A reader writes: “Enough about Blogs already and enough about internet religion!! Another week of this and The Revealer will be off my Favorites…come on!”
We know how he feels. Religion blogs are ornery, plagued by bad puns, narcissistic, and most of all, not real. Ok, they’re “real,” but they’re not flesh and bone, and we have a soft spot for the material world and stories about it. So, to remedy the situation, we present a report from Revealer associate editor Kathryn Joyce on the first virtual church to offer you an animated representative of yourself.
So much for the real. At least there’s Bloggercon — the blog incarnate. Now, onto the story made blog…
“Well it sure ain’t C of E,” writes “anglicanrascal” in the forum of Ship of Fools , England’s leading Christian webzine and self-described “Magazine of Christian Unrest.” The forum discussion concerned the website’s latest project: the world’s first online, animated, 3D House of God. The virtual church, to be known as Church of Fools, will open for prayer on May 11th, whereupon its as-yet-unnamed priest will log on to lead an initial congregation of 25-30 Christians in prayer. Though the priest and the parishioners will worship from remote locations, their cartoon personas will mingle in the wooden pews—which they choose themselves—singing, praying, chatting in conversation bubbles and contributing to a virtual collection plate via SMS on their cell phones. And, to make sure the service isn’t disturbed by virtual troublemakers, Ship of Fools editor Simon Jenkins assures, “the control panel for Church of Fools comes complete with its very own ‘smite’ button, for that authentic, ‘Old Testament religion’ feel.”
Another reason this isn’t “the C of E” (besides the whole cyber reality thing) is, in the words of “anglicanrascal,” that “it looks like half the congregation is under 85.” In fact, the congregation shown in previews is drawn in part from an older SOF project: their internet game-show The Ark, wherein “12 Bible heroes and villains were successively voted off Noah’s famous floating zoo.” However, the youthfulness of the sample churchgoers is indicative of the project’s motive, “to make Christian worship accessible to web surfers who may never darken the doors of their local church.” Or, put another way, to bring “Generation X-Box” into the fold.
Church of Fools is Jenkins’s, and co-editor Steve Goddard’s, answer to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (whom they’ve previously honored with the creation of a stuffed “Rowan Bear,” priced £120). Responding to what he called the “properly disturbing” findings of a Church of England study, The Mission-Shaped Church, Williams challengedreligious institutions to find new ways to appeal to the young, the “non-churched,” and the drop-out “de-churched” (the latter two categories amount to 80% of the British adult population). Ideas for neo-missionizing, such as the creation of café churches, will be discussed at this year’sNational Christian Resources Exhibition.
The exhibition, focusing this year on the appropriately-titled “Future Church,” begins May 11th, the date Church of Fools will be launched for a three-month experimental run. Whether or not it will remain open depends upon Jenkins and Goddard finding “enthusiastic sponsors” or being able to work “with the established church in creating a structure that reflects the type of person attracted to the environment.” Until then, they’re asking members worldwide to help own and run the pilot project—engaging speakers, planning services, finding a director for the virtual choir…