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About the Author

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Andrea Useem, creator and publisher of, is a freelance journalist and editor based in Northern Virginia who specializes in writing about religion. Andrea holds a Masters of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, as well as a Bachelors degree in religion from Dartmouth College. Previously, Andrea worked as a freelance journalist in Eastern Africa for four years; she has also lived in Muscat, Oman. She is married and has three sons.

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Mormon American Idol, Church on Second Life and Barack Obama in Indiana

It’s been a big night, yet another Tuesday evening of clicking back and forth between American Idol and Democratic primary results. So first things first: It looks like America is going to have its first-ever Mormon American Idol in 17-year-old David Archuleta. The three judges, Randy, Paula and Simon, go crazy for Archuleta’s earnest crooning, while they have absolutely no patience for Jason Castro — an active evangelical from Texas — and his sweet renditions of Bob Marley and Bob Dylan. I’m not a David Archuleta fan at all (I much prefer David Cook), but I did enjoy him singing one of the best Christmas songs of all time, “Oh Holy Night,” in this YouTube clip.

As soon as American Idol was over, I dashed downstairs to log onto Second Life to attend church. That’s right: church. has a Tuesday evening service on Second Life, and I was determined to attend. I have written before about, but I had never experienced a service. And as I am currently writing a booklet for the Alban Institute’s Congregational Resource Guide about congregations and Web 2.0 technologies, I thought now was a good time. The’s website has a handy clock that counts down the time to the next service in Second Life, so that helped keep me motivated.

Another reason I wanted to attend the service was that I have a hard time meeting people in Second Life. It’s not because I’m anti-social, but because the places I’m most interested in — religious places — are almost always uninhabited if you drop in on a random day. I have spent a lot of time, for example, wandering — or flying — around the Chebi mosque or some of the other churches in Second Life. The most popular places in Second Life are mostly dance-club or beach-y places — it’s easy to find lots of people there, but it’s hard to strike up a meaningful conversation. So I thought attending an actual event would make it easier for me to meet some real people. The service just ended about five minutes ago (yes, I was working on this blog post while I was supposed to be listening to the sermon, but that’s the great thing about attending a religious service in Second Life — when you get bored, you can check your email, and yet your avatar is still sitting there primly in the chair, looking attentive!)

Here’s my take on it. First, the hour-long event did feel a lot like a church service — indeed, it felt very much like my experience a few months ago visiting the real-life congregation of Reston Community Church, which meets in my local movie theater. In both cases, I entered a dark theater-like room and sat down in one of the comfy chairs. I stood up and swayed during the Christian-rock praise music. I sat down and listened to the young, handsome male pastor and watched other video interludes featuring hip, casually dressed people who obviously have a passion for their religion. If I was actually a member of an evangelical church, I could see that attending a church service in Second Life might be as relevant and real as attending a brick-and-mortar church.

The Lifechurch experience was actually so much like real-life church that I was a little disappointed. For one thing, I found the sermon — which appeared via live streaming video — to be too long. Thanks to YouTube, I’m used to watching videos with a little bar at the bottom that tells me how much longer the video will run, which gives a feeling of control. In this case, I had no idea how long the sermon was going to be, which contributed to my sense of restlessness. Another thing: The chat function of Second Life makes it possible for people in the congregation to easily communicate, but no one chatted during the sermon. Since sermons are the definition of top-down content, I was surprised there wasn’t a little innovation here, some way to use the interactivity of Second Life.

But here was my big disappointment. After patiently sitting through the sermon (okay, maybe I wasn’t so patient — isn’t being patient anathema to being online?), I was looking forward to chatting with people in the cavernous but furnished church lobby. Unfortunately, the 15 or so people who attended the service disappeared quickly, and I found myself as I usually am in Second Life — wandering around by myself. Compare this to my first-time experience at the Reston Community Church, where several people introduced themselves to me, and one woman even sent me a hand-written note in the mail the next week, saying she hoped we would meet again soon. Since I usually associate evangelical churches with being extremely welcoming to newcomers (after all, they do want to evangelize you), I was surprised to find that element missing in my first-time experience at Lifechurch on Second L ife.

Which left me back to googling the results of the primaries: As of 10:30 pm, Barack Obama is still closing in on Clinton in Indiana, narrowing what earlier seemed to be 10-plus gap. According to this Zogby poll conducted before voting started, Obama was slated to win the majority of Catholics in both Indiana and North Carolina — in spite of the fact that Clinton has made headlines recently by winning over the Catholic vote. Dan Gilgoff at the Beliefnet blog, God-o-Meter, has been following Obama’s outreach to Catholics — I’ll look forward to reading posts from him and other religion reporters tomorrow morning to see whether Obama is having better luck winning over white Catholics.

UPDATE: Obama improves among Catholics in Indiana, as compared to his showing in Pennsylvania, according to God-o-meter’s look at the exit polls.

There Are 7 Responses So Far. »

  1. Always makes me laugh that you are such an American Idol fan! I cannot BEAR that show. ICK! And I am constantly amazed at the number of my friends who are hooked. What gene am I missing here? I didn’t get into Survivor either. But I do always enjoy reading your posts about it because they focus on the faith factor - fascinating! Do we know the religious beliefs (if any) of the AI judges? Just curious. I suspect Simon is a Satanist. I spent last night watching the Oakland A’s defeat the Baltimore Orioles. You had a way more productive night than I did!

  2. Andrea, have you had a chance to check out the Anglican Cathedral in Second Life? (See ) Drop me a friend request when you have a moment; I’m Helenn Indigo and Vahnia Gregory in-world.

  3. Andrea,

    First (belatedly) I am so so impressed with this Web site. You’ve made a wonderful and important community here! I’m proud of you and would loooove to pick your brain someday on taking my own blog to a next level…)

    secondly, very interesting about second life. I got verrry hooked myself for a while and like you found I spent my time (and was most fascinated by) the quietest places. Isn’t it strange that here you have a chance to “do it all again” you mostly wind up doing the same things. I was on the newspaper staff! I hung out in coffee bars where fellow NaNoWriMoers (national novel writing month) hung.

    I actually laughed out loud at your comment about looking for the “time left” bar at the Church service. I too find myself doing this in real life sometimes.

    Finally, I had no idea Archuletta was Mormon (am I hiding under a rock?).

    Anyway, all of this sums up to… I will be back and back often. You are a fabulous writer with a wonderful niche here that deserves the attention of a fine journalist at heart such as yourself.

  4. [...] mosques and the tech-savvy, professional young Muslims who don’t feel very at home there. I wrote the other day about visiting evangelical churches — one in a local movie theatre, one on [...]

  5. SecondLife creators introduce new online game targeted to fundamentalist Mormons - “Second Wife” Czechit:

  6. [...] but not least, in April 2007, LifeChurch opened a presence in SecondLife. Andrea Useem attended one of the virtual world services, but wasn’t overly impressed. “I was looking forward [...]

  7. Barack Obama is a good president. he is perhaps the most tech savvy president in the US.

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