The workshop was a success!
Well, the presentation at the diocesan workshop was a big success! The morning session opened up with a brief intro, and led into a service of Morning Prayer, Rite II. What made that unusual for a meeting of Episcopalians is that it was coming from the Anglican Cathedral in Second Life! Well, not directly. That is, the original plan was to actually log in to SL and hold the service in real time, but the logistics of that just didn’t come together. So I arranged to have a service filmed (using a screen capture software program) and what was shown was a recording of a MP service that was staged for the event. I did note to the folks in the room that this WAS a staged service, as there were only a handful of people in the virtual congregation, at which point the bishops in attendance laughed and noted that people always lie to the bishop about “average Sunday attendance.”
It was a very odd sensation. I have been to many worship services, both in “real life” and in SL, but never in both simultaneously. The folks gathered in RL didn’t quite know what to make of it at first, and there was a bit of nervous laughter to start, as they weren’t quite sure what was in store for them. But as the familiar service began, everyone fell right into the rhythm of the responses. Well, mostly.
You see, in a SL service, the pacing is a bit slower. Ok, let me back up a bit and explain how a worship service works in SL. The person presiding at the service typically leads in both voice chat and text chat. The way text chat works is this: a person types what they want to say into a chat bar at the bottom of the screen, and that text is displayed at the bottom of the screen of everyone within 20 meters (as distance is measured in SL) of them. The service leader will read a verse or passage in voice chat, then copy and paste what they have just read into text chat. In that way, even those present who do not have voice enabled can follow along as well. The people in the congregation respond only in text chat, so there is a pause between each section of the prayers and readings to allow time for people to copy and paste their responses into text chat (each person is given a service bulletin on a notecard that they can display on their screen). As a result, the people in RL were responding at a regular pace, which did not always correspond to the pace that the service was taking place, which lent a bit of good natured humor to the proceedings!
I must take a moment and extend my thanks to the Rev. Gareth Edwards (SL name: Gareth Janus) for leading the service. Gareth is a Superintendent Methodist Minister from South Wales, working ecumenically with Anglicans in SL, and a member of the Anglicans in SL Leadership Team. He not only led the service, he filmed and edited it! I attempted to film it as well, for backup, but sadly my system did not play nicely with the screen capture program, and not only did I not get any film, I actually crashed midway through the service. So I am most grateful to Gareth for his ability to multitask!
After the service, I introduced myself, and gave a brief background on our ministry in SL, and then took a few questions from the workshop attendees. The first question was, “Why did you choose to build such a traditional worship space in a virtual world?” I shared that this was a very conscious decision made by the group leader, the Rev. Mark Brown. In his research into postmodern trends in religion, he discovered that many younger people have a real attraction toward the beauty of the old traditional forms and artifacts of worship. Another person asked if there were “real people” behind all of the figures she saw on the screen. Yes indeed, behind every avatar (the name for the visual representations of the SL participants) is a real person, somewhere in the world.
The next question was “how did you find the cathedral within SL?” I shared that the SL viewer has a search function, which allows a person to either browse the SL directory, or do a key word search to find specific events, groups or locations. I was then asked why I went looking for the cathedral. I compared entering SL to moving into a new neighborhood. After the first few weeks of learning my way around (and mostly learning how not to walk into walls), buying clothes and finding a place to live, I started looking around for community. As in RL, one of the things that many people do when settling into a new area is look for a neighborhood church. The urge to find community with like minded people is the same wherever you go.
The final question was my favorite! “How do you pass the plate?” After I explained it to her, she laughed and said that the question was totally tongue in cheek, and she never expected an answer! Well, we are just like any other church in most ways, and we have financial needs just as any other church does. I explained that we currently have two methods by which people can practice virtual stewardship within SL. We have a donation box at the cathedral that people can pay (yes, there is currency within SL), and we also have a Paypal link on our blog which enables people to contribute. At that point, I naturally invited anyone so moved to visit the site and explore this function! I added that we are also pursing other funding sources.
The rest of the workshop was fabulous as well! We then heard a presentation from a representative from Digital Faith. This company has put together a web hosting system for ministries that enables congregations to harness all of the features of social networking, which will enable congregations to fully interact with their site visitors, and help people within these congregations network with one another. We then learned about the advantages of social networking from Kendra Ramirez of Sales Konnect. After lunch, we broke off into smaller workshop sessions. For two of these sessions, I sat in with Nick Tepe, a fellow congregant at Trinity Columbus, as he led a workshop on how the two of us put together weekly podcasts of our Sunday sermons. Then for the last session, Nick assisted me in a presentation on social networking tools such as blogs and Twitter. Hats off to Nick for a tremendous job. He made the presentations look so easy, and was a terrific help to me in my presentation, contributing much of his own experiences with these tools.
Finally, kudos to Richelle Thompson, Director of Communications of the Diocese of Southern Ohio, who put together this amazing workshop, and gave me the opportunity to be part of it!
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Cady Enoch, intrepid explorer into the Second Life® virtual world. Stay tuned…
Please feel free to comment on any of my blog posts. I can also be reached by email at cadyenoch [at] columbus.rr.com.
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