By Chris Karnadi, Religion & Politics, 8/9/22.
… In 2011, a child from Tacoma, Wash. named Daniel Herron started a church on Roblox, a free-to-play game geared primarily to children and teenagers. Founded by Herron when he was 11 years old, The Robloxian Christians initially began as a space for Christian Roblox players to gather and interact, and this space grew into a fully in-game church with four services a week and more than 53,000 Roblox members.
As a game that is also a game creation platform, Roblox enables users to design their own spaces and invite people to interact with them. In his first few months of playing, Herron had experienced interactive cafes and castles, but wanted to design a world that not only invited Christians to join but also to engage their faith.
The Robloxian Christians was an extension of Herron’s real-life faith. As an active member of a Presbyterian church, Herron included familiar elements such as Bible studies, Wednesday night services, and the like. But at the same time, he was able to establish a Christian community that would have never been possible, encouraged, or even allowed by the PC(USA) denomination because of his age. At present, the Robloxian Christians remains nondenominational and operates more as a collective than a traditional church with accountability to some larger governing body. Metaverse communities often allow faith groups untied from traditional denominations to gather with little to no supervision, allowing for a greater diversity of people to lead and gather.
VR Church is another religious community that meets in the metaverse. Started in 2016, VR Church meets on AltspaceVR, a social virtual reality platform that was acquired by Microsoft in 2017. According to the church’s website, its founder and bishop DJ Soto was originally a pastor at a megachurch in Pennsylvania before leaving and deciding to plant a virtual church. VR Church is not affiliated with any denomination and has a minimalist statement of beliefs: an amended Apostles’ Creed and a few tenets listed on its website.
Soto initially left his previous position with the idea to plant a church in the physical world, but after experimenting with an Oculus headset (Oculus was purchased by Facebook in 2014) and AltspaceVR, he planted a church in virtual reality instead. The church steadily grew, and then exploded in popularity during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It now hosts weekly meetings with up to 200 attendees. According to one report, the church has also ordained other ministers and baptized people who can’t leave their houses.
“People see what we are doing and think it’s innovative, but we believe later they will understand how it is currently reforming the landscape of Christianity,” Soto told me via email.
VR Church prides itself on reaching people who can’t go to church because of disabilities or chronic illness. According to VR Church’s website, one of their eldershas an autoimmune condition and remains mostly at home. Pastoring in the VR Church, her profile says, has allowed her the blessing of a “VR family.” In addition to opening up spaces for disabled and immunocompromised people to lead and experience community, the nontraditional VR Church also allows creative interpretations of Christian texts and rituals. Baptism can happen in a glacial lake in a completely fabricated digital world. An entire landscape can be used to illustrate Bible verses and attendees can walk around and explore the interpretation of scripture.
VR Church has recently expanded with a “virtual church plant” called MMO Church that takes place in the video games Rust and Final Fantasy 14. Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMO) allow large numbers of players to meet on the same server and interact with one another. In this instance, MMO Church sets a meeting spot in a server and players show up within the MMO and participate in church there with their own chosen characters. Instead of planting a church in other states or cities, VR Church plants churches in other games.