NEW YORK – How faithful worship has changed dramatically during the pandemic, with many turning to online services as churches shut down in-person services for security reasons. Now some are practicing their religion in a whole new way.
DJ Soto is a bishop who founded virtual reality church in 2016.
“It’s a mind-to-mind interaction. We remember the previous week, we know each other’s voice. We start to recognize each other’s avatar,” Soto said. “So that’s definitely an improvement for so many people, especially those who can’t attend a physical church.”
His VR church membership has increased dramatically during the COVID shutdown. Devotees attend using virtual reality headsets and create an avatar. Everything from scripture readings to baptisms can take place in the metaverse. VR Church attendees say it enhances their religious experience.
“I was able to see an interpretation of the verse I was reading, which made the scripture so much more meaningful to me,” Garret Bernal said.
“Suddenly you’re empowered again, suddenly you matter again,” said Alina Delp. “Suddenly you became human again.”
Pastor AR Bernard oversees the Christian Cultural Center, a mega-church in Brooklyn.
“I think given what we’re going through right now in terms of the virtual world, the metaverse takes it to another level,” Bernard said. “The difference is that the current virtual experience involves sight and sound. The metaverse, as an avatar, allows us to engage all five senses.”
Bernard doesn’t think it will replace in-person worship.
“There’s just something about us as human beings that we need to be in the same space, share the same physical space with someone else – so I don’t think we’re going to lose this,” he said. “I think it’s a wonderful alternative, but I don’t think it’s going to replace the reality that the sacred corporate experience as an assembly is what God intended for worship.”