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AV Technology Allows Pastor to be in Two Places at Once

First Evangelical Free Church in Maplewood, Minn., is a growing church located in a suburb of St. Paul. As with any expanding congregation, the church faced the challenge of how to continue providing high-quality Sunday morning services to more members without building an entirely new sanctuary. With help from an advanced AV system designed and installed by Alpha Video & Audio of Edina, Minn., the church reports that it came up with a unique solution: allow the pastor to be in two places at the same time.

For many years, First Free offered a blended service at 9 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. in the worship center that held a maximum of 400 worshippers. In 2011, it became obvious that the worship center was not large enough to accommodate the growing membership, and a decision was made to offer an alternative contemporary service. The church's facilities included an activities center that was slightly smaller than the worship center. The decision was made to renovate that space into a second worship area for the new contemporary service, with a capacity of 200 attendees. The church now offers the blended service at 9 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. in the worship center and the contemporary service at 9 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. in the activities center. The difficulty with this arrangement, the church reports, is that the senior pastor wanted to continue to provide the sermon for all the services.

Gil Fruchey, pastor of worship and music at First Free, managed the planning process for the new services, particularly the purchase and implementation of the new video production system. "The first thought was to simulcast the sermon between the two services, but, based on past experience, we knew that trying to time the sermon to start at the same time for two different services was nearly an impossible task. Almost every worship service has something that goes too long or too short or something unexpected happens," he says.

Fruchey continues, "We wanted some way to start the recording of the sermon in one of the venues and then start replaying the sermon in the other venue five or 10 minutes after the start of the sermon in the first venue. As easy as that sounds, it turned out to be more difficult than I imagined."

Fruchey contracted with Alpha Video to design and integrate a two-sanctuary video solution. The solution called for installation of two Panasonic AW-HE120K PTZ cameras in each of the worship areas and adding a centrally located video control room. "Unfortunately, I had to give up my office to make way for the video control room," Fruchey reports. The equipment in the video control room includes a Broadcast Pix Mica 500 integrated switcher, AJA Ki Pro digital file recorder, Extron video scaling converters and a PreSonus Studio Live 16.0.2 digital mixer. From the video control room, the video operator can monitor the services in both sanctuaries on Sunday morning and communicate with the audio control booths, located in each of the worship venues.

Commenting on designing the system, Brian Mathison, Alpha Video's engineer on the project, says, "The biggest challenge was finding a reasonably priced digital video recorder/player that could start recording the audio and video signals from a live event and then have the recorded file immediately available for playback to a different visual output device. I called a number of our encoder vendors and finally selected the Leightonix LabVault-SD. It has worked great for this application."

The new video system reportedly provides maximum flexibility to First Free. The worship center contains two large video screens and the activities center has one large video screen. The senior pastor can preach at 9 a.m. in either worship area and have his sermon broadcast to the other venue. Likewise, at 10:45, the senior pastor can preach in either service and have his sermon from 9 a.m. replayed in the other service. The Broadcast Pix switcher also allows the video signal to be routed back to the screens in the worship area where the pastor is preaching so that the image magnification of the pastor can be shown during his live sermons.

www.firstefc.org; www.alphavideo.com

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