One frequently-asked question that I’ve been getting since last spring is why we aren’t recording worship services in the sanctuary. The short answer to that is “because our sound and recording systems are literally older than I am.”
If you’ve ever watched a DVD recording of one of our services, you’ve likely noticed a persistent background hum throughout. Depending on which microphone is turned on, there is often a higher pitched background noise as well. Our sound system was designed to amplify spoken voices, which is a different goal than recording spoken voices. Church sanctuaries have, historically, been designed for good musical acoustics, so I’m able to record the organ well, but when the sanctuary is empty and there’s more open space for sound to bounce off from, spoken voices have an echo that isn’t there when the church is full.
At home, I’m able to use a microphone that plugs directly into my computer, which is also my camera. It has a fairly short cord, but it works well for a desk. I also bought a clip-on mic with a longer cord, but it’s a lot fussier to use and won’t always connect to the programs that I use to stream or record.
Being alone in front of the camera means that I don’t have to wear a mask. Many of us have realized over the past year that being able to see lips moving is part of how we “hear” and understand people when they talk. Masks also cover a lot of the face, which means that conversations can feel a bit flat without the dynamic of being able to see facial expression.
As I wrote last week, the reason that I live-stream worship rather than pre-recording it is because the act of filming, editing, rendering, and uploading is extremely time-consuming. I think that being able to include music, being able to have a different voice reading scripture, being able to show graphics, lyrics, and the words to prayers, and being able to put reminders or invitations on screen are all important things that help make services more engaging and interactive, but creating graphics, editing music videos, and putting everything together takes me an entire day every week. Some churches are fortunate enough to have tech teams who take care of video editing, but we don’t. All of it is done by me, on top of planning the service and putting all of the readings, prayers, and music on a new webpage that I create every week. It’s a labor of love because I care about all of you and want to know that you’re able to sing and read and interact from home, but I cannot overstate how much work it is.
Some churches were fortunate enough to have already had good recording systems in their sanctuaries before last spring. Others have installed them since then, which usually costs about $10,000. It’s a good investment, but a large one and also requires having multiple people trained to use the new systems.
I know that all of you miss being in the sanctuary. I desperately miss the Before Times, and being with all of you, and feeling natural light fall on my face through colored glass, and feeling tangibly connected to the church that I’ve come to love so much over our years together, and so many little things that I always took for granted. I know that no online service, however well technically executed, is ever going to feel the same as standing in a pew and sharing a hymnal while singing together. I know that we’re all angry about everything the pandemic has taken from us, and desperately longing for vaccines to change the world, and so, so lonely. There are many things going on around us that we are literally powerless to change and I’m not sure we’d really be human if we weren’t frustrated by that. We’re all trying to do the best we can in a season of our lives that is difficult for all of us, and right now, the best way that I can lead worship is from home.