During the Advent-Christmas season, many in the FBCH community are returning to in-person worship for the first time since March 2020. Others continue to worship online. Either way, you might notice adaptations to the Sanctuary and to our Worship that have taken place or are underway. We thought it would be helpful to update you and answer common questions.
Online Live Stream
On March 8, 2020, FBCH live streamed on Facebook for the first time ever. Thanks to quick work by our staff team, FBCH was able to announce closure on Friday, March 6, and be up and running on new platforms within 48 hours on borrowed equipment.
From day one, FBCH has used a streaming platform called Switcher Studio that runs entirely on iPads and iPhones that connect through our internal Wifi network. Fortunately, in the summer of 2019, the Property Maintenance Committee oversaw an update to our internal Wifi network that allowed us to use this system. By summer 2020, it was determined that Switcher Studio was the best permanent solution for streaming on the market, combining flexibility with affordability. Through funding from the Congregation and a donation from the Auxiliary, the church purchased its own equipment to run the stream. Our website was also updated so that it could carry the stream and on the streaming page, links were included to the Worship Guide and online giving.
If you are in the Sanctuary, you might notice (but you will have to look for them) a few wood shelves added to the fronts of the two columns closest to the Chancel, one above the organ, and one just above the centre doors into the Narthex. If you do notice them, take note of the fine craftsmanship–the wood and stain are perfect matches to the woodwork already in the Sanctuary. These are the shelves where cameras are placed. If you journey to the balcony, you will also note a front pew has been removed and a platform built for a small table which holds the streaming equipment. Jean Ferguson and a Tech Assistant run the stream from this spot. Speaking of a Tech Assistant, the Personnel Committee and Board of Management recently approved this new position. This position specifically supports our live streaming as it typically takes two people to make the stream run smoothly. As with our Assistant Sexton positions, we seek to hire youth on an hourly basis from our congregation to staff these positions. Alison Clarke is our first Tech Assistant.
Getting high quality sound to the stream has been the trickiest part of this work–and from consultation with multiple congregations, this is the biggest challenge in streaming. Particularly, we have struggled to capture the choir, which is more complicated than capturing the voice of a hymn soloist as we were doing up until September 2021. An ad hoc sound committee formed by the Diaconate and Board of Management and co-chaired by the chair of each of those boards has worked with a local company called Verge to determine a solution for this.
In the coming weeks, we expect the installation of five new choir microphones that are designed to capture the sound of music without sending it through the speakers in the Sanctuary (which is unnecessary). These microphones are designed to capture the sound in the room and, particularly, the choir. While you might notice these after they are first installed, care is being taken to make them as minimally intrusive as possible. Most importantly, we hope these microphones will help those worshipping online feel a greater sense of connection to the music and hymn singing!
We have heard from some people that Facebook freezes on them at times. Most often, these problems are on the individual receiver’s end and their connection to Facebook. If you experience this, refresh the page and/or watch from our website which tends not to freeze. That said, feedback from those watching is helpful and knowing problems can help the church fix any issues on our end.
Sound in the Sanctuary
In addition to the improvements for online sound, the Sound Committee has been working with Verge on solutions to improving the quality of sound in the Sanctuary. Our Sanctuary is designed for music. Reverberation helps instruments and voices blend together and creates the beautiful sound we experience in the room. This same architectural feature can make understanding the spoken word a bit more challenging.
Over the last few months, Verge has worked on the back end of our sound system, making significant adjustments to settings. This work has brought greater clarity to the sound output of our Sanctuary speakers. In addition, the Sound Committee has identified a solution for hearing assist technology. The system will allow each individual user to access and adjust the sound they are hearing through a headset (or earphones). This system will also allow anyone to use their personal smartphone device and headset (or earphones). Once the technology is installed, we will offer workshops for those interested in learning how to use it and to determine whether they want to use one of the designated headsets or their own device. We will also be able to offer a variety of headphone options to suit individual preferences.
In August 2020, the Diaconate voted to temporarily remove the pews in the South Transept as an experiment to see if the Congregation might better use this space and to support worship recording and live streaming (at the time Jean was set up in the transept and was also connecting to a screen in the Sanctuary to play pre-recorded aspects of the service). In addition, two pews were removed at the front of the Sanctuary to provide more space for physical distancing, including separation from those on the front pews and the piano.
The South Transept was regularly used and became a feature space within the Sanctuary. In August 2021, the Diaconate voted to extend the experiment by removing pews in the North Transept and four rows at the back of the Sanctuary. Opening up the Transept has provided space for meetings, choir usage, and the art exhibits that have enhanced our worship and gathering. Pews in the back have been moved to give a trial of Coffee and Conversation in the Sanctuary (a trial that has not started because of COVID numbers in Halifax). When we are able to resume coffee after worship, it makes sense to keep that in our largest and most open space for health safety. Additionally, it is felt this could be a more hospitable format for new people as they are already in the room and more likely to stay if Coffee and Conversation occurs in a space they are already in.
What was not expected was how the flexibility in space would support funeral visitation and events like the Auxiliary Mini Sale. The space has already been well used for multiple purposes.
For larger services (i.e. Carols by Candlelight or large funerals), no actual seating capacity has been lost. Chairs can be placed in these spaces when needed. They are truly flexible spaces.
That said, the key word here is “experiment.” All the pews are still in the church, currently stored on the stage. Any permanent removal will be a decision made by the Congregation at large. If the experiment continues to be well received, at some point in 2022 the Diaconate will bring a recommendation to a Congregational Meeting for Congregational discernment on this matter.
Finally, if you join in person, you might be wondering about hymnals.
One of the immediate consequences of online streaming was the new demands placed on the church, not only for providing digital content but for doing this in compliance with copyright laws. Yes, even some of the oldest, most beloved hymns we sing are copyrighted and require permission to stream. And yes, platforms like YouTube run very sophisticated algorithms and almost immediately catch any music that is copyrighted and send warning notifications to the church. The good news is, we can air most music because of a licence we hold called One License which covers the copyrights of a majority of hymns and sacred music (including organ music). Most, but not all. In other cases, Jean must follow-up with a copyright holder to get permission (sometimes freely given, sometimes at a small cost). Weekly, Jean responds to these warnings providing the appropriate licensing information so that full services can remain available.
In addition to these new challenges, hymns need to be provided digitally for those worshipping online. This is accomplished through the Worship Guide where words and music are provided. Further, Jean also puts slides together with all the words for the livestream so those without the Worship Guide can follow and, hopefully, sing along with those gathered in person. All of this takes a lot of time.
Within a few weeks of streaming, quick adjustments were needed. First, FBCH purchased the One License, switching our licensing service when we realized One License was designed specifically for churches who have a more formal liturgy like our own and covered a large percentage of the music we use. Second, we had to have access to digital hymn files. Fortunately, hymnals today come with a whole suite of digital materials to support congregations. This digital content saves hours every week in the work Jean does to prepare us for Sundays, including providing detailed information about licensing and direct links to licensing bodies when not covered by One License. Digital resources also include PDF images of each hymnal page and sets of words that can be copied and pasted into slides (eliminating not only time spent typing, but also proofreading).
The good news is that the hymnal selected by the Congregation in 1991 includes digital content. This hymnal “Glory to God” is published by the Presbyterian Church USA. However, the 1990 edition that we used went out of print when a new edition was published in 2013 and no supporting digital content is available for the 1990 edition. Thus, FBCH had to transition to the updated version. While the familiar hymns we love from the 1991 edition are in the update, about 60% of the material is changed. In some cases, language has been updated. In others, hymn tunes have been changed. In addition, many new hymns have been added so that the hymnal better reflects diversity among hymn composers and language as well as contemporary issues including the church’s response to justice issues like climate change.
Unfortunately, FBCH cannot practically live stream and retain the 1990 edition of our hymnal. Hymns will continue to be printed in the Worship Guide for the long term as this is necessary for those joining online (and printing two different Worship Guides demands more time from Jean). Plans are also in place to purchase a small set of the new hymnals for those who would like to use a hymnal for in person worship and will likely be available on a shelf at the back of the Sanctuary.
Because of the digital format, FBCH also has expanded flexibility. In January 2021, the Mennonite Church, which has a large presence in Canada, printed a new hymnal. This collection includes more hymns composed by Canadian hymn writers. In addition, because as Baptists we share theological roots with the Mennonites, there are hymns related to baptism and communion that more closely reflect our Congregration’s traditions (i.e. the Presbyterian hymnal comes out of a tradition of infant baptism and hymns reflect this, whereas at FBCH we practice believer’s baptism). Hymns from this collection will serve as a supplement to our congregational hymnal.
We recognize that COVID has changed our individual and collective lives in multiple ways. It can all be overwhelming at times and church, in particular, is one of the places where we look for tradition and grounding in tumultuous times. Lay leadership, Boards, Committees, and staff have tried to balance making changes during this time with a commitment to upholding our long tradition of liturgical worship that brings comfort and peace when life is so unpredictable.
It is recognized that the rapid pace of change that has been necessary to keep us connected through live streaming and other digital platforms has often meant quick decisions had to be made and those have not always been communicated clearly to the entire Congregation. We hope this update is a help and are happy to engage in dialogue about any of these changes. We appreciate your patience and support through this and believe that as FBCH transitions into our Congregation’s “new normal” these changes will be tools to support our long tradition of worship and fellowship.
Vice Chair, Diaconate
Vice Chair, Diaconate