Thursday, June 14, 2007

Attending a Second Life Worship Service

Last night I attended a church service at a Second Life progressive church (as opposed to, the conservative church that opened on Easter and has spent tons of money creating a second life campus that can stream its regular service in world) called the United Church of Christ in SL. The building, built by a second year seminary student at Emory and her partner, was beautiful—individually designed cushions in the center of the floor to sit on, mats lining the walls for extra seating, large, clear glass windows making up the roof and other details made being in the space quite pleasing, although I could have lived without the large cross hanging suspended over the one entryway. (Crosses are, by their very nature, meant to be grounded in the earth, aren’t they, both because of their original use as instruments of torture and because without an earthy connection, what would Easter mean?)

Having said that, the service itself was very weak. It made me aware of the need to really think through worship from scratch if it’s going to work in world. I’m sure a little of the problem was that the service was designed and led by a seminarian without a lot of worship experience (though with a big heart and a worldview that seemed warm and hospitable). Aside from sitting on the cushion, much of the worship was structured in typical modern style, with the worship leader standing behind a pulpit talking at the congregation during the sermon or leading the congregation in prayer. While this style clearly has limitations in our ‘first’ life churches, it has even more problems in Second Life. The preacher stood behind the pulpit and typed the lines to the sermon one by one. We sat there and watched her type. There were none of the body signals or facial expressions or tones of voice that so often carry a first life sermon, just the hands moving and arms going up and down for the typing. The long pauses in between lines of text appearing made it very hard to follow, much less engage with. And the responsive prayer, which we were given ahead of time along with the lectionary passage, also didn’t work very well. Each time we were to do the ‘all’ part, we each typed in the response line, which showed up again and again on the screen. The only part of ‘traditional’ worship that seemed to work well was the sharing of joys and concerns, where individuals shared a hope or worry and then the worship leader responded to each concern with a brief prayer.

The service left me wondering about the best way to do worship in world. It’s clear that worship has to offer something other than the kinds of things that lifechurch or this UCC church have tried. Maybe there are other houses of worship in 2nd life offering more engaging worship. I’ll try to search around and check it out because if there aren’t, someone needs to puzzle through what kinds of worship would work in Second Life that would actively engage those participating in a congregation.

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