Cyber Church Clamps Down

FILE - In this May 9, 1996 file photo, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., left, and Then-West Virginia Gov. Gaston Caperton, right, point across the new Toyota Motor Company's TM MV Plant as Toyota Motor Company's President Hiroshi Okuda, center, looks on during ceremonies at the site in Buffalo, W.Va. Toyota has friends in high places in Washington, including some of the very people now investigating the Japanese automaker. (AP Photo/Bob Bird, File) AP Photo/Bob Bird, File

Britain's first three-dimensional cyber church has been forced to tighten security after a slew of abusive visitors ranted from the pulpit and swore in the aisles.

The Church of Fools said Wednesday it has withdrawn the "shout" button, which allows visitors to address everyone who is present, and added more wardens, who use a "smite" button to log out people who use abusive language. The apse area, including pulpit, lectern and altar have also been closed to visitors.

The church said the first two days of the site, which launched last week, had been very noisy; in one case, a person logged in as Satan, entered the pulpit and started to blaspheme.

The church, complete with a stained glass window, gothic arches, pews, and a crypt, is sponsored by the Methodist Church and run by Ship of Fools, a campaigning online Christian magazine.

Church spokesman Stephen Goddard compared the difficulties with early problems faced by the evangelist John Wesley, who founded Methodism in the 18th century.

"When Wesley started off all those years ago preaching to the unconverted, he was shouted at, spat at and abused and people brayed like donkeys to put him off preaching," Goddard said.

"When you go out into a different culture first you are going to suffer abuse. We are not worried about it and it does not offend us.''

Visitors to the church -- represented by three-dimensional figures, or avatars -- are able to cross themselves, kneel to pray and throw their hands up in worship.

Most worship is personal and contemplative -- visitors can talk among themselves -- but there are regular sermons by visiting preachers, delivered in audio and text formats. The first speaker was the Anglican Bishop of London, the Right Rev. Richard Chartres.

Wardens struggled to oversee 60,000 visits to the church during the first two days of opening; the site has attracted an average of between 5,000 and 10,000 visits a day since then.

Church of Fools said most of the problems happened during the night in Britain, when people log on from the United States and Australia.

  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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