Ulfilas Graves in Second Life
The goth church in cyberspace
By Sarah Loat
An online church is reaching out to Christians in subcultures through gothic language and music.
In the virtual world, Second Life he is Ulfilas Graves, Apostle to the Goths. In the real world he is Craig Gilman from Birmingham, "a normal bloke who wears slightly gothic clothes, who has a heart for young people and wants to share the love of God with them."
St Hilda’s Church in Second Life was created by Craig to serve the Christian goth community, and features an international computer-generated congregation.
St Hilda's Christian Goth Church
"I always believed the internet would be like The Matrix, and when I heard about Second Life I knew I had to get involved, so I thought I'd start a church because I knew people would be interested." says Craig.
Christian goths online
Often feeling ostracized by the Christian faith, Christian Goths have formed a thriving online community, finding cyberspace the perfect place to practise their faith with other like-minded people who choose to be part of a subculture.
"Goth people are usually very spiritual people and express themselves spiritually in different ways," says Craig "obviously there are a lot of people into Wicca but they’re not Satanists."
St Hilda's congregation
Craig talks of the traditionally anti-goth nature of some churches, of the misconceptions of wearing black clothes and devil worship: "It just isn’t true. A lot of it is just about listening to a particular type of music and liking a particular style of dress.
"Actually there are a lot of Christian Goths out there but sometimes they keep it quiet because they are often not accepted by the church. A lot of people who have joined our group say they feel it is a haven because it’s the first church service where its been accepted for them to be who they are – a goth and they felt it was somewhere they could call home as a church, which I was amazed at considering it’s a virtual service."
Craig Gilman, a cheery goth
Ulfilas, Apostle to the Goths
Craig adopted the name Ulfilas for his Second Life character. The character looks remarkably like his real self. Others choose to have more fantastical creations with wings or even animal heads. Ulfilas was a bishop that translated the Bible from Greek into the language of the gothic barbarian tribes, to speak to their hearts. Craig, in turn, has taken the Ulfilas name to speak to contemporary goths, punks and skaters.
A committed Christian, Craig is considering going forward for ordination. His affinity with the Church of England began as a child, and as a teenager his vicar suggested he should consider going into the ministry:
Ulfilas kneeling in prayer
"I've been exploring my vocation and thinking about what God wants me to do with my life. I've felt very strongly over the last couple of years that God wants me to reach out to people in alternative subcultures. I want to reach out to people with God's love in that subculture and to people who don't get invited to church, or who are expected to change when they do come to church.
"There are those that say you can't come into church wearing skinny jeans and a black shirt, you've got to smarten yourself up and wear a suit. Sorry, but God made us all different. He likes variety, so why not celebrate in a slightly different way and accept people for who they are?"
Inside St Hilda's
Faith in subculture
The Ulfilas service at St Hilda's is informal in style. Out go regimented pews and in come cushions scattered in a circle and a gothic approach to worship. Craig explains that it's partly why people are part of a subculture – they don't want to conform to the mainstream way of thinking. Singing hymns is difficult to achieve in the online world, so contemporary goth songs are played into the church, gothic liturgy is read and prayers are used from the Goth Eucharist service.
"We concentrated on people who are hurting, depressed, or might self harm, because you get a lot of that in the goth and emo cultures. The prayers reflect that. Candle prayers we call them, where we light candles for a certain group of people, people who are depressed, suffering abuse, or are terminally ill.
"We intersperse that with some reflective music, give time for people to be quiet and pray. I use my voice with the computer microphone and speak live into the service and copy things onto notecards to give people the wording, so they can print it off after the service.”
Craig’s vision for the Christian goth church in Second life is to give it a community feel. He explains how many of the churches in Second Life emulate real churches: "I didn't want to make it a traditional church. You don't have to sit inside your own head in Second Life, you can pan your camera around and look from all angles, so there’s no need to have a replication of a real world church. In a virtual world you can reinvent it, so we tried to reinvent it with a gothic need."
Visitors to the church can enjoy the impressive gothic aesthetics, contemplate in the church yard, and even socialise in the 'Cathedral Club', a nightclub element of the church where goth music is pumped out. "We look at ways we can show the love of God through the way that we are," says Craig.
Real world mission
In the real world Craig is currently working with Birmingham Cathedral with the intention of engaging with the groups of young people that gather in the cathedral grounds. He's passionate about dispelling the misconceptions caused by the large number of goth and emo-looking young people that congregate:
"At one point there were literally 300 plus out there, all dressed in black, and would either call themselves, goth, emo or skaters, or might not say which subculture they are a member of, but would say they are part of an alternative group.
In the grounds of Birmingham Cathedral
"Having got that kind of goth subculture background I feel I need to reach out to them, and the cathedral are interested in doing that. We’ll be partnering with the Depaul Trust to do some work with the young people to recruit peer volunteers and train them up and do social action things - like litter and graffiti clearing - and try and change people's perception of them to show that actually they are nice people and want to do good.
"We give the young people a safe place to be and try and work with them and show them that it’s fine for them to be there, and work with them to make them feel welcome. Some of them might want to come into the cathedral and if they are interested in exploring Christianity I'm happy to start a group."
Craig in Birmingham Cathedral
Accepted by God
The group isn't intended to be a subculture church, but a fellowship of like-minded people and a bridge to feeling accepted within the Christian faith. Craig wants to show the young people that he is there for them, and not solely in their spiritual life.
"It's actually not important what other people think, it's what God thinks, and God accepts us for who we are, he looks at the inside, he doesn't look at the outward appearance. We want people confident and happy with who they are, to understand that God made them that way, and maybe then they will find it easier to show the love that they have been given, to other people."
last updated: 27/05/2008 at 11:34
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