Saturday, December 16, 2017

How to Minister to the Needs of Others in Second Life

Let us practice the fine art of making every work a priestly ministration. Let us believe that God is in all our simple deeds and learn to find Him there.

A.W. Tozer

This story felt to me as a culmination as I wrote it.

(Significant Other while noting the importance of this story cautions me not to get too heavy.)

Almost four years ago, I wandered into a rather amazing sim in Second Life (SL).

(What Significant Other finds amazing is that they didn’t boot me out, but, I digress.)

The sim was First United Church of Christ (UCC) and it was, and still is, a Real Life (RL) church dedicated to the needs of its congregants inworld. 

Over the years, I’ve followed the journey of First UCC’s pastor, Jerome (“Jer”) Newstart, his team, and his congregation as they’ve grown from an experimental church to a
fully accepted congregation in the UCC in RL. 

I attended their services, danced at their functions, even showed up as the Fourth Doctor once, and explored their gardens and grounds.

I met some extraordinary people, one of the best builders inworld, a woman raising funds for a service dog, and another who helps raise funds for children to come to America for an education that they might not have otherwise.

I turned to them when I met others inworld who needed help in RL and was looking for assistance for them. 

They were there for me when I had some rough times in RL and needed someone to listen. 

(Significant Other nods here.)

There were many other moments too like when they declared to be an “Open & Affirming” church meaning all are welcome.  (Including yours truly.)   

OK, I’m biased.  (It’s my blog, I’m entitled!)

First UCC are great people doing great work. 

Why am I writing this story now?

Well, because Jer, the pastor, has kicked it up a notch!

He’s just written and published a book about his journey to ministry in SL and I’m going to talk about it for a bit! 

Full disclosure here, I’m also biased towards other writers especially those who get published in RL!

Jer’s book is entitled Ministry to the Avatars: Building a Real Church in a Virtual
World and recounts his personal journey to SL and the development of his congregation.

He also goes into detail about the RL legal and church requirements to establish First UCC.

Most importantly, he discusses his congregation’s outreach to those in need, particularly those from the LGBTQIA communities.  When he writes about how there are people inworld who could lose their lives in RL for whom they are, the importance and seriousness of Jer’s work is driven home starkly. 

While the book deals with a faith community in SL, it’s lessons can be applied to any community wishing to establish itself. 

Unfortunately, my crazy RL schedule precluded me from meeting with Jer inworld to discuss his book.  However, he was kind enough to answer my questions via email for this story. 

I asked why he wrote this book, his reply was:

I realized that since there is no other church in Second Life in a mainline denomination that also has real life standing, that there is really no record of the "why" and the "how" that underlies the founding of this ministry.  The book is my effort to chronicle that.  I also believe that the church needs to seriously and pro-actively look at new ways of being the church.  While there is no reason to suggest the wider church quit doing what is now does well, the numbers in re attendance are real.  That suggests we need an additional element in the paradigm that is the modern church.  So... chronicle what we did and suggest why such steps are really important in a wider view.

I then asked if writing the book changed his thinking in any way, Jer shared his thoughts:

Frankly, the ministry has been received with a warmth that is beyond my most hopeful expectations.  We have a solid base of members and friends and more discover us all the time.  I think that discovery may well be enhanced with increased familiarity on the part of the wider church.  That is happening, but, and understandably, it is a slow process.  The new is always a challenge for churches, and the out-of-the box new, well, perhaps even more so. 

My conviction that what we are doing matters to real people grows seemingly by the day.  Thanks in large part to my wonderful colleagues, both lay and clergy, I have come to realize that we need to continue to develop the scope of our offerings.  Accordingly, we have added both Bible and book study opportunities.  Our clergy believe that we ought to offer challenging but fun educational experiences.  The initial efforts have been very well received and much is in the planning stages.  A look at the calendar page on our website will reveal that there is a lot going on... at least 15 events a week in many weeks.

As for future plans for First UCC, he wrote:

We hope to expand the ministry into other virtual universes.  I have been watching the progress of the OpenSim project.  In fact we have been offered locations in other virtual worlds but are not able to staff those yet.  But we will!  Like the rest of the development of this ministry, it takes time and willing people to lead.  We'll find them, or they'll find us!  In terms of Second Life growth, we're committed to that.  Our newest offerings have begun to attract European friends and we are delighted to reach that population segment.

His final comments were:

I am convinced God led me to found First UCC Second Life.  I am equally convinced that God led incredibly talented, caring people to join the team.  The ministry is a team effort.  It could never have grown as
it has without a caring cadre of people who believe the good news of the gospel needs to be shared and that this is a wonderful, exciting new way to do that!  We've just begun really.

I recommend obtaining a copy of Jer’s book to all who either wish to his and First UCC’s story better, how a community can be established inworld, or just to learn about how the veil between RL and SL has been pierced with this church.

I’ve enjoyed my time with Jer and First UCC and reading their history, some of which was new to me, helped me to understand them and their mission better.

Ministry to the Avatars: Building a Real Church in a Virtual World can be purchased here on Amazon.  And, please don’t forget to leave a review on Amazon if you like it! 

I’d like to thank Jer for taking the time to answer my questions for this story

I’d also like to thank him, his team, and their congregation for all the hospitality and assistance that they’ve extended to me over the years.

As always, I’m grateful to all inworld for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives. 

My Twitter handle is @webspelunker.  Please feel free to follow me and I’d be happy to follow you.

I can be found on Google+ as webspelunker Ghostraven.

My flickr Photostream is located here.

On Skype I’m webspelunker Ghostraven.

I welcome feedback from readers, please either comment on my blog or e-mail me at . 

            If you would like to read about my other adventures in Second Life
please click here.

            Open roads and kind fires!

No comments: