One year later: Beggars can be broadcasters

One Year Later is a series of stories from throughout the diocese about the anniversary of the pandemic and a look back at the past 12 months.

It is a much-repeated observation these days that no one has been untouched by the challenges of the pandemic. The last year has been a time to ask for God’s grace and meet the challenges with a faithful heart.

For our parish, Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, venturing into the realm of livestreaming was a challenge.

Immediately after the suspension of in-person religious services in March 2020, we realized that the only way to serve the faithful would be to broadcast the Mass. 

In those fledgling first weeks, we reached out to the diocesan communications department. Given that the parish owned no equipment to even start recording, never mind streaming the Mass, this was truly our only recourse at the outset. With collaboration, we were able to begin our broadcasting journey with only one weekend in between the shutdown and the first airing.

Holy Week 2020 and its broadcasted liturgies were beautiful. There were multiple cameras and professionals creating a spiritual connection for our viewing faithful. I wondered what we would do once Easter was over, and the professionals were gone; it felt daunting.

We wanted to provide a sacred experience for any viewer, and to offer the same level of beauty as the Holy Week broadcasts had offered. Those aspirations fell a little short. Anyone who watched the first attempts can testify to that! We had several bumps along the way, much of which could be attributed to just my sheer lack of knowledge, plus some technological challenges completely out of our control, like a county-wide internet outage!

In those first weeks, I read and watched everything I could to learn about encoders, cameras and sound engineering. I sought to build a team of volunteers to help. Diocesan staff and outside professional sources helped me learn about this topic.

I began to construct some training materials in order to recruit and train volunteers. We asked – begged, really – parishioners who had some AV experience to step forward to assist in our weekly streams. While I awaited those replies, the parish ordered its own equipment, we fitted out the control room to be functional for our new purpose, and I continued to learn and compile resources to aid any of those who would come aboard the newly minted “Stream Team.”

As the summer and the pandemic wore on, the training consisted of me sitting side-by-side with a new recruit, talking through the mechanics of the stream process. After several weeks, we would trade positions, and the recruit would “drive,” and I would “observe.” If they felt confident to proceed, they would then progress from recruit to lead. To instill confidence, I would be there hanging in the background until I was no longer needed or moving on to train the next recruit.

After six months of Sundays and training a team of (then) eight volunteers, I began to step physically away in the fall, slowly pushing our “fledglings” out of our virtual nest.

These dedicated volunteers show up 45 minutes prior to Mass weekly and, for the most part, manage to run the streams on their own now. I continue to be available by phone, text and log-in on Sunday mornings. It’s just a crutch, though, and most of the time it’s unnecessary.

I am confident in their abilities to manage the challenges, adapt to the changes, think on their feet and to get the job done.

The best news of all is that the leads now train recruits.

We have a team of 10 full volunteers with three new prospects still in training. We continue to learn, grow, make changes and add safeguards in our process to ensure that we can get the stream to the faithful consistently. 

As we look back over the past year, it is evident that our efforts are providing the real-time connection to God’s Word proclaimed that the faithful are craving. In addition, it allows the faithful to connect with one another through live chat, to simulate that sense of community of being in church. 

It seems, too, that the live aspect of our streams appeals to our viewers in a way a recorded Mass may not; that sense of participating together as one Body of Christ. Seemingly that desire for connectivity and participation outweighs the desire for a perfectly produced and stylized broadcast. For that, we are all rather grateful as we strive to improve the experience and provide an avenue for worship in a remote way.

The Lord had put this challenge before me. With gratefulness and His grace, I continue to strive to meet it. It is very rewarding to be part of a team that streams Mass live and brings the Word of God to the faithful, until we can all worship together in person again.