Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Being Church in Cyberspace (Kimberly Knight)

While at the Theology after Google conference in March, I had the opportunity to meet in person Kimberly Knight, someone I had earlier met on Facebook.  In the course of our conversations I discovered that she was ministering in an on-line world called Second Life.  Now, I've never ventured into the Second Life world, but found her descriptions of the potential for being church intriguing.  So, I asked her if she'd like to share with my readers something of what this all entails.  Here is the first offering, which is reposted from the blog Sacred Space in Cyberspace.  I invite you to explore with Kimberly this idea and share your thoughts -- how do you feel about worshiping in cyberspace?

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Just over 3 years ago when I had been in Second Life (SL) for barely a month I began to get an inkling of the powerful potential for ministry - real connections, real community in an online world. I am not entirely sure why it just made sense to me – it seemed completely natural while I was sure it was totally oddball.

I started with a little parcel on Skybeam Estates,




and opened a "theology pub" which is where Arkin Ariantho (founder of the Anglican Cathedral in Second Life) and I met. We were both still quite new to SL, a few weeks old maybe and we started talking and he was very excited. He saw great potential too. At the time he was focused on non-profit work but would soon start building the cathedral on my first sim Xenia. I had been talking a lot to the owner of the Skybeam (Charlene Trudeau) about the notion of a dedicated sim and before I really even knew what I was getting into, I looked into buying a sim.

Now this his was till a little early enough in the history of Second Life when Linden Labs was still figuring out all the non-profit and educational rates. So when I contacted them via phone and talked about a nfp sim for a student doing a project and they said that they would extend the reduced pricing to me for the first sim Xenia on which Koinonia is located. I had visited some lovely worship spaces – and one of my favorites is still the Unitarian Universalist congregation in Second Life. I was truly inspired by their community – and by their grasp of just how powerful this medium could be.


I built our first little church and thank goodness it does not rain in SL because we would have taken on water! We were a little catty-whompas but we held our first worship service on


Easter Sunday 2007 and we had a great group gathered.


After some time had passed and it was becoming more clear that this is a viable ministry and with the help of a colleague and friend (John who is still with us) (and we had a spiffy new sanctuary built by Troy Vogel).


Ordained ministers from the United Church of Christ and The United Methodist Church (Ian and Kathy) joined our leadership team and we offered five services a week. The Second Life bug was no-where close to wearing off and next I wanted very much to open an interfaith sim as a neighbor. A place for conversation and education – that sim is Qoheleth.


I worked hard on a grant through my church and received a one year grant from the E Rhodes and Leona B Carpenter foundation and it included money to maintain the sim for one year and a small stipend for my work as pastor of an open and affirming congregation.

All the while I was still in school full time at Candler School of Theology (I worked my new obsession into a directed study and later even an article for a Yale journal - I'll share that with y'all later). It was clear that the money would run out of course so I opened one more sim as a somewhat commercial endeavor, but also as a chance to offer small parcels of land to folks who wanted to give SL homesteading a try. That sim is Ex Nihilo and the revenue from rent on Ex Nihilo helps keep all the current ministries afloat. All three sims are still thriving and include many different ministries. PC(USA), Spiritual Peacemakers, A Catholic Meditation Center and more. We even have neighboring MCC community and the Anglican Cathedral which quickly outgrew Xenia.

There is so much to tell – so many lovely, heartwarming, true stories to tell (including the day my partner and I were married by a UCC pastor from Massachusetts IN Second Life). I hope you will come back often and meet the people, hear the stories and be a part of Koinonia in Second Life.

Grace and peace,
Kimberly – Sophianne Rhode in Second Life

Kimberly Knight received her M.Div. from Candler School of Theology at Emory University.  Prior to seminary she worked nearly five years as a pubic school activist in the city of Atlanta where she worked to help launch the very successful charter school - The Neighborhood Charter School.  She is the Circuit Rider for The Beatitudes Society, to which she brings more than fifteen years of experience across a broad spectrum of technology settings including multimedia production and instructional technology.  She currently serves as the pastor of an online congregation that has been gathering for two years in the cyber-world of Second Life. Kimberly, her partner and their two children are active members of Kirkwood United Church of Christ in Atlanta, Georgia.

4 comments:

Kimberly Knight said...

Folks are invited to join us for worship tonight at Koinonia church where all who come in peace are welcome.

9 PM EST

http://slurl.com/secondlife/Xenia/170/101/38

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Kimberly, thanks for making this available -- could you offer a couple of definitions for readers not familiar with this sort of experience. These include sim, Xenia, and npf.

Thanks,

Bob

Kimberly Knight said...

Here are a couple definitions:

A sim is an independent region, they are also referred to as islands. They are privately owned (I own all of mine) and are separate from the "main land"

Xenia is the name of the region in which Koinonia is found. The word Xenia is the Greek for hospitality, or generosity and courtesy especially as shown to those who are far from home.

Folks can also visit Second Life's main web site to learn tons more :)
http://secondlife.com/

I am also on Facebook and more than happy to chat with folks who are interested in learning more.

Rebecca Bowman Woods said...

Great post, thanks for sharing all this, Kimberly. And Bob, thanks for keeping your blog's audience informed. I had heard about churches on Second Life but it's great to hear how they developed. I, too, believe that online community and church are viable.

Deb Phelps, a CTS student (about to graduate) in Indiana is in the process of launching an online Disciples of Christ congregation, Disciples Net. Our website will launch within the month. We have a Facebook page set up: http://pa-in.facebook.com/pages/Indianapolis-IN/DisciplesNet-Church/106813132693252. I hope you'll check it out, and share your thoughts and suggestions with us.