Behind the scenes in church

Dear BPCWAians, It’s been more than a month since gatherings at church have stopped. To all of us, the announcement came suddenly. At a Session meeting the Saturday prior to the announcement to close churches, we were discussing plans for communication of how to livestream and what to do if there were some restrictions. Little did we know that with the swift (but needed) action, what we had spent hours discussing would be of no use. And, with all the changes happening around us, that has indeed been the case for these past several weeks. What has been going on behind the scenes of the church and the livestreaming recordings over the past several weeks and what should you be doing? I want to use this Pastoral to give worshippers a glimpse of the past few weeks.

The first week. With the government announcements, it became clear that we would have to record our Worship Services and put them online. Livestreaming had been a norm for us each worship service, to help travellers worship with us. But now, with social distancing requirements, the normal combined worship would not be possible. Also, livestreaming had only been for a handful of online worshippers. Would the whole congregation livestreaming create any problems for the viewers technically, among other issues? So, for the first week, the decision was to pre-record all services beforehand and just screen the pre-recorded videos at the regular worship/ meeting timings. Even so, much work still had to be done. With the need for separate English and Chinese recordings, we had to maintain consistency between all the recordings, done separately by different groups of people on different days. This includes what may be unnoticed to most viewers – the look and feel of both services must be the same, the holding screen before the livestream starts, how to start off/ end off each recording and service, how/when to walk up to the pulpit, how to get the hymns on screen, and even what is captured on the microphone recording, how long to record after the worship ends… the list goes on with the details. The stress level stepped up a sharp curve on the Saturday night before the 1st Sunday worship – we realised that if an Adobe pdf file of the hymn lyrics and bulletin was uploaded and opened during the livestream, the video would actually stop playing midway! We thank God for His help each step of the way through the many, many teething problems that we encountered. And for the Holy Spirit coming upon those that He had raised to equip them to one day step up to their respective tasks for this needed hour, working late into the nights to get various things working in a very short time. Indeed, except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it!

Further improvements. While the camera mounted from the rear of the sanctuary was sufficient for the occasional livestreaming needs for travellers, we tried to find ways to increase the video resolution clarity and brightness since it was to be used for the months ahead. After a Sunday Worship recording, I spoke to someone in the Audio Visual team to try to improve this as a priority. Worshipping online instead of sitting in the congregation requires a lot more discipline, and a clear recording would aid concentration and focus. Some hours later that afternoon, I was a bit surprised to receive a call to go back to church to work with him on the camera setup to see if it was better. As I returned, I already found a camera mounted on a stand on top of a table in the centre of the sanctuary. This brother had tried various configurations to improve the clarity and what you see now on the livestreams are the result of that. How the Lord moves hearts to serve Him! In addition, after the first Sunday’s worship, we found that the scrolling of hymn scores was difficult, especially if the hymn scores went across 2 pages. This required scrolling and pinching/zooming of the scores, which were distracting to the worshipper. Some also found the words on the hymn scores too small to read – especially if it was viewed from a handphone. As we were sent a file with the lyrics of the hymns in Revival Hymns and Choruses and taking into consideration the difficulties faced with hymn scores, the English livestream services were changed to display hymn lyrics instead of scores. Unfortunately, we could not do likewise for the Chinese livestreams, as we do not have a sufficiently complete document with Chinese hymn lyrics. Despite the use of the document with the hymn lyrics, the work is not done, as there are significant typographical errors on the current RHC lyrics document. As of now, we have a large team of people who are engaged in typing and proofreading the lyrics. This is needed not just for livestream purposes, but also as a repository that can be tapped upon for use for camp booklets, future ongoing livestreaming for travellers, and other events. As I am anxious to restart other Bible studies, teams spend hours at night with me evaluating and testing various software to see how these can be interactive.

What does it mean to you? Please continue to pray for the church. You may not realise it, but even more planning and looking ahead is required in the Session than before. It is like  a duck apparently moving slowly  on the surface, but its feet are paddling furiously under the strong currents. As I hope you have come to understand by now, much work has been done behind the scenes. It has been a great encouragement to me to see God’s children willingly serve so selflessly, supporting His work through this especially difficult time. As you livestream from home, there are those who keep coming back a few times a week to serve in church. Then there was an occasion when an unanticipated issue arose, and it required the whole service to be re-recorded, with the entire team coming back at the last minute to do it. Yet no one complained or murmured but responded quickly to help. We have since plugged the issue. This has brought much comfort to my heart and thanksgiving to God. It also shows practically how God has indeed equipped His church for His work, stirred His children’s heart to serve Him in ways that we could never have planned through our own human endeavours. The best minds could never have prepared the talents and experience that God has prepared for today, in a situation that none of us would have expected. I really feel that what we have experienced over the last few weeks is almost like starting a church anew. Processes have to be redrawn and new systems setup almost weekly. And all amidst an environment of tight controls and restrictions unlike any that we have ever seen in our lifetimes. Eph 4:16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. Christ is the Head of His church, and He is watching, guarding, keeping, protecting. May this knowledge cause us to serve Him more zealously and give Him all thanks and praise for every step and everything that He has enabled us to do for Him!

What are we doing now? I’ve probably never watched and monitored the daily news as much as I need to now. Each day, I keep track of the updates and media releases to see what the Prime Minister and Premiers are saying. Why do I do that? To anticipate what we need to do next. The big question now is – when will the restrictions be eased, and when they are, how and what restrictions will be eased? The media and businesses are guessing – and so are we. While we want to be able to resume some degree of gatherings as soon as possible, once we are able to, it is difficult to plan for what we don’t know for sure. What seems to be clear is that we should continue to expect social distancing – this may mean that livestream and online channels may need to continue for possibly some months yet. Medical advice is to expect “on/off” cycles of restrictions. No one knows for certain what will happen. Putting this together, this means that we must focus on 2 things: 1) Continue to improve our livestream/ online teaching as these may be needed for the long term. Until the whole congregation can gather at the same time, there will still be a need for livestreaming to continue. 2) Anticipating and planning for the “what-if” scenarios. Will the government set limits based on people numbers or based on social distancing criteria? Much more can be said and written about on what is happening even now, the meetings Session has had, and the people that are involved. But that shall have to be left for another update, at a later time. Meanwhile, we have done what we can to provide Christians with the ability to continue to worship, learn, and grow during this time. Brethren, it is so readily available in your homes – seize every opportunity to grow in Christlikeness during this time.

Yours in our Lord’s service, Pastor