Church Streaming as Pastoral Care

Church Streaming as Pastoral Care

How a thousand mile mourner can recieve gifts of pastoral care through online streaming

I so wished she could’ve made the trip, or at least I hoped she could’ve listened to it remotely somehow.

Some time ago, Sarah stopped by my office. She was visibly upset. She came to ask for prayer, as she received news that her sister had just died. They were very close in spite of the distance, with her sister Clara having moved roughly 1,000 miles away to Florida a few years prior.

“Will you be going to the service?” I asked.

“I can’t,” she replied. “It’s tomorrow."

Sarah, while elderly, was healthy enough to make the trip, but her husband wasn’t. She was his primary caretaker as he was afflicted with early Alzheimer’s. She didn’t feel she could leave him alone or under the care of one of our deacons. Sarah was faced with both the grief of losing her sister, and with the isolation of not being with the rest of her family as they said goodbye to Clara and entrusted her into the arms of God. Sarah did not just want to be there, she needed to be there, for the sake of her own soul.

The next morning, as the service in Florida took place, I met Sarah in our chapel where we sat in silence, prayed and mourned together for an hour.

I so wished she could’ve made the trip, or at least I hoped she could’ve listened to it remotely somehow.

On that day, I thought how helpful it would’ve been if we could’ve met in front of a computer dis-play, launched a browser, and worshipped together along with the rest of the mourners in Florida. But it was not to be.

This happened more than 10 years ago, when most churches were barely working on com-pressing audio files to post sermons on their website. Thankfully times have changed since then, and while Sarah was not able to be present at her sister’s service, there are countless of others who today can worship with their church families in spite of mobility issues, illness, hospitalization and even travel plans.

Much has been said about streaming Sunday morning worship services. At First Presbyterian Church West Chester in southeastern Pennsylvania, we also offer online streaming for funerals and weddings as an extension of our pastoral care ministry. We open a private streaming ses-sion, which usually begins 10 minutes before the service and share the URL with the family a few days before. They in turn distribute it via email to those who are unable to make the trip.

We have found this to be an invaluable tool to help people who might not otherwise be able to connect. Remote worship is nothing new. It is obviously an ancient concept packaged with new tools. For Paul, his letters read aloud in many congregations became a way to worship with their founding pastor in spite of the distance. Today, online streaming can bridge the distance and serve as another tool for connecting people to their own churches. 

For congregations who want to get started, there are many solutions out there. Our setup at First Presbyterian is rather simple, but it serves us well for an average of 100 weekly online worshippers.

The center of our streaming service is a decently fast hard-wired internet connection, and of course, BoxCast, a great plug and play solution run by a company with amazing customer ser-vice. We can’t sing their praises enough.

BoxCast made available to us a small ‘box’ with a single video input (HDMI), a 1/8” audio input which we use to bring in a mixed and equalized signal directly from the sound board, and a single Ethernet jack which we connect directly to a router.

Download Our Guide to Church Streaming Here

The streaming process is equally simple. Every week, we log on to our BoxCast account, schedule a streaming session and receive a unique URL which we can then distribute at will. There is also the option to generate HTML code to embed onto our website. We then just make sure our audio and video sources are turned on 10 minutes before the service. Then we sit back and watch it happen.

I am also very impressed that BoxCast stores our encoded video and makes it available for on demand viewing for no extra cost and with no storage capacity limit.

We ran our Sunday morning services for a year, using a single video source: a fixed shot Canon camcorder with a wide view of the chancel. Once we saw the ministry was well received and that several of our church members depended on it, we ramped up the complexity and produc-tion quality of our Sunday service streaming broadcasts.

Today, we use two remote IP enabled 1080p cameras, controlled from a dedicated PC running vMix, a great software solution which allows for hundreds of camera presets and ease of source switching.  vMix also allows for a variety of quality transitions between sources, lower thirds, full screen overlays and PowerPoint slides with Scripture, announcements, etc.

I recently preached at a retirement community where several of our church members live. Be-fore the evening service, I met with them for dinner and they each told me how important online streaming has proven to be for them. Some sat alone with a phone or tablet on their lap to watch the service live. Others regularly sit in groups of two or three and watch it in front of a computer or a Roku-enabled TV. 

During our conversations, I quickly learned how much these residents depend on our streaming ministry, not just to worship, but to stay connected to their home church.

Online streaming becomes as small reminder of who they are: a precious part of a caring family of faith.

The author of Hebrews once wrote, “...do not give up meeting together.” (Heb. 10:25). We all know there is absolutely no substitute for an in-person assembly of the people of God in worship. As believers, we are grateful for the Spirit who gathers the church from North, South, East and West, but when that is not possible because of life circumstances, we are also grateful for a God who uses servers and routers to continue to build up the church, even in spite of the distance.

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