I’m not quite a pro…

Yesterday, I was in the booth, but not running sound. Instead, Worship Pastor ran sound and I was the computer person.

We use a presentation software called ProPresenter for all of the media we show on our screens. This program was developed specifically for use in church and is in (what I perceive to be) a constant state of development (or we could say improvement, as is, I suppose, most software). Having become the de facto ProPresenter person at the church for what we do on Sundays, (and due to the fact that we, again, use it for everything), I’ve had a great deal of quality time with ProPresenter, have spent a great deal of time troubleshooting Pro, and have also spent a relatively small, but regular amount of time on the Pro user forums.

While we use ProPresenter, it’s not all that important for Computer Person to have extensive knowledge of the software. In fact, it’s as easy as hitting an arrow button or clicking the mouse to the next slide of song lyrics, to start a video, or to show an image. Due to the multi-room thing, there are a few other buttons that need attention, along with a couple of countdowns. However, in my opinion, being the Computer Person is one of the easiest, hardest (and generally under-appreciated) jobs we have on our team.

The actions of the Computer Person are the easy part, but there are other aspects of the job that make it pretty stressful. Consider: in this aural tradition of worship that has emerged as common practice in evangelical churches in the past 15 or so years (or the modern age of whatever-you-want-to-call-our-non-hymn-book/notation-based worship using instruments often associated with secular music, please don’t say “contemporary,” please?), an entire body of worshippers is somewhat dependent upon the words on the screens to participate vocally in worship (that, combined with the simple and repetitive, or “easily accessible nature” of this music, and all of the praise and worship music they’re probably buying and listening to, but that’s a different post). At our church, this could be anywhere from 150-600 people at a time… no pressure, right?

Today, although my primary responsibility was computering, I was having trouble letting go of concerns of Things About to Happen, and found myself focusing on those Things rather than the Things Happening. During the song immediately following a video piece, I noticed we were almost through the first verse of a song and there were no words on the screen. I thought, “Why are there no… AUGHHH!!” when I realized, I was the exact reason there were no words on the screen.

At that point, it didn’t really matter if I knew what was going to happen ten minutes later, nor did it matter if I knew how to insert a prop or edit templates in ProPresenter; it was the simple matter of pressing an arrow key that was the Important Thing. For the record, I think I did better in the second service, but in any event, it makes me REALLY appreciate the folks who serve as Computer Person every week.

Pay no attention to the woman in the booth…

Once the service starts on Sundays, it’s a bit of multi-tasking for me. Actually, research has shown that people don’t multi-task very well at all, and those who say they do are lying to themselves (I suppose I should put quotes around research, as I have no intention of truly substantiating this claim, after all, this is a blog, not a research paper. But maybe you can trust me, I don’t have a PhD, but I’m working on one. I digress.).

Instead of actually working on multiple tasks simultaneously, “multi-tasking” is more a matter of switching quickly between these multiple tasks, and really, that’s what I’m doing on Sundays (OK, here’s a link to a bit of pop science to sort of support my claims).

In any event, once the service begins, there are several things to keep up with, and at certain points, when Things Are Happening, I’m not paying much attention to those Things, but rather the Things About to Happen. And when I’m thinking of Things About to Happen, I’m talking to the computer peeps in both rooms about these next Things. I may forget that there are Important Things Happening, and sometimes the talking (and even laughing–those computer people are funny. Actually, we’re all pretty funny in the booth) is a bit too loud. In fact, if you to sit next to the booth, you might know this.

Have you ever been sitting in the service, listening to the welcome/video/announcements and heard someone mumbling, laughing, counting down or just talking out loud? You look around (discreetly, not judmentally, of course) and can’t see the culprit. Well, if you were sitting near the booth, then I confess. It was likely me, hiding behind the board, chatting away.

For example, yesterday we played a video of College Pastor in the service (he couldn’t be there, so we had to settle for a simulacrum, which wasn’t the same at all, even though the message was conveyed). During this video in both services, I was talking to the computer people in both rooms, making sure we all knew what was happening after the video.

If the band is playing, this too-loud talking isn’t that big of a deal. But say, during a video, or the announcements, or even the sermon, well, it might be a little more obvious. So, to the people sitting near the booth, pay no attention to the talking woman hiding behind the sound board.

Buttons and knobs

Spending much of my time in the sound booth at church, I am regularly engaged with vast amounts of technology. During the service, I mostly deal with our rather large sound board (aka analog mixing console), along with a variety of effects and compressors.

In addition to the board, we have an intercom system that allows me to talk over headset to other folks in the sound booth, folks in the other room, or folks in our band room/green room, and a talkback mic so I can talk to the band through their in-ear monitors. I play pre- and post-service music from my laptop, and use my iPhone to keep track of various timers throughout the service.

The ubiquity of technology in the booth necessarily results in more buttons and knobs than one could shake a colloquial stick at (although the board alone merits its own stick shaking in the buttons/knobs category). Among those who visit the booth, several different people like to pretend to (or sometimes literally) mess with the buttons and knobs. My favorite gesture is one in which someone moves both hands wildly, palms down, inches above the board, as though furiously spreading a deck of card about a tabletop.

While there is much to be said about an extensive (and even overwhelming) use of technology in any setting, much less, worship, that’s not the point of this post. It’s also not the point that the buttons and knobs can be very stressful at times (and they can), nor is it to confess that I don’t know what 25% of the buttons and knobs actually do (I may or may not).

Ooooh, pretty! Props to Worship Pastor who took this picture and made it the wallpaper on my very first iPhone.

The point is that there are a lot of buttons and knobs. Some of them are pretty and colorful. Further, they are clearly appealing. But most importantly, messing with them can be a whole lot of fun.


from this point of view... a nifty view of Chicago from a blue line stop this summer

On a typical Sunday in the fall at my church, we have four total services — two at 9:30 and two at 11:00. There is live music in each room and the pastor speaks in one room with live video of him sent to the other room. Our services are pretty standard: four or five songs, a welcome, syncing the rooms together, a sermon, offering/song, announcements. Yet, with these predictable pieces each and every week, it’s really remarkable how crazy a Sunday can be.

If you’ve ever been on church staff or had family members/close friends on staff, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. Similarly, if you’ve ever been involved in production of any staged events, you also likely have an inkling of what I’m talking about.

Yesterday was one of those days for me. I was mostly running around between each room, there was some confusion amongst the different folks who were supposed to be doing things, and a bit of uncertainty about songs and order. We start on a countdown, so both rooms will begin at the same time. As the timer was falling inevitably toward 0:00, I hadn’t “settled down” in the booth, and really felt like I had no idea what was going on (oh, and that’s one of my things on Sundays – I’m supposed to kind of have an idea of what’s going on).

But despite some (in my hyperbolic opinion) near disastrous occurrences, as we sang “With a cry of praise, my heart will proclaim, “You are good” / In the Sun or rain, my life celebrates, You are good,” I was reminded that I believe that to be true. My theology accounts for busy, stressful mornings.

And then, later in the afternoon (post-Sunday Afternoon Nap!), I received two vastly different bits of good news of varying degrees of import: A dear friend reported exciting relationship news, and my Very Tall Nephew reported that he dunked on a regulation goal with a regulation ball for the first time (something we’ve wanted for him all summer).

God is, indeed, good.

The booth… where everybody knows your name?

Upon meeting someone new at church recently, this person asked, “So what do you do around here?” It’s a perfectly reasonable question (and one that I had basically just asked him), but in response to the question asked of me, I laughed (out loud, even), as did a couple of folks who were around us.

What was so funny? I think it was funny because I have done a vast array of things in my tenure at the church. I was hired a decade ago to play the piano and accompany the choir. I have worked with the children’s ministry, the youth ministry, possibly the college ministry, and, of course, the worship/music ministry in all manner of capacities.

I think of myself as the music ministry assistant, helping Worship Pastor with whatever he needs (and considering all that HE does, it’s even broader and more vague than you’re already thinking), although I think he now refers to me as the service production boss lady (or director, whatevs). Currently, what that means is that on Sunday mornings, you can find me (running around like a crazy person, but mostly) in the sound booth.

I like to think of the sound booth as a friendly place, and thanks to the foresight and planning of aforementioned Worship Pastor, it’s a nice place to hang out, too. If you pardon the un-southern-baptist-ness of this metaphor, it’s reminds me of a nice neighborhood bar – centrally located, a nice place to hang out, and mostly the same folks there every week, and we even have regulars. Sometimes we’re slammed and too busy to visit, and other times we’re just sittin’ around.

Some folks visit for a whole service (that’s our College Pastor, he’s a character that I think would not be completely offended by this use of literary device), while others just drop by to say hello when they have a moment or are on their way to somewhere else.

So, if you’re around, drop by and say hello. Remember that this is, in fact, a metaphor and what we have to offer in the booth regarding refreshment is limited. I mean, I always have a lot of sugarless gum…