Our Congregation Online and in the Sanctuary

Our Congregation Online and in the Sanctuary

One Congregation Online and In the Sanctuary… New online Liturgists and Lectors!  


A Miracle of the Spirit in Our Worship

Last week, Isaiah and Jeff, our “tech guys” from Light Action, were with us during worship. They encountered the same sound trouble our own tech team has had for the last few weeks. (It is ironically good when the problem persists – instead of disappears – when the diagnosticians show up!). 

But as we’ve explained and you have seen (hopefully without noticing), we’ve gotten good with “work arounds.” We’ve had to. Not always the most sophisticated solutions! (For example, if I hold the wireless microphone before the speaker on my laptop at the pulpit, everyone in the Sanctuary can hear the prayers of people from home.) 

On Sunday, right in the middle of worship, something inexplicable happened. There was no direct sound from our broadcast (that was the sound problem we’ve been having!) People at home could not hear what was going on in the Sanctuary except through my laptop. We were using an external mic to pick up the sound better, but to be heard, any speaker needed to be right at the pulpit. 

And so I had asked Trixie to head out into the congregation with the wireless mic for Prayers of the People. I was then planning from the pulpit, I’d relay them  to the people at home. 

But when people prayed into the microphone in the Sanctuary, people at home could hear them???  The AV system sound was not fixed until 4 hours later. This did not happen at any other time during the service. But during the prayers, everyone could hear each other. Sort of a miracle, I’d say. 

On Pentecost, people from all over the world could hear and understand one another no matter what language was being spoken. On Feb. 26, people of Old First could pray together no matter how much physical distance or technological brokenness wanted to keep us apart. 


Visualizing Ourselves as One Congregation 

We are feeling our way into hybrid ministry. I admitted to a colleague the other day, “I’m not sure we are hitting the level we want with hybrid ministry yet, and I feel like I’m under-serving those online. I can’t do enough visits to get out see them all.” She laughed and said that work had taken her to a host of churches, both in person and online, and we need to know, we are doing as well as the best of them. That was reassuring to hear. It’s a Brave New World in the church…  

One of the surprises of hybrid ministry so far has been that it’s not just a few folk each week who cannot make it into church. Instead, there can be as many as 2 or 3 zoom screens of online worshipers. We have had Sundays with more people on line than present in the Sanctuary (but usually the mix is the other way around). 

But just the other day one of you made the suggestion that we might show the “zoom congregation” more often. I really love thinking of you all at home as our “modern balcony! We have balcony seats on 3 sides in the Sanctuary, and then we have the “modern balcony:” via the monitors on the front wall of the church. I had been thinking along the same lines. 

Before we got back into the Sanctuary, when “what will hybrid worship be like” was a theoretical question in our heads, there was serious agita that the monitors would be distracting, intrusive, make it harder for people to focus and center themselves or find themselves in God’s presence. So we promised that most of the time, they would be as plain as possible. The Old First / Love First logo has worked well for that. And I have been surprised and relieved that mostly they have just been accepted without too much notice (or at least people haven’t said anything!) 

What we didn’t realize before we were actually doing hybrid worship  is that when the “zoom squares” are up on the monitors, it’s not so much an interruption to the beauty and peace of the Sanctuary. Instead, it is adding to the beauty and peace in the Sanctuary – getting to see our friends, the people we love. It’s no less than a miracle really (sort of like the one above, but technology aided). 

I have recently asked our tech team  to bring zoom up on the monitors in the Sanctuary at 10:45 am each Sunday. (With these recent weeks of tech equipment failure up in the booth, I’m not sure this has always been possible, but it’s our intention, plan.) 

We leave the sound off, so we aren’t hearing what you say (which seems only fair since you can’t hear what un-miked folks in the Sanctuary are saying either). But we can see the smiles on your faces. And watch you laugh and greet one another.  It’s a lovely welcome into the Sanctuary space actually. It adds energy and spirit alongside of the peace and calm the space itself connotes. 

REMEMBER: If you ever want to speak with someone who you see online, or just join in the general merriment you see going on online, simply walk up to the pulpit and use my laptop. It is set up so that if you unmute, you can be heard and listen to the folks online. Of course, I’m really talking about before or after the service!  We are trying to figure out some prompt that might make this possibility more real and actionable in both time slots. (We are also working on a parting ritual, as the online folks say it’s odd to see the folks in the congregation get up and leave. If anyone has any ideas…) 

Ok, finally, I am to the great suggestion that was made this week: “Maybe whenever we are doing something that is the whole congregation acting together as one… maybe at those times,  the people online should be visible on the monitors.” 

It’s a really helpful insight. For example when we do a baptism, we are asking the online folks just like the folks in the Sanctuary for their commitment and support of this new Christian. Well, then we should see them. 

Likewise, when we do communion, the online folks should be seen on the monitors, a visible part of the congregation. We will try this out this Sunday with communion. (I am also thinking that taking the bread and the cup together simultaneously might be a powerful way to remember our unity, but that takes a lot of little cups in the Sanctuary…)   


If Church Is about Showing Up… 

I will take this opportunity to gently suggest that it makes a difference for everyone else if your camera is on when you are worshiping online. 

I know, it’s become common to leave one’s camera off for a zoom meetings – then you don’t have to worry how you look or if your house in the background is a mess. But church isn’t just a zoom meeting. Church is on multiple levels about “showing up.” It’s about real presence. For the other people gathered. For God. And for yourself. Online, doesn’t that mean letting us see you? 

It’s still Old First. You don’t have to be coiffed, or even have your hair combed (Julie and I are always happy to see other tossle-heads); you don’t have a dressy or matching outfit. Or be in a fancy room. This is Old First. 

But we’d love to see your face. Seeing you adds to our experience of worship and God. Because each of us is created in the image of God, and only together with us all, can we even begin to imagine God’s glory. 


The AV Fix

Ok, we have seen our broadcast improve as we go. Our online worshipers have said so. And we also know there have also still been problems. Thank you for your patience. We’re going to get this, but it isn’t easy… 

The progress has been ALL the valiant efforts of our core tech team, Adam, Tony P and Woody. Until last week, they have not had the support or training they should have gotten from the company that installed our system. (The employee we were working with “retired;” we were never told; they company did not know he’d left us in the lurch.)  

Some of the problems have been our crew has been trying to figure out what they really need to have been shown and taught. But there was also a wiring problem we could not have fixed ourselves. And a setting on one of the apps that we guessed might have been a problem, but we needed the professionals help. The wiring and application setting problems – it even took the tech professionals 4 hours to figure out. 

But they have done a hard rewiring of  the system that they believe corrects the sound problem. And they found a default setting buried deep in zoom that they think had been the problem we have had, especially recently, with music. Prayers please. Fingers and toes crossed. 

The tech team is coming to choir practice tonight. We’re going to broadcast it to make sure the system is working right and sounding strong. If you want to get on the church’s zoom tonight at 7 pm, we need folks to tell us what it sounds like at home. 


Online Liturgists and Lectors

If everything is working right, our tech team is already very adept at bringing online people up on the screens so that worshipers in the Sanctuary and online can see and hear them. That’s why I tried to do the opening of the service from home the week I was out with COVID! (The virus didn’t lay me low so much, but the AV equipment did!).

We are now ready for the next step forward in integrating online with’ in the Sanctuary.’ We will now regularly have Online Liturgists and Online Lectors, as well as Liturgists and Lectors in the Sanctuary. To get us started we have simply designated one slot every other week for either the Online Liturgist or Online Lector. 

Please check out the sign-up sheet here. Starting in March, you will see what I am talking about. But don’t just look at the sheet. Add your name. Helping me to lead worship is a ministry for everyone at Old First. And there’s a list of people I’ve missed hearing in worship (I could name names but I will resist). But this step forward  means we can be blessed by their voices, spirit, faith again.  


 Are You Part of the Brave and the Few? 

We keep saying “As soon as we’ve figured this out enough, we need to bring on some more folks and train them. Church, we need at least 5 or 6 people who can run both the audio and video up there if we promise that every service will be broadcast. A few people have expressed interest, and we have our eyes on some of you. But if you want to know more, speak to Woody, Tony P. or Adam.  


Split Screen

One final innovation we are working on. Right now, when we need to share words with you at home, for a prayer or song, that’s all you see on the screen. We are trying to add a feature by which we can show a split screen in the feed. So at home, the left side of the screen would have the hymn lyrics and the left side could be panning the congregation showing close-ups. Or if someone is leading the Confession, the left side would have the words, so you can pray along, but the right side would show the worship leader. We think it will add a lot to people online experience of worship. 

Keep your understanding and flexibility. We count on it. But we give thanks for it too. 

Faithfully yours,