Every morning Sunday through Thursday, I go online to find a music video for our live webcasts. Many people say they like the ones I choose; ya can’t go wrong with the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, Washington National Cathedral or the British TV program “Songs of Praise.” But they tend to do hymns that are very traditional and popular, what I call the “old chestnuts,” and I find myself looking for more variety than that. (When I find it I put it on our Friday night Video Evensong.)
The Hymnal 1982, currently used by The Episcopal Church, is a revision of the classic Hymnal 1940, deemed by many musicians as the best church hymnal ever produced in English. But it contained some tunes that felt schmaltzy, some lyrics that no longer reflected modern understandings, and a revision was made. I’m still getting to know the 1982 version; I like it more than I thought I would at first. After the “new” Prayer Book of 1979, we needed up-to-date service music and the ’82 hymnal provided it.
So in my video searches on YouTube, I go through the hymnal according to the season and the feast. I’m not trained in music, and as a layperson I’ve never had to select it for a parish, but for a long season (50 days) like Easter, I can and do go page by page. But the results are sometimes a bit shocking. Dozens of our hymns are not available on the channel, and what I do find sometimes makes my eyeballs roll.
I would have thought by now that every hymn selected by The Episcopal Church, with its terrific musical reputation, would be available; I would have thought that I’d find many videos of popular selections to choose from. Instead what I find, all too often, is that we put almost no effort as a Church to spread the Gospel through music videos. I’m not just talking about professionally-produced videos; I understand that small churches are not going to have the means to get into that. I mean even big churches with tons of money don’t make any effort.
There is all of one video for “Look there! the Christ our Brother, comes” (#196), a hymn new to the 1982 edition, with two tunes available, one still under copyright. The tune “Petrus” presents quite a challenge, with time changes and key changes any amateur choir would be hard-pressed to learn. It’s very untraditional, perhaps suited to children – if they’re musical prodigies; to me it sounds kind of rinky-dink. So here’s some parish in California attempting it on video with their combined children’s and adult choirs; the result was… execrable. I won’t embarrass them further, but I wouldn’t put that video on our sites. (It had all of 15 views.)
“Thou hallowed chosen morn of praise,” another Easter hymn, to me is a well-loved, very familiar chestnut. But there’s only one video of it on YouTube, some guy banging a $50 electronic keyboard and making a sound so tinny it reminded me of when I was 10 years old and taking piano lessons from poor Mrs. Armstrong. (My piano at home was an old castoff upright with half the ivories coming unglued.) I have no clue why the fellow bothered, except that these days, everyone thinks they can make a video.
– And indeed we can; the technology costs very little. A decent videocam, a tripod, a little software, you’re in business.
A majority of Christian videos on YouTube aren’t really videos at all; they’re audio (of someone else) with a picture. Even when the audio is a famous person’s recording, I want more than one picture of a daisy. Moving pictures would be nice.
Or someone will put up three pix to look at for a four-minute song. “Don’t the visuals ever change on this piece of junk?”
Sometimes the National Cathedral will have good live sound of their choir and congregation, together with a few stills of the building. I ask my screen, “How did they get the sound if they don’t have moving pictures?”
A parish in Arizona sets a cam up on the balcony while three or four musicians – piano, clarinet, two singers – make music up front half a football field away. The music is nice, but their videos always begin and end with a terrible clatter, like somebody’s banging pots and pans. And of course you get all the babies crying and people coughing and ambient noise, because they didn’t put the microphone up front with the musicians.
A guy at a big wealthy parish in New York sits in his pew halfway down and shoots whatever his phone can see – usually 50 bald heads. Of course with a hand-held camera the picture’s going to be flopping all over the place; I’ve used his videos a few times, because the sound of choir and organ is good (I know and like that parish). The videos he makes, labors of love each one, and always with the right idea, are minimally acceptable.
I wonder what it would take – a thousand bucks, tops? – to place three fixed cameras and a mid-quality mic, and create a good video. It wouldn’t need much editing, just a few switches from one camera to the next, to convey adequately what it’s like to sit in our pews and worship God in song.
I wonder why so few churches do that; I wonder why it’s no one’s priority.
When I’m able to find high-quality video it really enhances our online experience. I would think that good, short videos of the local church would be posted on every parish website in the land, at least those with enough cash to pay the priest and organist and keep the lights on. These videos don’t have to be music, either; show me two minutes of a welcome message from the clergy, or what our infants’ and toddlers’ program is like with our safe and well-trained staff. Got a youth group? Why aren’t they making videos of everything they do?
Here’s one that was made with professional assistance; most youth groups will be on their own. But with 80,000 views, tell me this didn’t excite Episcopal youth! I know grown men with tears in their eyes as they watched this. (‘Cause I’m one. I’m a total sucker for acolytes.)
VIDEO: Serve Christ Maybe – Diocese of West Texas, 2013; Lauren Rader, Dave Moore
So what have you got, a strawberry festival? Feeding program? Jubilee Christmas? Blessing of the animals, or doctors and nurses, or fire trucks? I know it’s too much to ask that you show me your Rogation Days (!), but how can you let your visuals pass away as if they never happened? They’re valuable!
Everyone says they want their churches to grow; every church says they want more young adults and families. But 99% of our parishes are unwilling to do what it takes to get those young adults through the door. Millennials want an informative online presence, before they show up. They want to know they’ll be comfortable in this church, that their kids are well cared for, that they don’t have to dress up so other people can judge them. If they’re African-American or Latino or Asian or deaf or LGBT, they want to know there are one or two others like them already.
Most of all they want to know that you can connect them with God – the very thing we specialize in.
But if the rector’s camera-shy, or too much a control freak to empower anyone else to go make some visuals, you might as well hang up a sign that says, “This church is really only for us.”
That’s the message we’re sending; here we’ve got so much going for us (as Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians or whatever), but we hide our light under a bushel, all across the nation.
I would like dailyoffice.org to make gradual but continual upgrades in our technology so we can grow and spread the Gospel. I want a plan so we’re eventually making our own videos. I want us using every electronic gadget we can find, every platform, every network and medium, in support of the local church. Because the chances are if people like what they see on our sites, they might visit your site at 6th & Ferry Streets. That’s what we’re about.
Last week I met with Kathy Copas, our diocesan communications and evangelism officer (former journalist and TV news producer), and John Vernon Oaks, our diocesan stewardship guru. We talked about the techno, and we talked about the money. We talked about how the Church can unleash all the creativity of its members – and we talked about what holds us back.
I’ve got some tasks to take care of before our sites are ready to do professional fundraising, and an hour from now I’m seeing our new lawyer to get our incorporation and non-profit status nailed down. After that Kathy can make us a fundraising website in a short time. John will spread the word about us to some donors he knows; when I ask for help from the Diocese of Indianapolis I get it.
Mostly what it takes is a commitment to Do Church Right in 2014 and beyond.
I’m not an expert in anything but the Daily Office. I am, however, committed to making our sites the best they can possibly be. With 1700 e-mail subscribers, 2000 members in our Facebook group, hundreds of additional daily visitors and a growing presence on Twitter, I know we’re on our way.
This much I also know: I am not conceding the internet to Pat Robertson, Rick Warren or any of those personality-cult, feel-good, give-me-your-money TV preachers who claim they alone speak for Christianity. They don’t. I speak too; we speak too. And pictures are worth a thousand words; moving pictures are worth 500 stills.
Thank you for your support and prayers.++