Online Church suffers Abuse from Internet Worshippers

The world’s first online 3D church - the Church of Fools- launched in the UK last week has to close its pulpit after just 9 days in operation. During the first two days of opening there were 60,000 visitors, and since then the church has maintained an average of between 5,000 and 10,000 visits a day. Though the statistics of the number of visitors may have proved part of its success, abuse of the use of the online holy temple and administration problem were observed.

A large number of people logged in and shouted expletives. One person logged in as Satan, entered the pulpit and started to blaspheme. The Church of Fools said it had tightened security, including withdrawing the “preach button” and putting in more wardens on duty with “smite buttons” to consign blasphemers to virtual hell.

However, some of the worst offenders are from the USA and Australia, who visit in the middle of the night when the wardens are asleep. The church said they have very few resources to police it 24 hours a day.

To keep the holy temple holy and silent, the Church of Fools has also removed the “shout” button so that worshippers can whisper to those closest to them without the whole church hearing.

The church runs almost exactly as a real church. The animation and the church settings allow the internet worshippers to walk around the church, choose a pew to sit, kneel down to pray, saying hallelujah as well as interacting with other visitors through speech bubbles. Moreover, the church will be open 24/7 for prayer. At scheduled times, a web pastor is appointed to give service, or a short act of worship led by a minister will take place.

Being sponsored by the Methodist Church of Great Britain, the online church is the very first attempt of the Methodists to explore new and fresh forms of being a church. While the general concept of a church nowadays is an old closed door building, to a certain extent, the online church may have some strength over the real church.

Stephen Goddard, spokesman for the church, thinks that the abuse was “disappointing” but he interpreted it was a sign the online church was reaching thousands of people who had no normal contact with the church.

Jonathan Kerry, Co-ordinating Secretary for Worship and Learning at The Methodist Church, explained why the church is engaging in this project, “The Methodist Church is trying to meet the challenges of the present day. We want to seriously engage in the ‘missing generation’ of under-40's. The internet is a major source of information, news and debate, and we feel it could be a way of involving people in church life.”

Stephen Goddard, spokesman for the church compared the difficulties with the problems faced by John Wesley, the 18th century founder of Methodism. When Wesley preached to the unconverted, he was shouted at and spat at.

“When you go out into a different culture first you are going to suffer abuse. We are not worried about it and it does not offend us. We have to do what we can to prevent it,” Goddard commented.