Friday, April 23, 2004

Ship of Fools: the Magazine of Christian Unrest

Oh the wacked out things people with computers and too much time on their hands can accomplish...

"WITH PEWS MADE from pixels, the congregation logging in from their home computers and the collection sent in by mobile phone, the world's first 3D online church is going to be church like never before. The House of God is set to become the Mouse of God.

This May 11th, Ship of Fools will open Church of Fools as a three-month online experiment in interactive worship. Built by interactive media pioneers Specialmoves, the initiative aims to make Christian worship accessible to web surfers who may never darken the doors of their local church.

The first service from the online sanctuary will take place on the opening day of the UK's Christian Resources Exhibition (CRE).

"While there are excellent websites which help people meditate and pray, no one has built an interactive 3D church environment before - complete with gothic arches and hard wooden pews," says Simon Jenkins, editor of Ship of Fools.

HOW WILL IT WORK? The service will be led by real priests or pastors who will appear on the screen in cartoon form. Using their keyboards and connected via the internet, they will move around the church, welcome the congregation, lead the service from a lectern, introduce hymns and preach from a pulpit to people sitting in rows of pews.

Ship of Fools plans to invite guest speakers to occupy the pulpit each Sunday, including some celebrated preachers, and are looking for suggestions for Church of Fools pulpiteers. Click here to post your suggestion.

"The congregation, too, will log on in different parts of the world – and see each other on screen," says Jenkins. "They'll choose a pew to sit in, introduce themselves to other worshippers through speech bubbles, sing a hymn, listen to the sermon, chat to each other afterwards, and perhaps pray together.

"They'll even be invited to put something on the collection plate – via SMS on mobile phones."

Hundreds of invisible "lurkers" will be able to watch the service as well, and participate in a chat room discussion afterwards.

CHURCH OF FOOLS has been developed in the wake of Ship of Fools' internet game show, The Ark, which ran last year. During the six-week show, 12 Bible heroes and villains were successively voted off Noah's famous floating zoo – Big Brother-style. More sailings of The Ark are planned.

"When Future Church was chosen as the main focus for this year's National CRE (11-14 May, Sandown Park Exhibition Centre, Esher), we considered it an ideal setting to unveil our online church project," says Steve Goddard, co-editor of Ship of Fools. "It picks up the challenge of Archbishop Rowan Williams' Mission-shaped Church initiative – to create new expressions for Generation X-Box."

The online church will run as a pilot project from May to July 2004.

"The full costs of creating the environment have still to be met," says Simon Jenkins. "So the project's future depends on finding enthusiastic sponsors. Long term, we hope to work with the established church in creating a structure that reflects the type of person attracted to the environment.""

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