SimChurch author Douglas Estes, who participated in our Cyberchurch Symposium earlier this year, suggested the 1985 date for the origin of virtual online church. I asked him about it recently and he responded:
Thanks for blogging about SimChurch and taking part in the blog tour. Your question was, “Can you elaborate on the date 1985? What was going on then with virtual church?”
1985 was, as they say, a good year. You have pointed out the roots of the emerging church begin in 1985, but this was also the same year that we can see a beginning for the online church movement as well. Not disregarding your post about the ‘Virtual Church in the 1940’s’ or the church’s long-standing and largely-successful relationship with using technology to ‘help make church happen,’ 1985 was the year that online church actually occurred online.
Today, no one seems to really know much about that very first church in 1985, who was involved or what it believed … it appears more as a footnote in books on the internet than anything else (and since I too am interested in knowing more, if anyone knows details about this group, please email me). So I can’t give you their name or their specific creed, if they had one. But I can say that it reveals one striking fact about the church and God’s work in our world.
1985, if I have my internet history correct, was the first year that any ‘regular people’ could get online in any real capacity. I at the time had a PCjr, and was not online, but MS-DOS that year had networking support, and CompuServe was available in the US. (As a marker, AOL and Prodigy launched in the 1990s). Even though this was at the very outset of a new medium of communication, the church went there and became the church. And to me, this is what it reveals about the beauty of the church: that it can go anywhere, by anyone, by the power of God. In fact, I would argue that it must; that if God’s word is true that his people will naturally extend the church to wherever they may be; whether that be in a different continent or even a different ‘world,’ the virtual world. 1985 shows that there will always be people of God who are on mission, wherever that mission may lead. And I for one praise God for that.” Douglas Estes
Can anyone shed more light on 1985?
FWIW, I was having on-line “apologetic” conversations with the LDS community via Compuserve probably as early as 1985.
Ha.. 4 MHz 8088 uP, 64kB RAM, 360kb FDD, daisy wheel printer, 300 baud Cermetek modem. didn’t have a hard drive – too expensive.
Around 1987-ish I remember running across a BBS in the Washington DC area called Church Without Walls. I don’t remember anything about the content, but I do remember being intrigued by the possibilities. It might have been run by an Episcopal priest?
The 1985 date comes from “Cybernauts Awake”, the Church of England report. That report contains the following comment:
“In 1985 a new online church was formed on the Internet in which the organizers claimed that for the first time people could worship in spirit and in truth and not be distracted by others who might be ‘fat, short, beautiful or ugly. People are pared down to pure spirit.'”
Great quote, but no trace of who said it or where it originally came from.
Wow – thanks tim