not, at least not much.  It’s still a walk/drive-to-church-on-Sunday model.  There is nothing wrong with that centuries old model.  It clearly serves a need.  But, it is equally clear that attendance numbers are telling us the model is less appealing than it once was.  It is a services on demand kind of world.  The church has found adapting to that difficult.

We all proclaim that the church is not a location, or a building, but people.  We have found that utterly true as we have built a community of friends and members numbering over 260 and growing.  In an effort to be helpful to the wider church, we have been asking ourselves what we can do to share what we have learned.  I wrote a book on the subject, (Ministry to the Avatars) but that’s not really enough.  We’d like to do a lot more to be of direct help.

So, I’d like to make a conference-wide offer.  I’m happy to provide a one or two day retreat/workshop designed to demonstrate what is possible, and to help folks understand how that might interface with their brick and mortar faith community.  For example, one of our First UCC Second Life ministers (we have three) does a service in Second Life on our virtual campus that is simultaneously projected on the video screen in his real life sanctuary.  Yes, joint worship!  It’s simple and it works wonderfully well.  But the possibilities are really endless and bounded only by our collective imaginations.

The workshop/retreat experience would include opportunities for hands on experience, including getting a free account in Second Life, choosing an avatar, and learning the basics of navigating in the virtual world.  We could end our time together with worship in both worlds simultaneously!

Are you interested?  Is this a potential Association gathering program?  I’d love to hear from you.  You don’t need to be a certified geek!  And you might even find this kind of community connection fun.  I can guarantee you will be surprised.

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Jerry Garber, Founding Minister, First United Church of Christ Second Life

jagarber@firstuccsl.org – garberjerold@gmail.com – 760-800-1092 – http://www.firstuccsl.org

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