The United Kingdom’s first virtual church announced several security changes after a throng of obnoxious visitors disturbed the services, Wednesday, May 19, 2004.
According to data, some 60,000 people entered the Methodist-sponsored “Church of Fools” during the first two days of opening, and some 5,000 –10,000 have visited the church every day since then.
While the majority of the worshippers were respectful, one hacker entered as “Satan” and blasphemed throughout the service and several others cursed and swore from the aisles.
To prevent such episodes from reoccurring, the church announced on Wednesday that it would add more wardens who can use a “smite” button to log out people who use obscene language, withdraw the “shout” button which allows visitors to address everyone who is present and close off the apse area – including the pulpit, lectern and alter – to visitors.
According to the ‘Church of Fools’ spokesperson Stephen Goddard, the difficulties the church face is similar to that of 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," said Goddard.
"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,” Goddard continued.
The three-dimensional church, which is complete with stained glass windows, gothic arches, pews and a crypt, allows visitors worldwide to login and worship over the net. The visitors, who are allowed to kneel to pray, walk up to the pulpit, speak to one another and throw their hands up in worship, mainly come in to listen to regular sermons by visiting preachers. The first speaker, whose sermon was heard in both audio and text formats by thousands, was the Anglican Bishop of London, the Right Rev. Richard Chartres.
To visit the Church of Fools online, go to: www.shipoffools.com/church
The following are the 'House Rules' of the Church, as listed online:
1. Treat others with respect. Do not use the sanctuary or crypt to be abusive to others, try out your chat-up lines, swear gratuitously or harass other people.
2. Treat other traditions with respect. People come to Church of Fools from all sorts of backgrounds and church traditions. That means they may act differently in church from the way you would. We expect you to be tolerant of difference, but that doesn’t mean tolerating bad behaviour.
3. Don’t become a distraction. Church historians confirm that church has always been home to a little whispering, but if you only want to chat, there are better places and times for it than during worship.
4. Don’t put on a floor show. During services don’t walk around at the front, wander behind the altar or climb into the pulpit. Outside of services you are welcome to explore the building as much as you like.
5. Don’t bring your arguments to worship. We aren’t saying don’t ever argue, but please conduct debate and disagreements elsewhere. You can use the discussion boards on shipoffools.com for this purpose.
6. Take the consequences. If you break the house rules, you will attract the attention of the Church Wardens. They may ask you to stop your behaviour and/or remove you from the Church of Fools environment.