3D church woos Internet faithful

Christians have opened a zany 3D Internet church, billed as a first chance for believers to log on and worship interactively.

Bishop of London Richard Chartres gave the inaugural sermon -- via a speech-bubble from his cartoon persona -- at the first service on Tuesday on the "Church of Fools" at www.shipoffools.com.

"No one has ever before created a stand-alone church where you can log on as a worshipper and join in however you like -- to kneel, cross yourself, sing hymns or shout 'Hallelujah,'" Web site deputy editor Stephen Goddard told Reuters.

Some two dozen believers signed up as cartoon worshippers for the service, sponsored by the Methodist Church but organised by the multi-denominational "Ship of Fools" project which says its name is deliberately self-deprecating to avoid pomposity.

As well as worshipping, those logged on were able to move around the church and down to its crypt, talk to each other, and give money to a collection plate -- via mobile phone.

With space for just 25 full worshippers, the site also allows up to 500 "ghosts" to drift around the church anonymously.

"This is an experiment to see if online worship can work, Goddard added. "Can we make something sacred from an information stream?"

The online church is the latest in a series of initiatives by Christians in Britain to bring the church into the modern age. Last year, the first mobile, inflatable church opened in England, complete with blow-up organ and polyvinyl pulpit.