By LINDA M. LINONIS
The Rev. Michael Zabel, pastor of Faith Community Covenant Church, uses technology as a tool to invigorate worship and draw everyone into the service.
Last July, the church installed two screens on the right and left sides of wooden structures that frame the altar, two projectors, a monitor at the back of the church and sound board.
The screens can be retracted when not in use; the projectors are barely noticeable as the line up with large lights suspended from the wooden ceiling. The sound board, that includes a lap- top, also is framed in by a wooden structure highlighted by a cross.
Rev. Mr. Zabel, or Pastor Mike as he is called, said he had used similar technology in a previous church. He’s been at Faith Community for 16 months; it’s the eighth church he has served in his 32-year career in ministry. He has a bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University and master of divinity from North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago. He’s self-taught when it comes to Power Point and technology.
The system was inaugurated at last summer’s vacation Bible school. “The kids’ program kicked off the technology,” Pastor Mike said, adding that seemed appropriate because children are so high-tech-oriented. Previously when videos were shown, the children had to crowd around a TV; the new screens made viewing much easier.
“I look at video production as the modern-day equivalent of stained-glass windows,” Pastor Mike said. Centuries ago, stained-glass windows relayed Bible stories to people who couldn’t read, he said.
“We’re so visually oriented these days,” Pastor Mike said. He said that using technology in this way seems only natural.
For example, last Sunday’s service focused on the stretcher bearers who brought a paralyzed friend to see Jesus. The bulletin outlines the service and the text for Scripture, prayers and hymns are projected on the screens with accompanying graphics.
As people enter the sanctuary, there’s a message of welcome displayed on the screens and accompanying music playing.
Pastor Mike said he likes the idea of “people looking up to see the words” of a hymn or prayer rather than downward into a hymnal. The bulletin outline allows them to know what’s coming up next. Pastor Mike acknowledged some people like to follow the notes of a song, hymnals remain in the pews.
Pastor Mike controls when the photos, images and text appear on the screens with a clicker; he can see what appears on the monitor at the back of the sanctuary. He distributes notes on the order of worship to the choir director and members and sound personnel, Ed Aeppli, and Jack Barton, who assists. “This helps guide everyone in worship,” the pastor said.
The sound can be adjusted for different areas — in the sanctuary, choir area, parlor, for those using the hearing assistance system and recording system. “We have to get a balance in the all the zones,” Pastor Mike said, adding the sanctuary generally stays the same while the hearing assistance system may have to be adjusted.
When the choir presented cantatas at Christmas and Easter, the screens projected appropriate accompaniment.
Ethel Cantwell, a member of the worship ministry team, said though many people grew up with the Lord’s Prayer and know it by heart, “it seems more meaningful to see the words you’re saying.”
Cantwell, a 40-year member of the church, said she liked the new technology. “We needed to get into the flow of modern ways. It’s exciting to have such a change,” she said.
She also noted that before the technology was introduced, the faith experience was more “internal.” Now it’s a shared “external” participation.
Rob Gardner, a member of the budget/finance committee, acknowledged that the technology came with a price. “The investment was substantial,” he said, “but you need to spend to grow.” He continued that use of technology was a “way to move forward.”
“It’s an outreach to young members and potential younger members,” he said. The church membership is older and using technology is one way to attract potential new members, he added. “This appeals to the younger generation.”
Both Cantwell and Gardner noted that visitors to the church don’t have to know the order of worship or prayers .... the technology now displays it all. That helps people feel at ease and part of worship, they said.
The two members also said they had only heard “positive comments” abou the use of technology.