The Covid-19 pandemic has had a far reaching impact on every aspect of society, and how we worship is no different. Gathering every Sunday at church to share a service with other members of our congregation may no longer be possible, but this does not mean that communal worship has ceased. Churches across the land have moved online. The traditional weekly gathering has been replaced with online services, webstreams and Zoom calls. Although this has happened through necessity, we must embrace the opportunity that this situation has presented us with and capitalise on the new technological proficiency that we have developed in our local church communities.
Moving forward, as we are permitted to open up our churches and buildings for worship, there will be hesitation from certain members of the parish. Not everyone will be keen or able to rush back to a shared public space for their regular worship. As such, there will still be a role for broadcasting weekly online services, to ensure that everyone in the community continues to be provided for. But this should not be seen as a hindrance. In fact, in addition to regular parishioners watching online, there is also a new group of people who have found the church during this pandemic. A group of people who like the accessibility of ‘church at home’ and online services. Some may well be watching on ‘catch up’ at a different time or even on a different day to the usual Sunday service. Services online have actually grown the size of regular weekly congregations.
As we gradually move back into our churches, I think we need to develop a ‘new normal’ to include those people who for whatever reason are not with us for our weekly service in person. These may include people in care homes or elderly members of the parish who are no longer confident or able to travel to church. Couples who do not feel comfortable bringing their baby or young child to church or leaving them in the creche or at Sunday school, who find it less stressful to enjoy the service at home. Past members of the congregation who have moved away but appreciate the opportunity of familiar Sunday worship with old friends. New online members who may be geographically distant but who are drawn to your style of worship or those who are local but just enjoy the flexibility of worship ‘on demand.’
Worship leaders need to think about how they can include this new remote congregation in their main services. Laptop microphones are not good enough to pick up sound from the whole church. A digital sound processor is needed to connect the existing sound system and microphones being used in the church service to ensure that sound can be clearly transmitted from both the spoken word; readings, prayers and sermons, through to musical worship; communal hymns, choirs and music groups. In addition, a motorised and zoomable digital camera will be needed to effectively record and transmit all aspects of the service for the remote congregation.
This might mean having a camera operator during the Sunday service, ensuring that the right image is shown at the right time or words for hymns are visible on screen. Camera angles will need to be considered as we think about individuals’ privacy as well as young and vulnerable members of the congregation who may attend a service, but who should not be broadcast on a web stream or call to unknown end-users. These restrictions may dictate the need for prerecorded services rather than a live stream, giving you a chance to review and edit the service and send it out a few hours later. Thought will also need to be given to communicating how members of the virtual congregation will be notified about and view the services and possibly who the link is sent to to enable a remote connection.
The good news is that a lot of these questions have already been broached during the pandemic and you already have a lot of the tools you need to make this happen. The same processes which enable the interfacing to the web or Zoom stream which you are already using during lockdown can still be used.
The hardware required to link your sound system and connect your church to the recording stream is an investment and possibly more than had been planned and budgeted for at this time. If you are not already active in this area, grants are available from church bodies to help you to set up online during this period of social distancing.
By taking the step to invest in a digital sound processor to enable the interfacing to the web or Zoom to effectively stream services will have the added benefit of improving the sound quality within the existing church sound system and through the induction loop, so the sound for all worshippers, wherever they are joining you from, will be the best that it can be.