Pandemic opens doors to new ways of parish outreach across the diocese

Investing in livestream video equipment becomes requirement, not option

ALLOUEZ — When Bishop David Ricken announced last March that all public Masses in the Diocese of Green Bay would be suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many parishes found ways to celebrate the Eucharist virtually via livestreaming.

Katie McAllister, coordinator of youth and young adult ministry at Resurrection Parish in Allouez, records the parish’s livestream Mass in May. Parishes are taking advantage of video technology to stay in contact with their members during the pandemic. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

Today, as parishes have once again opened their doors to public Masses for limited numbers, livestreaming liturgies continue — not just out of necessity, but as a community service. While answering the call to virtual ministry, church leaders have turned to professional guidance to provide the best service.

Camera Corner Connecting Point in Green Bay, which specializes in creating video broadcast and audio systems for churches, has assisted many houses of worship in northeast Wisconsin as they moved to livestream their religious services. Among the congregations Camera Corner has assisted was St. Willebrord Parish.

According to Cruz Delia Hernandez-Daul, business manager at St. Willebrord Parish, Norbertine Fr. Andy Cribbin, pastor, began livestreaming Masses in March.

“During the stay-at-home order, we livestreamed daily Mass at 12:05 p.m., Thursday Spanish Mass at 7 p.m., 9 a.m. English Mass and 12:30 p.m. Spanish Mass on Sundays,” she said. “We now celebrate our regular eight weekend Masses and livestream the 9 a.m. English Mass and the 12:30 p.m. Spanish Mass” on Sundays.

In addition, said Hernandez-Daul, the parish livestreams special events such as first Communions, funerals and confirmations.

The idea of livestreaming liturgies surfaced about three years ago, she said.

“We (had) the intention of streaming weddings and quinceaneras. We thought it would be a good idea for our families’ relatives living in Mexico and Central America,” she said. “It would give them the opportunity to be part of their special day even if it was virtual. However, we put it aside and never got to actually stream any special event until now that we are facing this pandemic.”

Hernandez-Daul said the parish worked with Camera Corner to install their livestreaming equipment, including a PTZ (pan-tilt-zoom) camera. “As a staff, we are in charge of working the actual livestream,” she said. “At first, it was difficult to remember and get used to, because there are several steps and several ways to troubleshoot technical problems. However, once you do it for many times, you get used to it and it becomes fairly easy and fast to livestream.”

Chaz Goeben, who works in marketing at Camera Corner, wrote a blog entry in July on the company’s website titled, “Recording/livestreaming for your church.” It gives church leaders an idea of what it takes to build a quality setup, how much it will cost and options for a livestream platform.

“If your church currently has a website, you can design an area of your site for livestreaming,” wrote Goeben. “You might have to pay more for your website hosting as livestreaming does use much more bandwidth than a standard church website.”

He said other premium platforms are available for a fee, such as Livestreaming by Vimeo ($75 a month) and StreamingChurch.tv ($79 a month), but free platforms such as Facebook Live and YouTube Live are popular for broadcasting religious services.

“Free services can be useful if your budget is tight or if you have built up a large following on your social media platforms,” said Goeben.

Parishes can read Goeben’s post at cccp.com/post/recording-livestreaming-for-your-church.

St. Francis Xavier Cathedral is in the process of upgrading its video equipment, according to Steve Motl, who was project manager for the cathedral’s recent renovation and who is overseeing the video upgrade.

“We are going to install a three-camera system for the cathedral that would be able to livestream broadcasts,” he said. “TV stations could just come and plug in and also record. We are still about six to eight weeks away from installing and buying anything.”

The cathedral’s new equipment will not only allow for continued livestreaming of the Sunday morning Mass, said Motl. It will also allow opportunities for livestreaming other services, such as the annual Chrism Mass and ordinations.

“It’s something that (Bishop Ricken) and Fr. (Brian) Belongia (cathedral rector) wanted and it’s definitely needed,” Motl said. “As we’ve learned through this pandemic, it’s something we wish we had all along.”

Upgrades at Cooperstown parish
St. James Parish in Cooperstown had been investigating sound and video improvements for years, said Deacon Dan Gray.

“Just before COVID-19 became an issue, the money for initial sound improvement was budgeted and approved,” he told The Compass. “At that point, the first focus was on sound improvement, with video to be delayed until a later date. COVID-19 changed our focus.”

The first livestream Mass was broadcast in March using an iPad resting on a music stand, he said.

“The quality was OK, but we wanted to do better. The first thing we realized was the echo of sounds in an empty church,” Deacon Gray said. Luckily, the problem was addressed in-house. A parishioner, John Lyons, who graduated from Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Mich., with a bachelor’s degree in sound design, was able to help.

Audio issues resolved
“John took on the problems and devoted time and energy into working first on the issues of echo,” said Deacon Gray. “He figured out a way to run the sound system directly into the broadcast to eliminate echo. We put microphones on the piano and organ so that these were also directly fed into the sound board.”

Another problem was the parish’s rural internet service.

“There is no cable internet available, so we rely on fixed wireless internet,” said Deacon Gray. “We found that our broadcasts were hitting the limit of the internet system, which caused the images to blur or be dropped. At this point, we switched from an iPad to a small digital camera.”

They also installed video encoding software called Open Broadcaster, which is a free downloadable program. “With this software, our broadcasts stay below the bandwidth limit while still maintaining quality and reliability.”

Like St. Willebrord, St. James called on Camera Corner for service and equipment.

New equipment purchased
“Much of our equipment was borrowed and pieced together. Our first major purchase was a camera from Camera Corner,” he said. “Next, we purchased a computer so that we could return the one we had borrowed, and downloaded the programs needed. Finally, we purchased the sound board we had intended to acquire when we first talked about sound improvement.”

Prior to the resumption of public Masses, volunteers moved the equipment to the choir loft. “We ran cables throughout the church to turn it into a permanently installed system,” said Deacon Gray. “Members of the parish have been very generous, and in addition to money that had been previously given for sound, we received many restricted donations over the past few months to cover the entire cost. All of the labor has been donated by parishioners.”

Today, St. James Parish livestreams its 8 a.m. Sunday Mass, said Deacon Gray. “In addition, we have livestreamed some funerals, particularly during the early months of quarantine. We do hope to use the equipment in the future for other church related events such as religious education and adult faith formation.”

He believes the new technology will continue to be used beyond the pandemic.
“We are hearing positive feedback from people who have been unable to attend Mass for many years due to being homebound,” he said. “Some have commented that they are able to see the inside of their home church for the first time in many years. We are also receiving comments from people who have moved out of the area who are pleased to be able to connect with the parish they grew up in.”

Another side benefit
Deacon Gray sees another side benefit to upgrading the parish’s audio and video equipment: getting young people involved.

“One of our goals with the improvements was to make it possible to teach others within the parish to use the equipment,” he said. “We are currently working with several high school and middle school students who have expressed interest in learning to use the system. We think that using this type of technology can offer young people opportunities to serve the church in new and innovative ways.”

Deacon Gray said other parishes with questions about upgrading their video equipment can contact him at [email protected].