NEW YORK - How the faithful worship changed dramatically during the pandemic with many turning to online services as churches closed in-person services for safety. Now some are practicing their religion in a whole new way.
D.J. Soto is a bishop who founded Virtual Reality Church in 2016.
"It's spirit-to-spirit interaction. We remember each other from the week before, we know each other's voices. We start to recognize each other's avatar," Soto said. "So it just really is an enhancement for so many people, particularly those that can't attend a physical church."
Membership in his VR Church increased dramatically during the COVID shutdown. Worshippers attend using virtual reality headsets and create an avatar. Everything from scripture readings to baptisms can take place in the metaverse. VR Church participants say it enhances their religious experience.
"I was able to see a rendering of the verse I was reading, which made scripture much more meaningful for me," Garret Bernal said.
"Suddenly you're empowered again, suddenly you matter again," Alina Delp said. "Suddenly you're human again."
Pastor A.R. Bernard oversees the Christian Cultural Center, a megachurch in Brooklyn.
"I think considering what we're experiencing now in terms of the virtual world, the metaverse takes it to another level," Bernard said. "The difference is that the current virtual experience appeals to the sight and the hearing. The metaverse, by way of avatar, allows us to engage all five senses."
Bernard does not think this will replace in-person worship.
"There's just something about us as human beings that we require being in the same space, sharing the same physical space with someone else — so I don't think we're going to lose that," he said. "I think this is a wonderful alternative but I don't think it's going to take the place of the reality that the corporate sacred experience as an assembly is what god intended for worship."