artificial intelligence

Church in Germany Delivers Sermon Generated by Artificial Intelligence

Embodied as two male and two female figures on a large screen above the altar, an artificial intelligence chatbot recently urged congregants in a Lutheran church in Germany to stand up and worship the Lord.

The experimental session, in which the majority of the content was generated by artificial intelligence, was held June 9 St. Paul’s Church in Fuerth, Bavaria. More than 300 individuals attended.  

Devoid of emotion, with an expressionless face and a monotonous voice, one of the avatars addressed the congregation, saying: “My dear friends, it is a privilege for me to be standing here and delivering a sermon as the inaugural artificial intelligence at this year’s gathering of Protestants in Germany.”

The entire 40-minute ceremony, encompassing the sermon, prayers, and music, was crafted through a collaboration between ChatGPT and Jonas Simmerlein, a 29-year-old theologian and philosopher from the University of Vienna.

The scholar told the Associated Press that although he “envisioned this service,” it would be more accurate to say that he “facilitated it, because I can confidently say that about 98 percent of it was generated by the machine.”

ChatGPT is a language model developed by OpenAI, an artificial intelligence research organization that claims its mission is to develop and promote friendly and beneficial AI technologies. Trained on a vast amount of data from the internet and designed to generate human-like responses, ChatGPT can answer questions, provide information, engage in conversations, and offer an array of creative outputs.

The service at St. Paul’s Church was among numerous events that took place at a convention of Protestants in the Bavarian towns of Fuerth and Nuremberg. Called Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag in German, the convention is held every two years in a different part of Germany.

The religious assembly attracts tens of thousands of people who, besides engaging in prayer, song, and open discussions about their faith, delve into conversations surrounding current global events, and seek resolutions for significant matters such as climate change.

At the latest convention, which ran from June 8 to June 12, artificial intelligence clearly emerged as a topic of interest. The AI church service stood out, captivating the attention of numerous congregants who formed a long queue outside the 19th-century, neo-Gothic St. Paul Church building an hour before services commenced. 

The motto “Now is the time” served as one of the phrases Simmerlein inputted into ChatGPT while requesting the chatbot to generate the sermon. “I instructed the artificial intelligence, ‘We are at the church congress, and you are a preacher …. How would a church service unfold?’” He also requested the inclusion of psalms, prayers, and a concluding blessing. The churchgoers attentively absorbed the chatbot’s teachings, which centered on the themes of relinquishing the past, embracing current challenges, conquering the fear of death, and maintaining unwavering trust in Jesus Christ.