A recent viral video shows pastor D.J. Soto baptizing a pink-haired anime girl, who goes by the name Drumsy, in virtual reality, while parishioners whose avatars include a talking cat, Winnie the Pooh, a banana and SpongeBob SquarePants, join in the sacred ceremony.
Soto explained the significance of the virtual ceremony: “When you go underwater that symbolizes your spiritual cells are soaking in divine love and new life and forgiveness,” he explains. “Just as Jesus was dead and buried and rose again to new life, that’s what we’re going to symbolize for you today.”
Soto, a pastor from Reading, Pennsylvania who used to preach from the pulpit of a megachurch, started his VR church in 2017 using the AltSpaceVR platform, a virtual reality social platform where users can pick an avatar and go into hundreds of chat rooms to talk, play games and hang out with other users.
He explained that after he studied to be a pastor, he was turned off by the politics and exclusivity of traditional bricks-and-mortar churches. He reported that pastors and church leaders tend to get really “wigged out” at the idea of a VR Church, but “Even in the physical world, your body is just a shell for your spirit.”
“One of the girls that we baptized, she has a condition where she can’t leave the home, so we were able to baptize her, and when she was coming out of the water she was just balling and crying because she never thought she would have that opportunity,” he explained. “One gal comes to our virtual church because she’s in a wheelchair, so she puts on her Oculus Go and comes to VR church.”
He recalls that when she tried to attend a real church, she was told that she was only in a wheelchair because she didn’t have "enough faith."
He also recalls a 16-year-old boy who was attending his virtual church, until his mom found out about it and forbade him to come.
“She didn’t know why. She just had this reaction to it,” he said. “For some people its such an unknown that I think it freaks them out and I think they question whether you can actually have relationships in VR and that’s the crux of their argument or confusion.”
Soto argues that your relationships can be more authentic in VR, because there’s a sense of anonymity, and with that, comes authenticity. “We can just be authentic with each other. There’s no judgement,” he said.
“We’re just human beings talking to each other – spirit to spirit, mind to mind,” he said.
But still, even Drumsy points out that perhaps Winnie the Pooh should put on some pants when he comes to church.
For the record, here's Drumsy's take on the experience. Sorry folks, but I'm going to have to file this under Uber The Top.