Dear Centenary Family,
Though we have not been able to gather for some time in our sanctuary to encourage one another in the faith we share, we are nonetheless, bound together by cords of love and care. I have felt that in so many ways in these weeks of social distancing and physical separation.
One of the ways we have worked hard to maintain our connection with God and one another has been through online weekly worship. I know that has been helpful and uplifting at times, and frustrating at others, because of our limited technological capabilities. I want to ask you for your continued patience as we continue to try to gain our footing in this new world.
There are a number of people who are offering their visions of what the post-Pandemic church is going to look like. Frankly, some of them (most of them) are not to my liking! But what I like and prefer is not the point. Dealing with the reality before is!
One writer, Bill Tenney-Brittian, offered a typology of church’s response to technology and how it would impact them in the midst of and after (hopefully there’s an after) the Covid-19 Pandemic. I couldn’t help but think of our church (and my own resistance to technology at times) when I read his description of the churches in the “Paying the Price” category.
Then there are those churches who have done everything they can to eschew embracing technology. “Not in my church,” has been the cry, a corollary to “We’ve never done it that way before.” And so, these churches are left with two options … do the Psalm 91 thing [just naively trust God that there’ll be a church to come back to when the pandemic’s over] and just meet anyway or else they close and hope there’s a church to come back to in a month or two or four. I spoke with a pastor of one of these churches and honestly, his head is in his hands as he worries about the fate of his congregation.
One church I know, falls into this camp and had to resort to someone holding a cell phone while streaming on Facebook Live. All I could think about was “With great churches and preachers all over the internet who have extensive experience in producing online-worship, how do you think your shaky one perspective phone camera is going to compete?” Sure, the devout may stick it out, but you and I both know the “devout” are a firm minority in almost every church … so where do you think the semi-devout will end up?
Yes, that’s us—the church with a cell phone streaming on Facebook Live, hoping the devout will hang in there, and that the semi-devout don’t leave us for something slicker and cooler! I have taken some solace after a webinar I watched a couple of weeks ago by some of the pastors of some of the largest churches in our denomination. These are churches with whole departments dedicated to producing online worship and other materials for ministry. Their advice to churches with limited resources was simple—start where you’re at—even if that’s with a cell phone!
We frankly didn’t know what we were going to do when we had to suspend worship. We uploaded a few audio sermons, streamed from the Hodges Class one Sunday, but realized our strength, and the place we’ve invested a lot of our resources over many years, is traditional worship done with excellence! That’s where are musicians are most comfortable for obvious reasons. And even online, our sanctuary is a sacred space that helps us encounter God’s presence!
We knew, however, that to stream, you have to have some kind of internet connection, and we knew we didn’t have a strong, stable internet connection in the sanctuary. But, one night, through some experimentation, we discovered that with a Verizon cell phone and good data plan, we could get a signal to stream. The audio through the cell phone wasn’t great, but at least the music came through pretty well! So we started. And I know many of you have appreciated the opportunity to connect with each other online during that service.
But, what we’d hoped would only be something done on a temporary basis, out of necessity, is now probably going to become a regular feature of our ministry, even when we return to in-person worship.
So, here’s why our efforts have been frustrating.
1) We lack a stable internet connection so anything can happen with audio and video. The internet connection is essential for livestreaming, and right now the only way to do that is with a cell phone or ipad, and that limits our audio capability. So, what seems to be an audio problem is at the crux more of an internet connectivity problem.
2) The audio from the cell phone, at least at first, was just the sound we could get through the sound system into the cell phone and out to you via Facebook. So, particularly the speaking portions of the service, sounded like you’re in a barrel.
3) We did a lot of research and learned we needed to get the sound coming directly from the cell phone to Facebook Live, so we purchased a kit with a mic/transmitter that plugs into the cell phone and picks up a direct signal from two wireless microphones. That’s been an improvement! But, as you’ve noticed, it hasn’t always worked perfectly, and we haven’t had a way to hear what others might be hearing on their devices. So, your comments on Facebook are appreciated, and alert us to problems, but we have limited ability to make very many changes in real time.
4) We’re on a steep learning curve, and obviously, sometimes haven’t even known the right questions to ask or to anticipate what might or might not work. Some weeks we've thought we had all our problems solved, only to discover something else could go wrong we'd not anticipated.
In spite of all this, our musicians and staff have worked hard to offer their best efforts to lead us in worship and to offer our best efforts in preaching. Hopefully some of that hard work, and sincere desire to lead others in the worship of God, has come through online. I'd like to think that sometimes, even in this digital world, the message can transcend the medium.
What are the next steps?
We’ll use the same method for the next two Sundays (May 31 and June 7). After that, we plan to begin recording the services in advance with some equipment Dan Corcoran is willing to share with us (as well as his time), and then upload for viewing on Sundays. (That’s probably not a sustainable process for us over the long haul because that involves several hours of editing after the recording is done, and then it has to be uploaded for viewing. But it will, hopefully make things a bit more predictable for a time).
The long-term solution is to get the right equipment for live-streaming installed in our sanctuary, which includes getting a hard-wired internet connection. We expect a proposal from a reputable company next week and our leaders will begin evaluating our options. (I’ll leave the communication of the intricate technology involved in that whole process to some folks much more gifted in that area than me). Part of that long-term solution will require us to find a team of volunteers to help us with the process of live-streaming each week. So, please pray about that opportunity for service!
I’d just ask that you hang in here with us. We’re working on making a huge leap from where we’ve been to where we want to be in this area of ministry.
These technological challenges are only the tip of a huge iceberg of change we in the church and the rest of the world are going through right now. There’s much more to being in ministry in the digital world than worship. Whether we like it nor not, whether we're ready for it or not, we will have to rather quickly learn how to reach new people with the Gospel, carry out mission and service, and help one another grow in faith in both digital and analog ways, both online and in person. And then there are even bigger questions. For instance, what does it mean to be the church not only in a world in the midst of a pandemic, but in a world where the heartbreaking tragedy that befell George Floyd in Minneapolis is, unfortunately, not an isolated event? How is God calling us to respond to all these challenges with courage and love? More on all these things in weeks to come as we walk this road together.
Thank for your patience and your continued faithfulness. And I'm so grateful we have one another as companions as we walk with God into an uncertain future.
God bless all of you.