BELLEVUE — One service project led to another unexpected one for Tim Decker at Prince of Peace Parish. Decker, a retired Army colonel, works on safety and security for the parish, including the recent installation of security cameras.
“We wanted to upgrade the Wi-Fi and the internet connection to the church,” he explained. “The internet they had out here was dial-up speed. They could never get anything in and out of the church on computers. As long as we are doing that, why don’t we put in some security cameras? The parish council approved it. We put in 11 security cameras.”
Decker worked with Nsight, a teleservices company, on the project. To save money, he pulled cabling through the ceiling. The security cameras cover most of the inside of the church and 360 degrees outside.
“We put over 1,000 feet of cabling in here for the security system,” he said. “Once we got the security system in, COVID came along.”
Deacon Jeff Prickette, pastoral leader at Prince of Peace, pulled Decker aside one day to ask him about the possibility of livestreaming Masses in response to the pandemic. He said that he would look it up online. Through some research, and trial and error on his phone, Decker believed it was possible.
“We started livestreaming on an iPad,” said Decker, a member of Prince of Peace Parish since it was formed in 2004 and previously a member of Holy Martyrs of Gorcum Parish, Green Bay. “I was standing up front with an iPad. The sound was horrible. There was nobody in the church, so it echoed. We had just put in a new sound system, so I got a hold of the sound guy. We ran a wire from the soundboard all the way up to the front of the church, made a jack and stuck it in the side of the iPad.”
When it became apparent that COVID-19 was going to continue for a significant time, Decker discussed the possibility of doing something permanent to provide the livestream Masses. He once again worked with Nsight.
“They used the security (footage)?to plug into the internet,” he explained. “We saved some money there. We didn’t have to worry about sound. With the security system, we already had the basic infrastructure to add this on to it. We had some delay because the parts were made overseas. About the first weekend in August, we got this thing in.”
Two PTZ (pan, tilt, zoom) cameras were installed on pillars in the church. The “east” and “west” cameras can turn 270 degrees.
A technician from Nsight showed Decker and Carla DeGrave, a parish volunteer, how to run the system. The software is “not terribly simple,” said Decker with a laugh.
“We would come in one morning and the sound wouldn’t work,” he said. “We’ve figured it out. Right now, it’s working pretty professionally. We livestream 4:30 p.m. Mass on Saturday. The way we’ve got it set up now, we don’t get dropped. We don’t get a bad signal. It’s all going over a really good network. People can watch it live at 4:30 or any time after (on Facebook).
“The cameras cover the entire church except some of the corners,” added Decker. “The system has capabilities that I haven’t even imagined yet. We’ve loaded up slides from PowerPoint on there. We recently had guest speakers. I had downloaded their PowerPoint (presentation), and I was simulcasting on livestream. They were talking and their slides were coming up on livestream. It’s a cool system.”
For Decker, serving the parish is a way to give back. He grew up on the west side of Green Bay as a member of St. Patrick Parish. He attended St. Patrick School, Premontre High School in Green Bay and St. Norbert College in De Pere, where he was commissioned for the Army through ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps). His military service included 14 years overseas in Germany, Korea and Japan. He was also stationed in El Paso, Texas, and Hawaii and worked at the Pentagon. He retired from the military in 1999 and returned to northeast Wisconsin. Decker and his wife, Jean, have three grown children. He was the human resources and safety director at Morning Glory Dairy in De Pere in 2001 when a jet crashed into a warehouse building.
“That was one of the more fun days of my life,” he said with a laugh. “I went back to work for the government for Homeland Security for northeastern Wisconsin until 2011, when I retired again.”
Decker was offered a position at the Pentagon, and had he accepted, he would have been there on 9/11. He said that maybe his work for the church is God’s plan for keeping him out of harm’s way. He has also served as chair of the parish council and as a trustee.
“Between Carla and I, we do everything except say Mass,” he joked about the hours of service he and DeGrave provide.
Decker also credits other volunteers who have assisted with the livestreams. Kayla Fuller, a high school junior, initially volunteered for service hours for confirmation. Dave Molzan helps throughout the week, and Decker’s son-in-law, Sean O’Donohue, has built graphics and assisted with the sound system. Hank Mencheski, who has used his cabinetry skills for several parish projects, built the desks that house the monitor and soundboard in the back of the church. The livestream camera project was paid for through donations.
In addition to Mass, weddings and funerals have been livestreamed at Prince of Peace, as well as a weekly message from Deacon Prickette. Views for a recent funeral Mass topped 1,100. A livestreamed wedding at Prince of Peace was viewed by members of the bride’s family in Mexico.
“For us it’s an outreach,” said Decker. “We’ve turned it into a mini ministry. When the pandemic is over, we may cut back on how many Masses we video, but I think we are still going to do weddings and funerals. The quality of these cameras is studio quality.”