As Christian theologians still grapple the implications of gathering in digital spaces, the metaverse has reportedly attracted individuals to participate in this newly-growing technology for a taste of what it feels like to go to church.
Euronews.Next reported that the metaverse has been invaded by God because of the pandemic that prohibited in-person worship. The metaverse's spiritual spaces are now flourishing despite lessened restrictions and churches open for worship.
One of these spiritual spaces in the metaverse is VR Church, which was founded in 2016 by Virginia-based Pastor DJ Soto, who attested that participants have grown constantly every year.
"We have all the functions of, of how you would think a physical church, or how you would define a physical church, we're expressing that here in the metaverse," Soto said.
On the other hand, YouVersion reported that churches have also taken advantage of the metaverse by creating services there to increase worshippers. YouVersion, the Bible App that comes in multiple versions and languages, said these virtual realities intend to allow people the exciting and interactive opportunity to explore going to church in different worlds using all of their senses.
LifeChurch, one of the first churches that have taken advantage of the technology and are dominantly attended virtually, explained that the "metaverse is an online world where people can socialize, work, and play," as well as, experience attending church unlike any other digital platform. This difference comes in a surreal experience where a worshipper attends church as an avatar and the environment is more interactive and intimate yet allows anonymity.
"The metaverse is an extraordinary and unmatched opportunity to connect with people around the world," Life.Church said.
While those who have already tried this alternative form of worship attest to a growth in their faith in spirituality. Others, like Alina Delp, also testify to being renewed especially after being diagnosed with chronic illness or disabilities that prevented them from going to church. Delp has been homebound since 2018 after being diagnosed with a chronic neurovascular condition.
Delp said her condition has cut her from people and church and limited her interactions with her husband and cats. But everything changed when she began attending VR Church.
"Suddenly you're empowered again. Suddenly you matter again. Suddenly you're human again. Suddenly it just feels like you could do anything in the world again where you were just told over and over and over again you couldn't do anything," Delp told Euronews.Next in tears.
Another metaverse attendee, Garret Bernal, said the VR Church has 3D features that allowed her a more interactive experience of reading the Bible unlike before.
"They have 3D illustrations, so they set up verses all over and they set up 3D illustrations for the verses. I was able to go and read the verses, like especially these buildings over here. I was able to see a rendering of the verse I was reading, which made scripture much more meaningful for me," Bernal said.
So how does one begin to worship in the virtual world? Here are some basic information:
1. Set Expectations Right
The Christian Post Writer Leonardo Blair shared that worshiping in virtual reality is much similar to going to a real church. The only difference is that one does not leave home and one can quickly transfer to other churches if one doesn't like what he sees in it in as easy as a click of a button. Blair, who attended metaverse for the first time, noted that this is the reason why there were many avatars moving about during worship services. They leave as soon as they don't like what they see or hear, which is something one can't do with in-person service out of the social pressure it brings.
2. Invest In The Necessary Gear and Software
Life.Church stressed that the best way to attend church in the metaverse is through the use of a headset. The church recommends many options including Oculus. While Blair had to invest more than $300 for a Meta Quest 2 VR headset.
Blair shared that he also had to choose the right virtual reality platform where one's church or a potential church one would like to check has a service or virtual campus. He pointed out that the process of visiting several churches is as easy as watching movies on Netflix.
"I'm sharing my experience at three of these churches where I had some interaction or spent a meaningful amount of time. They are: Life.Church, Lakeland Community Church, and Faith Church. I accessed the VR campuses of all the churches through Altspace VR, a social VR platform owned by Microsoft. I had planned to access the VR world through another online VR platform called VR Chat but I got stuck trying to make the platform accept my personally created avatar so I abandoned that ambition. I was able to get started quite quickly with AltspaceVR using my Microsoft account," Blair recounted.
3. Prepare For Worship
In addition, Blair alluded to investing in one's time by preparing to attend the virtual worship. This he pertained to when he highlighted creating an avatar closest to his physical resemblance and wearing his best clothes before he went to virtual church.
Soto added that being open for engagement online on a spiritual level is the most important aspect one prepares for. The pastor said the metaverse provides a spirit-to-spirit connection that going to the physical church can not.
Worshipping in the metaverse is all about people and the "the stuff you do together" and "the way you change the world together." This, he stressed, makes the church a church and not a physical edifice. The pastor said it is really beyond that illusion and that of the avatars or what people choose to look like when they worship in the digital world. This is what has drawn people in and made worship more meaningful for them.
Blair attested to this stating that pastors can speak person-to-person in the metaverse with their worshippers in the same way that worshippers can talk with each other freely because of the anonymity it provides. Though it also provides the opportunity to get to know worshippers individually over time.