Many religious denominations now offer interactive digital locations to supplement traditional services, but unique to COVID-19 is the opportunity to experience spirituality in an immersive 3D environment through virtual reality (VR) technology.
As per a report by NZ Herald, Garret Bernal and his family were reportedly absent from a recent Sunday service during their quarantine for COVID-19 exposure. So, he donned a VR headset and tried praying in the metaverse.
He was instantly transported to a three-dimensional virtual realm of pastures, cliffs and rivers as the representative of a pastor guided him and others through computer-generated images of Biblical passages that came to life. Bernal, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, stated:
“I couldn’t have had such an immersive church experience sitting in my pew. I was able to see the scriptures in a new way.”
Religious leaders like D.J. Soto, a pastor based in Fredericksburg, Virginia, have espoused the benefits of VR and consider it a step forward in human self-realization. The future of churchgoing, according to him, is in the metaverse because “it reaches people who can’t physically go to church” due to COVID-19 or other aspects. Speaking to Cointelegraph, Soto emphasized that “conversations about technology and spirituality need to coexist,” stating:
“We have people who attend due to COVID-19, or for lack of accessibility to their physical church. We are a Web3 church, a first-of-its-kind, that will lead Christianity into the brave world of cryptocurrency, DAOs, blockchain and other next-generation technologies. Conversations about technology and spirituality need to coexist. We are living in the best of times to experience innovation like this, and we are looking forward to the journey ahead.”
The VR church is entirely based in the metaverse, and it aims to develop loving spiritual communities across the virtual realm, said Soto.
Per the Herald, there was little interest in attending during the first year, and Soto frequently found himself preaching to a small group of individuals, most of whom were atheists and agnostics who were more interested in discussing religion. However, the document states that his group has since expanded to around 200 people.
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The report cites another clergyman, Reverend Jeremy Nickel, a Unitarian Universalist minister who lives in Colorado and calls himself a VR evangelist. His idea was to build a community and “get away from the brick and mortar” when he established SacredVR in 2017. However, it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic that the group’s membership grew from a few dozens to hundreds of people.