“Are we tired of Zooming?”: A Journey into Digital Media at St. Paul’s Fort Garry

Role and impact of digital media
The Pandemic has given churches pause to think about new ways to stay connected to their parish communities, and as a result, many churches have been sharing Sunday services via numerous Internet platforms including Facebook, Zoom, and YouTube. At the same time, parish meetings and communications employ email, websites, blogs, and online conferencing; parishioners have become accustomed to connecting with their church communities via digital media in all its forms.

During the18 months of broadcasting worship services at St. Paul’s, we learned the importance of employing effective digital communications within and beyond our parish community. As parishioners are now beginning to experience the joy of re-uniting in-person on Sunday mornings, many church leaders will be faced with assessing the value of continuing online services, and their ability to do so. St. Paul’s has decided to continue to offer online worship based on a number of factors: viewer response to pre-recorded and live-streamed services was positive (average range 90-140 views per service), shut-ins were able to be part of worship services, parishioners who were away from the city were able to tune in, and the services were shared and connections made beyond our parish community.

A worship service broadcast does not provide the same experience as in-person worship, but nevertheless has significant value to enable people to feel connected even if less participatory, to receive the same message as in-person worshippers, and to view and respond to the service on their own time.

What have we learned?
During the pandemic, St. Paul’s broadcast a combination of pre-recorded and live-streamed worship services. We learned that it’s possible to produce an online service with a minimum of technology and modest expertise and that the quality and complexity of the online presentation can be gradually improved as expertise is gained, and investment in equipment is made. All the services we have produced so far have been done with a computer and a cell phone. Currently, our services are live-streamed on Facebook using a cell phone mounted on a tripod; the video is subsequently uploaded to our YouTube channel so that it can be viewed at any time. The quality of the audio and video is marginal in terms of video sharpness and audio clarity. We have also learned the importance of making the service text and song lyrics available online so that viewers can follow along using a separate device or printed copy; this is particularly important given the live-stream quality we are currently capable of. Finally, we have learned that it will take a significant investment in equipment in order to produce a high-quality live-streamed product. That being said, I believe each church community may find solutions unique to their situation that requires varying amounts of investment.

Pathway and solutions
At St. Paul’s, worship revolves around the use of creatively sourced liturgies, thoughtfully focussed music, and strong lay participation; this emphasis became the heart of our online services during the time that in-person services were canceled. There were three key players who operated in a “bubble” to make online services successful, well-coordinated endeavours: our priest, Karen Laldin, our music director, Rachel Cameron, and the video technician/editor (myself). As well, during this time, a great variety of parishioners provided video readings that were included in the pre-recorded services. It was indeed challenging and rewarding, and I felt privileged to be part of this experience. I gained new perspectives and greater understandings through my “behind the scenes” role in this unexpected and in many ways unique expression of worship. I believe the decision to continue to live-stream services is absolutely the right thing to do, although it will mean a significant investment in equipment and the development of expertise in order to produce a high-quality result.

St. Paul’s has decided on a multi-stage plan to gradually add audio/visual technology, with the goal to end up with a system for a live-stream that has:

  • high definition (HD) output,
  • two cameras – one with remotely controlled Tilt, Zoom, Pan (TZP),
  • a separate audio mix, integrated with existing audio consul and microphones, and
  • a video switcher that integrates multiple inputs – Internet, PowerPoint slides, cameras, text, photos, and graphics.

While this might seem complex, our goal is for the live-stream set up to be fully integrated with the audio/visual technology currently employed for in-person worship, and to be user-friendly for the worship technician.

Final Thoughts
When thinking about the option to live-stream worship services, here are some things to consider:

  • What audio/visual technology do you own that can be part of a live-stream operation?
  • What can you afford, and what will it buy? Can you build a system in stages?  Get an expert to assess needs and wants and provide a quote.
  • Do you have sufficient Wi-Fi Internet speed to live-stream? If not, a cell phone with an unlimited data plan is a good start!
  • What expertise do you have to set up and operate a live-stream?
  • Do you have a music copyright license that enables online broadcasting?
  • Do you have a media release form for all those who will appear online?

We live in an age of ubiquitous digital media, and I believe that church communities need to take advantage of this resource as a way of connecting their parishioners and to have a presence in the wider community. If worship is an active expression of our faith, then let us ensure that all in our community and beyond can partake of this meaningful expression in whatever way they are able. Live streaming offers a pathway for this to happen.

Doug Cameron is a retired teacher and long-time member of St. Paul’s Fort Garry


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