Salt and Light in Second Life

I have no doubt that God has a sense of humour. He made human beings in his own image which means we must have gained our own sense of humour from him. More specifically, it seems to be a very good joke on God’s part to place a technophobe like me in the world of Second Life! I look back in amazement and wonder how I’ve travelled from being a person who struggled to send a text message to being Lay Pastor of the Anglican Cathedral in Second Life, leading services and Bible studies, preaching, counselling, praying with people and leading a dedicated team of volunteers, all facilitated by the internet.

When I find myself giving technical advice to a newcomer, I am totally astounded, but there is a saying that God enables the called rather than calls the able. For those who are mystified by Second Life, or digital media in general, take heart – if I can cope, so can you!

Second Life (SL) is a three dimensional digital world, probably the best known of many such worlds, in which each person is represented by an ‘avatar’, an animated representation of themselves which can move around the world by walking, flying and even teleporting! We communicate in text or in voice.

Image of the Anglican Cathedral of Second LifeFor many people, SL is a place of entertainment. Some of the entertainment is wholesome – listening to music, viewing art, exploring wonderfully creative places, watching plays, pretending to belong to a medieval court. Some is not so wholesome – macabre role-play games, pornography, violence and griefing (destroying the enjoyment of others by various disruptive activities). Good or bad, it’s not real. People are eternally young, improbably thin, don’t necessarily give their real names, are not even people at all at times but dragons, cats, or robots. What place have Christians in the middle of a game?

Second Life also has a reputation for being all about sex. In the shops it’s possible to equip an avatar anatomically, buy sex beds and rugs and then indulge whatever animated fantasy a person has. One pastor I met had made up his mind to leave SL as he was propositioned by a prostitute on one of his early visits. I managed to persuade him to stay but he was shocked by the incident. Is this an appropriate place for Christians or was that pastor’s initial reaction the right one?

Having seen the negative side of SL, many might agree that they have enough with their first life, without needing a Second Life but for some of us the call is to be salt and light in a world of pixels. We can’t ignore the fact that behind the avatar, however bizarre it may look, is a person with hopes and fears, joys and sorrows. We can’t offer cups of tea or flip-flops for sore feet as offline street pastors do, but we can offer love in Jesus’ name by providing a listening ear. Often those in SL themselves forget that the offline person and the online one are connected. Doing in SL what they wouldn’t do offline can result in complicated and damaging circumstances for the person. Feelings can run high in online relationships, resulting in drama and disagreements. We offer acceptance, welcome and a community to belong to if the person wants it.

Much in SL is transient in nature with places changing regularly; imagine visiting a favourite place offline only to find that it’s disappeared! Anglicans of SL is not in SL for a mission week, but there for the long haul. I’ve met people who have returned after many months away and are grateful to find us still in place and themselves still remembered.

Anglican Cathedral of SL on FacebookThere are many role-play activities in SL including churches where lay people pretend to be cardinals or pastors. Our ministry strives for honesty and authenticity. The real names of the Leadership Team are available on our blog and of our ordained members (and me) on the notice board in SL. We make it plain what qualifications we have to do what we do. We are striving to be real in a world of make believe. We also try to be consistent in our various online presences. We’re aware that we ourselves may be the only gospel some will ever hear.

I hope you might venture to find out more by experiencing Second Life for yourself. Anyone wishing to take a look at SL but unsure about it is welcome to contact me (ailsa[at]ailsa-wright.net) and I’ll make sure someone is around to help you. If you want to find out more about our ministry do visit our blog:  http://slangcath.wordpress.com/

About Ailsa Wright

Lay Pastor of Anglicans of Second Life, teacher, counsellor. Living in Wakefield in West Yorkshire, England.