First 3D Cyber Service in UK

Looking upon the decline in the churchgoers in UK, new ideas on how to run a church are being thought up. As the 20th Christian Resources Exhibition kicked-off on Tuesday, the Church of Fools, the world’s first 3-D online church, was launched with an “opening service’.

Some two dozen believers signed up as cartoon worshippers for the service. In the online church, worshippers are able to choose what characters they look like and how they will dress for the service.

Meeting in the cyberspace, the virtual church is promoted as a boundless, non-denominational church embracing God-searching surfers around the world.

The worshippers are free to move around the church, kneel, cross themselves, sing hymns, shout 'Hallelujah', or talk to each other through thought bubbles.

The relaxing atmosphere is found to be good to those that feel churches are intimidating and threatening, and to those that believe they do not deserve to be there.

An entertaining incident came as the pastor and the minister entered the “church”, when there was a technical problem with the minister’s computer. While the Bishop of London, Rt. Rev. Richard Chartres stepped into cyberspace and begun to preach the message, the minister suddenly disappeared. But the technical difficulties were quickly fixed.

The word of God, again being “heard” through speech bubbles, revealed the significance of this new church. Taken from Luke 5:4- 11, Rev Charters made a parable about the internet and the nets of the fisherman Peter. Jesus commanded Peter, “Put out into the deep and let down the nets for a catch.” Rev Charters interpreted the net as the Internet, the wide and deep cyberspace having a great potential to catch a lot of men.

“ ‘Put out into the deep.’ It is a command of Jesus Christ that we set out into the cyber ocean aware that the spirit of God is already brooding over the face of the deep,” he said.

“To our generation has been entrusted a new sphere of communication. It is the job of the churches and of Christians to cast good and positive messages into the web, to equal and counter the negativity.”

Many wonder though if the church has any chance of building up a congregation. Many are worried that real churches will be threatened and be replaced by online churches.

"We are not replacing church, we are adding really," says Simon Jenkins, editor. He claimed it is adding an alternative for those unable to connect with God through more traditional means.

The Reverend Jonathan Kerry of the Methodist Church which sponsors the project, says this experiment may teach the real churches something about what newcomers expect from them. And he is open to the idea of going to an online church if people feel comfortable about it because the web really takes up a large part in people’s life.

The Church of England has showed its support to this first online church by including it in the formal structures of the Church of England and appointing it's first-ever "Web Pastor" or Webmaster-Alyson Leslie.

However, the bishop of London concluded at the end of the opening service, "I think the more you live through the screen, the more you need face-to-face real time interaction.”

Whether this online-church is a taste of the future or whether it is just an experiment is still not clear, and won't be until the pilot period ends. Until July, the church will open on a 24/7 basis for visits, and people can log on any time to visit the church and pray or chat to other gatherers. Online Services are also available every Sunday.