Date set for first cyber-church service

 People who have never set foot in a church will be able to take part in a cyber-service - on Tuesday May 11 - when the world's first on-line church service takes place - on the opening day of the 20th National Christian Resources Exhibition. Simon Jenkins, editor of the satirical Christian website http://www.shipoffools.com who are behind the project, said: "While some websites help people meditate and pray, no-one has built an interactive 3D church environment before - complete with gothic arches and hard wooden pews." From a remote location, a real-life vicar will log on and appear on screen as a cartoon character. Using a keyboard and connected via the internet, he or she will move around the church, welcome the congregation, lead the service from a lectern, introduce hymns, then preach from a pulpit to people sitting in rows of pews. "In different parts of the world, the congregation, too, will log on and become cartoon characters - and see each other on-screen," said 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, perhaps pray together. They'll even be invited to put something in 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. "When Future Church was chosen as the main focus for this year's National Christian Resources Exhibition (11-14 May, Sandown Park Exhibition Centre, Esher, Surrey), we considered it an ideal place to unveil this pilot project,'"said Steve. " It picks up the challenge of Archbishop Rowan Williams' 'mission-shaped' initiative - to create new church expressions for Generation X-Box." The online church will run as a pilot from May to July 2004.