by Rev. Dale Azevedo, Sr. Minister          –         May 27, 2020

What an adventure it has been these past three months. I’m guessing that you, like me, never saw virtual worship being a thing at BCCUCC. It was never something I really gave much thought until it was thrust upon us. But overall, I think it is working out alright thanks to tremendous work from our staff and members as well as the flexibility from so much of our congregation.

There are two questions I’ve been asked recently:

Who is behind the virtual worship services?

and

When are we going to return to the sanctuary?

In this blog I’ll say what I can about both.

When are we going to return to the sanctuary?

I’ll start with the latter question as many of you are probably more anxious about that one than the former. The short answer is that we aren’t sure when we will return to holding in-person worship services or where they’ll be when we do. We are looking into all of that right now. Last week the church council formed a team to explore all that we need to do to reconvene in-person worship and then bring recommendations back to the council for action. This team consists of Linda and me, Steve Fodor, Tom Colby, and Peggy Matteson. Each of these folks brings a level of knowledge and/or love for our church that will be quite helpful. We are calling this team “BCCUCC Moving Forward”.

When the Governor permitted in-person worship to resume as early as this week, she did so acknowledging there would be very strict guidelines that needed to be followed for public safety (the same way there are for other business and communities opening up). These guidelines include wearing masks, limited attendance, no physical contact, no congregating before or after worship, and no corporate singing in close proximity (singing is the equivalent of sneezing in terms of spreading the virus).

In addition to the Governor’s requirements, we are also charged by God with providing the best communal experience for all our members. What does it mean to everyone else if only a handful of our members can attend worship? What does it mean for the Quarantine Choir if we return to in-person worship, but they cannot sing? How do we bring worship to those who cannot, or choose not, to worship in-person? What do we do with children? Do we open the restrooms or use the elevette? How do we appropriately clean our common spaces? These are just a few of the questions we need to wrestle with as we contemplate when and how to return to in-person worship.

The Moving Forward Team is tasked with looking at all of these issues and coming up with a plan that best serves our entire congregation and provides a safe, meaningful, inclusive, and faithful way of worshiping. It is not an easy task! We ask that you be patient and understanding as we work through it.

However, there is something you can do to help us. We will be looking for your input. Within the next few weeks we will be distributing a survey that will allow you to share your thoughts on many of these challenges. Your input is essential for us to understand what you want and need from your church at this time and as we move forward. Please take the time to fill this survey out and return it, when it is available.

Who is behind the virtual worship services?

As many of you may recall, following our Palm Sunday worship service I came to the realization that I needed help. As our virtual worship services became more involved, and also became more permanent, it was obvious that more people were needed to take part in putting together our virtual services. We needed both content creators (those who would put together videos and slide shows to be shown during the service) and production specialists. Think for a second about all the parts that must come together for in-person worship (flowers, greeters, ushers, choir, musicians, lay readers, pastors, fellowship, etc.). Virtual worship has many of the same demands but entirely different skills needed to carry them out. Fortunately for Linda and me (not to mention everyone else), we had a stalwart and talented group of people step up to become our Worship Tech Team. Our Worship Tech Team consists of Tom Colby, Laurie Dubel, Jeff Stumpf, Erik Ela, Carley Kite Lapinski, and Patrick Collins along with Linda and me. They are a great group of people!

This team has met via Zoom every Tuesday at 1:30 for almost two months. We spend anywhere from 1 to 2 hours discussing the upcoming services and all the moving parts we will create. We then divvy up the tasks and get to work. Some of our content creators can spend 2-4 hours on worship content between Tuesday and Saturday. The choir videos can take much longer because they are so involved and there is now often more than one.

Erik Ela has handled all of the choir work. We thank you Erik for this dedication because you spend countless hours working with Marina and all the choir members individually along with all the work you do in the studio. For those who don’t know, this is how a virtual anthem comes together. Typically, Pat Stoddard and Marina pick out a series of anthems for the upcoming weeks. Each week, Erik works with Marina to record the accompaniment (piano) track, and individual guide tracks are also made highlighting each of the four voice parts.  All of those tracks are then disseminated to each of the choir members who in turn, learn their music part and then individually record their singing while listening to the appropriate guide track. Erik gathers all these different recordings and then splices and merges them all together, adjusting volume and timing of pieces to “bring it all together.” It is a labor of love that produces great results! I want to thank all our Quarantine Choir members for your time and vulnerability in taking this project on. We are blessed.

Another major part of our services are our pre-produced movies. Although others have stepped in, Laruie Dubel has done the majority of our non-music related video productions. Our videos on “women of faith” and “advice from our elders” are a few of her productions. Like the choir videos, producing these often means taking separate videos and splicing them together, perhaps with some editing and tweaking, to develop the final product. Last weeks “elders” video was compiled from 8 different interviews probably consisting of up to 2 hours of overall footage. She did a great job, especially considering the raw footage of the interviews was recorded over zoom sometimes with very unstable internet connections. The end result was wonderful, though!

One of the most challenging pieces of virtual worship on Sunday is the actual live production of the service. We discovered early on that we need one person whose sole job is to oversee and manage all the live and prerecorded feeds on Sunday mornings. As you know, the result isn’t always perfect or pretty, but everyone who has served as a producer knows how exhausting it can be to juggle all the parts and bring it together in some coherent way for the rest of us to enjoy. Jeff Stumpf and Elizabeth Azevedo were two of our early producers. Erik and Tom Colby have handled the majority of them lately, and Laurie will be getting her feet wet doing it soon.

Finally, I want to mention all the participants, both the live participants and those who are prerecorded. From the Colby’s singing, to Pat’s bells, to the deacons, our kids, and to everyone else who has said “yes” when asked to submit something, read something, sing something, or participate in some way, THANK YOU. You are great!

(By the way, if anyone feels left out and wants to contribute in some way, reach out to me and we’ll get you involved!)

As you can see there is so much that goes into producing our online worship. Thank you Tech Team for all you do!