Would "Church of Fools" work today?

SmudgieSmudgie Shipmate
I was talking today about the Church of Fools project and realised just how long ago it was (and how innovative for its time- 2004).

For those of you who are mere whippersnappers here on the Ship, the CoF was a collaboration between SoF and the Methodist Church. It was an amazing experiment in online church and took the form of a simulated 3D church building with avatars which could come and go, talk to each other, sit in the pews or in the coffee bar down in the crypt. It was manned by wardens to ensure it was a safe space, and held regular prayers and services. You can read a little about it here: stpixels.com/

When the project came to an end and it was deemed unfeasible to take it forward, the people who had spent four months using the software and engaging with the church and its online "congregation" felt a deep sense of loss. The Church of Fools seemed to have filled a gap - provided an opportunity to engage with church in a different way which resonated with many people, particularly in the 20-40 generation who maybe found it difficult to get to church, found church outdated, had rejected formal church but retained a sense of seeking, of spirituality, of faith.

So, time has moved on, technology has advanced, trends have changed. Websites and message boards, even some social media boards, have become the territory of an older generation - superceded by more immediate "me-based" social media such as snapchat and interaction through gaming (that's my take on it, anyway). So my question is - the Church of Fools was ahead of its time and unsustainable at that juncture but would that style of church experience (not in the same form, obviously - and probably using a less traditional church layout) appeal to people today?

Comments

  • LeRocLeRoc Shipmate
    One thing is that the whole interacting on the internet through 3d avatars thing never took off. See the death of Second Life.

    Also, part of the reason CoF got high numbers was because of the novelty factor. It was an edgy thing to do back then, I don't think it would be now.
  • I think I'm too much integrated with my body to be able to worship well without it.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    You can't win hearts and minds without BOTG.
  • Bob Two OwlsBob Two Owls Shipmate
    I think I was still lurking back then so I didn't join in but I remember wondering how it would work. I'm still not sure.
  • kmannkmann Shipmate
    The biggest problem I saw with it was that as the Eucharist is the centre of liturgy, and the Eucharist is a physical thing, it could never replace a real tangible Church.
  • OhherOhher Shipmate
    I loved it, every bit of it. I miss it.
  • RossweisseRossweisse Shipmate, 8th Day Host
    I enjoyed it, and was saddened to see it go.
  • EutychusEutychus Admin
    Just as a generation (well, at least some of it) followed church on TV, now a generation is emerging that prefers to follow church on the internet.

    VR headsets still require too much computing power and are too expensive to have become mainstream, but they surely will. As and when they do, I would expect an immersive church experience to emerge.

    But I agree with @kmann here in that I think if the Son went to all the bother of becoming incarnate, there must be a good reason for flesh-and-blood fellowship.
  • LeRocLeRoc Shipmate
    Eutychus wrote: »
    VR headsets still require too much computing power and are too expensive to have become mainstream, but they surely will. As and when they do, I would expect an immersive church experience to emerge.
    Yeah I guess so.
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    I wasn't part of it, but later, when St Pixels had a much simpler version of virtual church, with just text and sound in a chatroom, I often virtually attended and enjoyed it. It was very helpful for people who might have difficulty regularly attending an IRL church, through, say, disability, illness, or living in an isolated area. My church background was not one centred around eucharist, so lacking that wasn't a big deal for me.

    I think that there would still be a place for online church today - not for novelty, but for people who do find it difficult to attend an IRL church, for whatever reason. It wouldn't necessarily have to be fancy virtual reality stuff, but just a way for people to come together online and worship.

    These days plenty of IRL churches have livestream options, so you can virtually attend that way, but it's not the same as being able to interact with people, and having people know you're there, which happens with a virtual church.
  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    LeRoc wrote: »
    One thing is that the whole interacting on the internet through 3d avatars thing never took off. See the death of Second Life.

    Isn't that how MMORPGs work though?

    Maybe SoF should set up a chaplaincy inside EverQuest ...
  • CathscatsCathscats Shipmate
    edited May 3
    www.sanctuaryfirst.org.uk

    This is not the same as church of fools but is one way of doing church online. And if society is changing, and physical church services are changing, then surely online church should change too. (Though I also think that physical presence is most often important.)

    [ Fixed link. BroJames Purg host ]
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    edited May 3
    Cathscats wrote: »
    www.sanctuaryfirst.org.uk

    This is not the same as church of fools but is one way of doing church online. And if society is changing, and physical church services are changing, then surely online church should change too. (Though I also think that physical presence is most often important.)

    I'm going to put the link just as a copy and paste, as it seems the link thing isn't working: http://www.sanctuaryfirst.org.uk/home

    And then to ask you about it, as I'm curious. I had a look and couldn't quite work it out. Does it involve a service in a chat room or something, in real time, or is it more like a daily devotional thing posted, for people to access at any time?

    I have come across an attempt to have shared worship on a FB group for Christians with chronic illness, which seems to happen all day on Sundays, for people to access at any time, where the group admin posts youtubes of worship songs, and also meditations, but generally no one seems to comment - there is not a sense of community or shared worship. I imagine a huge part of setting up an online church is finding ways to build a sense of community, making people feel individually welcome, but not self-conscious. Because I imagine a lot of people trying it for the first time might be nervous, and want to be invisible to some extent - not have attention drawn to their presence, or to feel any obligation to keep coming - but equally may not want to be completely ignored, so some kind of way of feeling included would encourage a person to want to come back. And I suspect there is also often an element of chance in online communities - the right time, the right place, the right combination of people, etc.

    [ Thank you for spotting this, @fineline. Fixed link in quote to match fix in post. BroJames Purg host. ]
  • Curiosity killedCuriosity killed Shipmate, 8th Day Host
    There have been a number of internet churches around - I linked to a few when I maintained the church website. Going to check I couldn't find some of the links I used to use, but did find:
    One of the articles I found, dated 2017, suggested that online church was an up and coming thing, two years ago.
  • Rosemary7391Rosemary7391 Shipmate
    Here's another expression of online church to consider...
    http://anordinaryoffice.org.uk/

    The folk who run that are also interested in issues surrounding accessibility and disability, which is one area where I can see why online church fills a very real and present need. Even if it isn't perfect (eg no Eucharist) - what church is?

    I can also see the value in various expression of church/church adjacent activities happening online simply because no church is perfect. I go to a church which is very small and I wouldn't want to leave - but I miss the opportunity for more extended discussion, hence why I've wandered in here.

    Fineline - I agree there is always going to be an element of chance in online communities as you say. I'm not sure that's unique to online church?
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    edited May 3
    Ah, interesting - I'd come across i-church and life.church in the past, but not all those others. Thanks for those links.

    And Rosemary, yes, I agree, there are elements of chance in everything. I was thinking perhaps more in an online church/community because of lacking the real life element, where people might keep returning for practical reasons, and the community has time to develop. Online, you are more reliant simply on the words on the page, and more likely, perhaps, to never come back, if you don't connect with those words right away. In a real community, even if there is silence, there are people, you see them, experience them, exchange glances with them. But online (unless it's 3D virtual reality) you just see no words and it seems empty. A list of screen names is not the same, as they may not actually be at the screen.
  • Rosemary7391Rosemary7391 Shipmate
    I see what you mean fineline. It is likely that more people never return to an online community after first glance. But online communities can be accessed by more people than a physical one, so perhaps they're not any less stable for it? A lower % of "passers-by" return, but there are significantly more passers-by so it still has a reasonable chance of accumulating enough people to form a stable community?

    I do find the use of silence very effective in real life settings but weird in online settings. But perhaps there are elements of online community that don't work in real life settings... I can't go back and edit my words if I feel like it, whereas here I've done that a few times whilst composing this post.
  • chrisstileschrisstiles Shipmate
    Ricardus wrote: »
    LeRoc wrote: »
    One thing is that the whole interacting on the internet through 3d avatars thing never took off. See the death of Second Life.

    Isn't that how MMORPGs work though?

    Maybe SoF should set up a chaplaincy inside EverQuest ...

    Though MMORPG communities and MMORPGs in general are sticky because they - at least initially - have a focus around some aspect of that virtual world and build community outwards from that, rather than the other way around (which seemed to be the case with both Second Life and Virtual Churches).

    Maybe a better analog would be commission someone to be a missionary to one of the clans of WoW or one of the corporations in EVE.
  • McMaverickMcMaverick Shipmate
    I remember there being problems with vile trolls, the price of internet anonymity. What I find incredible though, is the ongoing success of this forum when most forums have gone to the wall.
  • LeRocLeRoc Shipmate
    Ricardus wrote: »
    Isn't that how MMORPGs work though?
    I guess so. To be honest, I'm not the right person to ask as I have very little experience with them.
  • LeRocLeRoc Shipmate
    McMaverick wrote: »
    I remember there being problems with vile trolls, the price of internet anonymity.
    I think this was partly because although the virtual space was rather well designed for its time, the tools that our hosts (I think in CoF we called them 'wardens') had at their disposal to deal with unwanted elements weren't. I'm sure that if we'd do the experiment today, we'd equip them with virtual automatic ray guns.
  • balaambalaam Shipmate, 8th Day Host
    There is also Partakers, run by an ex-St Pixels user which is doing virtual church by podcast.

    This too is doing some good stuff, despite the Interesting visual style.
  • Bishops FingerBishops Finger Shipmate
    edited May 3
    I appeared occasionally on Church of Fools, but in those days I had only a dial-up internet connection , which made it all very slow and clunky for me....

    It seemed to work (IIRC, there was Compline, or some such, every evening at 9pm Ukland time), and I especially enjoyed it when the Wardens 'smited' trolls.....and they automatically disappeared (the trolls, that is).
    :grin:

    I suspect the novelty aspect had a lot to do with its popularity at the time!
  • balaambalaam Shipmate, 8th Day Host
    LeRoc wrote: »
    McMaverick wrote: »
    I remember there being problems with vile trolls, the price of internet anonymity.
    I think this was partly because although the virtual space was rather well designed for its time, the tools that our hosts (I think in CoF we called them 'wardens') had at their disposal to deal with unwanted elements weren't. I'm sure that if we'd do the experiment today, we'd equip them with virtual automatic ray guns.

    Kneeling and praying to the vending machines, that was a 'feature' of CoF that was never anticipated.

    Then after the 3D church was closed CoF continued on free software as a bulletin board and chat room/worship room. That had more bugs than a termite mound and again trolls.

    Two different sets of software, each with a better chat room as far as worship was concerned, under the new name of St Pixels. I enjoyed the interactive nature of the worship, the leader could slow things down or speed it up according to how things went. I really enjoyed that, but not the final version using a Facebook app. The ability to adjust the timing during worship was missing and to me the joy went out of it. I really enjoyed the experiment though.

    More later.
  • Simon ToadSimon Toad Shipmate
    In some of the games I have played there is a Christian presence, in the form of Christian people forming kins and playing the games together, sometimes inviting others to join. Trolls aren't too bad inside kins. You just boot them. When they recruit, it can attract trolls in the games general chat. There are also kins who advertise as family friendly, and they are usually started by people who are playing with their kids, so they want a safe space. They are often very fun kins to be involved with as people are usually pretty casual.
  • LeRocLeRoc Shipmate
    balaam wrote: »
    I really enjoyed the experiment though.
    Me too. It happened at a time when I lived in a country where local churches were much too evangelical for me. CoF helped a lot.
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    edited May 10
    Just to add there are also people using Virtual Reality to create church such as VR Church which this Wired Article is about. It does an awful lot of self-publicity but it is not the only one out there. There is even a platform to create on one. This is a video on Virtual Reality churches, some look like Church of Fools.

    Code fix - Firenze
  • jbohnjbohn Shipmate
    Church of Fools was how I ended up here, all those years ago. Has it really been that long?
Sign In or Register to comment.