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Church of England creates first virtual reality service

12 November 2021

Online liturgy recreates in 3D the evening service of the Blessing of the Light


The service is led by the Revd Tosin Oladipo, Chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury

The service is led by the Revd Tosin Oladipo, Chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury

BELIEVED to be the first virtual-reality (VR) service created by the Church of England, an online liturgy has been designed to recreate in 3D the evening service of the Blessing of the Light.

The experimental service was filmed in St Stephen Walbrook, in the City of London last month. For viewers, it simulates standing alongside the choir or moving around the church during the seven-minute rite.

The service, for which an order is provided by Common Worship, and which has been available on the Church of England YouTube channel, can be watched on a computer, and can be watched without a virtual-reality headset.

The Blessing of the Light gives thanks for Christ the light of the world as well as for “the lights of evening”, as the hymn puts it; and takes its origins from the Lucernarium, or lamp-lighting, before evening prayer in the Early Church.

This 3D service was a trial run, and more services might be considered if it had a wide appeal, the head of digital for the C of E, Amaris Cole, said. It was a natural extension to the work done during the pandemic to make prayer and worship accessible online, and offered people the chance to explore the inside of a church — perhaps for the first time.

“We worked on this project to bring an ancient tradition to a new audience. We are constantly thinking about how we can bring our prayer and worship content to new audiences using different technologies and platforms; if this first VR service is well received and useful, then we will look at what other traditions we can bring to digital devices using virtual reality.”

Virtual reality — which usually offers viewers a simulated experience — is growing in popularity in the UK: a recent survey showed that more than a million people now own a VR headset.


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