This week we posted one of DisciplesNet Church’s first worship services here on our Blog page. We were excited and anxious to share more of the spirit and community that we are already building. If you haven’t watched the video blog, I recommend you do so. It will help put some of my remarks in better perspective.
You see, that worship service was one of our earliest, and I was one of the “remote viewers” (no, not one of those military ESP recruits!). Well, actually, I wasn’t “viewing” anything except the faceless grey profile forms for the conference calling accounts of those who were sharing that worship experience. The video-conferencing program we were using would not support a video connection for more than 1 to 1 calling, so we only had voice connections. Needless to say, it was a bit challenging to follow some parts of the service, such as the sharing at the Table, when there were no visual cues. When you view the worship service we have posted, you are also getting the edited version, so you are not experiencing the awkward pauses, dropped internet connections, or the extraneous noises. (Well, you do get to hear some of those – I’m not sure who it was who opened a soda can, but it is a distinctive sound!) We actually had three callers on the connection of which I was a part – Ohio, California, and Ireland. The connection with Pakistan came through a second laptop in the room.
I can only imagine the scene of laptops facing laptops to try to get visual contacts across the space. (Well, actually, I don’t have to imagine – that was exactly what happened in a later worship service. We so wanted everyone to have visual participation that we tried having each remote worshipper connect to a separate laptop, and then the laptops were arranged in a sort of semi-circle so we “remote viewers” could see one another. Boy, was that a wild experience! I could not see the people who were actually in the worship room – I could only see the other laptops, and hear the conversations of the people in the room as though they were spirits floating above, behind, around, but never visible. (Try to picture sitting in a circle where you can only see the head and shoulders of the others in the circle, and that the circle is surrounded by a veil, behind which you can hear people talking and moving about, but you cannot see them, and you can barely hear the voices of the people whom you can see.) I was a bit dizzy after that worship service!
Since the “circle of laptops” was not very satisfactory, we decided to go back to using just one laptop to connect all of us, even though that meant not having any video available. Oh, we tried a number of different programs that are available online to try to get multiple video-conferencing capabilities, believe me! I lost count of how many different conferencing icons I had on my desktop— I put them all in a “video-conferencing fail corner” as each one proved to have some problem or other. One very promising one did great video, except for our staffer in California (I even talked with their support staff to see why their package didn’t like Maria’s computer – they thought I was nuts!). We could have lived with that one glitch, but it also gave off a horrid screech (they called it “echo” – I called it painful!) I distinctly remember one attempt to use it when Deb, our Senior Pastor, picked up her laptop, with me on video as we were testing the connections, and started walking down the hallway of the church building, thinking if she could get closer to the wireless router, the “echo” might subside. There I was, a disembodied head on a laptop screen, being carried, at about Deb’s waist level and facing her, on an impromptu tour of the building. If you know Deb, you know she often walks with a bounce in her step. That was not anykind of advantage for me as I bounced along in her arms, all the while hearing this awful screeching sound through my headphones. Needless to say, we never tried that program again!
We still haven’t found a solution that gives us the video-conferencing abilities we really want. I imagine if we had the money to pay for a premium service, we could overcome these difficulties, but that day is still a ways off. In the meantime, we “remote viewers” continue to faithfully attempt to “attend” worship using whatever program we have come across for the week. Sometimes we get disconnected and have to re-connect during worship – which can be a bit awkward if no one in the worship room happens to have noticed we are not there anymore. On one occasion, I recall, my connection was either dropping, or my video was freezing up, even though I was the only “remote viewer” for that service. I finally also lost all audio – but I knew they could see me still. I sat at my computer and waved my arms wildly to try to get someone’s attention – to no avail. I wrote a big sign and held it up to my webcam, saying “ I CANNOT HEAR” – but the sermon was so riveting, no one saw. I finally closed the connection (I thought), and wrote off the worship as one I would have to view when the video editing was finished. I went on about some of my other work on the computer, and then my phone rang. I took the call and chatted for a few minutes, then went back to my computer work. About 10 minutes later, I heard voices on my headset. At first I was surprised, and then I recognized one of the voices as Anjeanette, one of our Associate Pastors. I had no video conference window open on my computer, but apparently I was still connected and the audio/video had unfrozen. The group in worship had heard my phone conversation – which came, as it turned out, during the Lord’s Supper (boy, was I wracking my brain to remember what all I might have said in that phone call!). And that is how I learned how particular that program is about how you shut it down and completely disconnect from a call!
Despite all these trials and difficulties, I keep trying to attend worship virtually. I was unable to attend for the last 2 weeks because the services had to be held on a different night than usual which conflicted with my other job. I find I really miss the worship, and even all the frustrations and snafu’s of being a “remote viewer”. I guess these are just some of the stories and experiences that will become part of the “lore” of getting DisciplesNet Church launched. I will be able to say, “I remember when…”
I pray that we build a vibrant and long-lived online community to whom I can tell these and other “back when” stories. Stay tuned – video may be coming soon to a computer near you!!
Blessings to you all,