The transition to hybrid worship has been something of a trial. While I’m comfortable holding worship on Zoom, and in person, it’s quite another thing to try to do both things at the same time. I feel like all of the things that I’m least good at are being paraded in front of me on a regular basis. Like so many others, this isn’t what I had in mind when I followed the call into ordained parish ministry—more than twenty-five years ago.
Yet, this is clearly the path. Old South may be a small congregation, but we have some people for whom in person is the only way to really feel at worship and others who can only join us online. So, hybrid it is.
After watching a lot of YouTube videos about hybrid worship, one of the things that I found especially mind-boggling was the fact that many of those videos that involved local church people featured people who are not the pastor of their local church. Churches appear to have parishioners who are not only very comfortable with organizing and executing hybrid worship, but in some cases, there are people who do such work for a living, who also just happen to be active church goers.
Where can I get one of those?
At Old South, the “tech crew” is me and my husband. While we’ve been learning a great deal about cameras, camera angles, internet access, etc, there’s one thing that has emerged as the most troublesome aspect of this whole enterprise: sound. I have a whole new appreciation for people who are called “sound engineers.”
Sound is a problem. Sound is a challenge. Sound is especially complicated now that we’ve moved worship into the sanctuary. For those who join us in person, the sound quality is great. Old South’s sanctuary is a good space, acoustically speaking. For those who join us on Zoom, though, the sound quality is decidedly wanting. Inexpensive microphones don’t pick up sound just as you think they should or wish they would. They tend to have minds of their own, and they don’t communicate with the human crew very effectively.
For the online side of our new hybrid experience, the sound of worship is less than ideal, and it varies depending on the kind of sound. When someone is speaking, the sound carries a hollow quality. In the music department, the range has its own sense of drama. Loud music or singing is rewarded with a decent sound quality online. Softer music, from the piano or organ, is sent off to some other sphere of reality—sometimes barely heard, or wavering, as if it’s unsure about whether or not it should be listened to by human beings.
What’s the nature of a “joyful noise” in the midst of this new context? And, is it part of my role of pastor and teacher to wade through the various complications of sound to find our way to a more consistent sound experience, whether it be in person or virtual?
Or, better yet: where can I get one of those sound people?