Virtual Reality Gaming… have you tried it? You wear a set over your eyes, and gloves, and you’re transported to a 3D world - if you look up in real life, you look up in the game. It hasn’t taken off as much as people expected, but one thing that has just started developing is the world’s first Virtual Reality church.
DJ Soto is the lead pastor for VR Church… he told Chris Berrow how it came about.
DJ - My wife and I were pastors at a church in Pennsylvania in the States and we left that to go start something new and we didn't know what new meant we thought them at plant physical churches. So we set to do that at the same time. VR came out at the consumer level in 2016 and we've never seen that before in history. We got VR we were doing the movies the video games and you know our families about much gamers like Fortnight and Overwatch and when when VR came out we started playing around with it and then this new thing that I've never seen before came out called Social VR and Social VR at the nuts and bolts of that is like you know the movie that just came out Ready Player 1 or Inception or the Matrix these virtual worlds where avatars walk around and exist in these immersive settings. And so when I experienced that I thought Oh it'd be fun to try having a church experience here a spiritual experience that people could come to. So what started out as an experiment evolved into! this church community. We have multiple church experiences on Sunday and several Bible studies throughout the week all in all in virtual reality to the sorts of people who are coming along to VR church in your experience. What I love about virtually church is that the people that come that would not have been able to experience church and there is just a surprisingly large amount of people so for example people who are homebound for a condition or a disease some you know it might not be a physical ailment or a sickness it might be like emotional or mental they have severe social anxiety and just the idea of walking into a church in a building and sitting down that's a very intimidating prospect for them and then you have people that may have been kicked out of a church. I had a friend who was a recovering drug addict. He spent many years as a heroin addict and came out of that and was trying to get connected to a church just right out of a halfway house and they wouldn't let him co! me in because you know he looked disheveled and he looked like a recovering drug user. But he just wanted to go get connected with the spiritual community and essentially he was kicked out and there's story after story of people who can't get to church or maybe who've tried to get to church and for whatever reason they weren't allowed to be a part of that community. And so what if your church allows people to do is it provides another avenue for them in terms of the actual VR game and the environments that you rings.
Chris - I know it's one of those social games that really does no kind of game to play you're just kind of hanging out basically but the environments themselves can you sort of set it up to be you know like a church environment. I know one of the videos I saw that you were part of I think a lot of people were like standing around in what looked like water. So I guess the environments that you have that you pick and choose them to be appropriate for what you're doing or do you just take it as it comes.
DJ - Our very first church building was very like normal that you would see with pews and a little stage and then it was kind of like a eureka moment where we did the light bulb came on and we realized wait a minute we're in the matrix where if you've seen the movie Inception with Leonardo DiCaprio and there's that moment where Leonardo and Ellen Page there walk in and she's building with her mind and there is like that label moment for us is like wait a minute we can build whatever we want. So when we first started it was just a natural extension of what we knew from the physical world which looked like a regular church building with like Windows and pews and then it evolved into these fantastical worlds that we're creating every week and we'll create a new bill just depending on what is happening in the scripture. So for 2019 we went Chapter by chapter through the book of John and the Gospel of John. And each chapter was in a different location and a different setting sometimes! we were on a boat in the sea of Galilee and we were at your church. Actually everyone was on the boat as we were experiencing that or maybe we were in the temple in Jerusalem. So are we have a team called World builders and one of the leaders whose name is Wilco I affectionately call him the architect based off the inception movie. And yeah as a matter of fact this morning I sent him the build for the following Sunday. So every morning Monday morning he's expecting a list of things to be built for the scripture that we're experiencing.
Chris - I want to ask about if there's a kind of line that you have to draw because the one thing about VR obviously is that it's virtual reality and that you don't see people face to face. Do you have to kind of be careful about who you invite into the group because you know people with bad intentions could you sort of come along for a day and start to cause a problem or is of you obviously want to make sure it's a real positive experience.
DJ - Well one, we're not too fazed by it. We're just kind. It's kind of normal for us. So maybe in the physical world if someone came in and started screaming at the preacher that'd be like a like a well. Did you did you hear what happened at church day. But in virtual reality it's kind of normal. We just kind of roll with it and sometimes the trolls so to speak they calm down and they see that you know we're just kind of normal people and you know we say hello and sometimes we have to kick people. But that's like a last resort thing we try to give people a chance. But but that's foreign for you between because most of the time people are just interacting very normally and courteously with love and respect and actually what we found is that people there's a deep sense of authenticity. So what I mean by that is I've gotten some criticism from from pastor friends or from religious leaders saying hey you know your people are going to be avatars are gonna be fake they're gonna change ! who they are. And I said actually it's the opposite. We've experienced the complete opposite where with that Avatar there's a sense of anonymity. And with that anonymity comes deep authenticity. So we're like get into the heart of who we are. It's spirit of spirit. It's person to person it's not you know people don't have to wonder what other people think about their looks or you know their weight or their race or you know whatever. It's just the pure spirit the spirit communication.