Read all about what God’s been up to at Oakland!
Remember in the Wizard of Oz, when the curtain is finally drawn back and the impressive Wizard with his smoke and mirrors is revealed as a small little man with lots of levers and a megaphone? Well, lately worship has been just the opposite. The final product that many of you see online or in person appears unsophisticated, unimpressive, and at times unprofessional, but behind the curtains there are 1,000s of labor hours and 100s of buttons to push. It’s less like the Wizard of Oz and more like a duck on the water – calm on top and paddling like crazy under the water. I want to invite you behind the curtains of the last six months of technological innovation and deployment.
First, it’s important to remember that Oakland is not trying to be a movie production company or televangelists. Our goal is not entertainment but discipleship. Not amusement but worship. So all the hours and work have been invested to usher people into worship; to help them worship where they are with whoever is around. We don’t want people to “watch worship,” we want them to worship through what they “watch” in person or online there are no spectators, just participants.
When concerns about COVID-19 first hit, we moved quickly to the Fellowship Hall so that we could spread out in individual chairs and use the projector to avoid bulletins/hymnals. During these first few weeks Claire streamed the service primitively using a handheld iPhone – the videos were shaky, and audio was difficult. We then tried using a laptop for filming allowing stability. Then we closed the building entirely, and we were 100% online.
By God’s grace, I was already producing 5 Facebook and YouTube videos every week of LENT, and so had increased familiarity with online videos, but nothing fancy. I researched and researched to figure out how to splice together different videos. I salvaged every piece of camera equipment I could find at home and at church looking for useful equipment. I called every tech savvy pastor I knew and talked to their tech-gurus. I watched YouTube videos about YouTube videos, but could not find the technological tools needed to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish.
I wanted to be able to display words or slides on the screen during videos so that we could display hymn lyrics and scripture verses. I wanted people not to listen to the songs, but to sing the hymns. Music presented another challenge, since we had no prerecorded videos of music at Oakland and copyrighted music is not generally permissible in online videos, so I had to secure non-copyrighted music videos and recordings. Thankfully smallchurchmusic.com and Getty Music suspended their copyright restrictions for churches.
But what cameras to use? I have a webcam on my computer, but it is not ideal, so I stared to research other possible cameras. Tom Grundstrom lent me a Logitech c920 Wideangle webcam, which was a God send, allowing me to easily add a second camera, but we still needed a production software as Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter quickly approached. With Holy Week upon us, I called up two old Seminary buddies for a brainstorming session. I got lots of good ideas during that session, but none more valuable than Ecamm Live – a Livestream Production software. After purchasing the software online and watching the 10 tutorial videos, I learned how to include music and display lyrics in our services so we could sing; show pre-recorded videos during a live feed so we could allow members to lead worship; and use iPhones/iPads as livestream video cameras. We elected for multiple cameras because worshipping via a video on TV with a single camera angle can be monotonous, and camera switches cue the brain to reengage.
But where should we film the worship service if everyone is going to be worshiping from home? We want to provide people with the “comfort” and “normal” of our usual sanctuary, but we also want to equip people to worship in their home as sanctuaries. How can we use this worship service to both comfort people and model family worship at home for families worshiping together at home? There appeared to be no way to do both, until I had a dream – what if we used Picture-in-a-picture!? We’ll film the sermon in the Sanctuary, and then we’ll film the Ruths watching the whole service so all of Oakland can see what worship looks like in the Ruth house. We wanted you to see that it wasn’t always pretty or formal – sometimes Jack falls asleep, sometimes we eat snacks and coffee, sometimes we stand up to sing, sometimes we sit to sing, but we also wanted to show you that we aren’t watching passively, we’re talking about the sermon, sing the songs, and taking notes.
What you couldn’t see or tell, was the tremendous production effort involved. Throughout the week, Claire would text/email members requesting videos of them offering the opening prayer, Lord’s Prayer, Apostles’ Creed, and special music. Andrew would locate legal music online and download it. On Saturday afternoons, Pastor Andrew would come up to Oakland about 2pm to build the video studio in the sanctuary. About 3:30pm or 4:00pm, he’d film the opening, confession/assurance, hymn intros, sermon, and benediction. During these recordings he’d preach, while controlling the sound, cameras, and software from his laptop. Around 6:00pm on Saturdays, Andrew would arrive back at the Ruth House, arrange all the component videos of the service into the production software, and redeploy all our cameras and sound equipment in our home studio. About 8:00pm (but sometimes as late as 10:00pm), the Ruths would gather to splice together all the pieces of the service and record themselves worshiping while doing so. That whole service final product would be uploaded to Facebook and YouTube and our websites around 12:00AM on Sunday mornings for your 10:30am worship service.
It was a ton of work, but worship is worth it. We didn’t want to produce “something.” We wanted to embrace every opportunity and tool available to “spur one another on toward love and good works.” We wanted to do our very best, rising to every challenge, because we don’t want Oakland to just survive COVID, we want Oakland to THRIVE through COVID. We don’t want you and your kids to “just get by” with working and learning remotely, we want you to give it all you have, to embrace it as fully as possible with as much excellence and innovation as possible – because just as God has called me to lead this church, God has called you to your jobs and your education. God is as invested in your work as he is in our Sunday Morning worship services.
That’s why I’m writing this article. To show you the WHY behind the WHAT and the HOW. The challenges and changes have been tremendous for everyone of us, but we will stagnate and fester if we resent the changes and try to recover our past normal. But we will mature and fruit if we persevere with Christ’s help.
So give it all you got. When you find a new challenge, when your old solution doesn’t work cause the sanctuary is closed, or the fellowship hall has a projector, or you need to be in three spaces at once, or your equipment is on backorder, find another way. Research, overcome, adapt. Sure, the mountain may be huge, but we’ve never seen a view like this either.