In these strange times, when public worship has been suspended, many clergy have been asking about how to live stream their worship over the internet and therefore remain connected with their communities.
Firstly I want to emphasize that the primary way of connecting with your Community is the pastoral phone call – when we can’t visit, it’s the next best thing. But this is about worship…
Preaching to the Ether
I’m going to be honest, but as one used to working with a live congregation, looking directly into the empty lens of a camera is disconcerting. There are no visual cues and it is easy to lose your place. TV Newscasters do it all the time and I am sure after a while speaking to an audience through a Camera will become easier, although I deeply missed the feedback from an audience nodding or responding and especially laughing at my jokes. I found the best way of dealing with it was to pretend there was a congregation, especially during the eucharist and so I imagined their presence, and – you know – it worked!
All you need is a phone and a tripod which can hold your phone. I bought a tripod from Asda for £12 and a mini tripod from Poundland which had a mobile phone spring clip holder. I took the holder and screwed it into the big tripod to hold my phone steady. If that is too hard, then prop your phone on some books.
Connecting to the Internet
Three obvious sites spring to mind which are widely accessible:
- Twitter (through its portal Periscope) – this can be viewed via an app on people’s phones or directly on a webpage: periscope.tv
- Facebook (Live)
- YouTube (Live)
For each of these platforms, you will need to have a free account, but then again if you use any of them, you already have that set up. In any of these cases, the phone knows your account already and you are effectively ready to go. Both YouTube and Facebook run directly from their respective Apps whilst Periscope is a separate download to get these functions, which links directly to your Twitter account.
Just doing it is useless unless you tell your people about it. You can post a placeholder link on your parish webpage and people can find their way to your broadcast from there.
Do some test recordings using the video function on your phone camera so you can check out the shot and the test the audio levels. Most of the time, the audio records fine directly from the phone microphone, but I personally chose to use a cheap microphone clipped onto my lapel (a clip-on or lavalier mic) which can be got off eBay – my phone needed a USB-C connection as it doesn’t have a phone jack but if you have a phone with a jack the clip mic needs to be one for phones with three rings on the jack. Look for eBay items which say “for mobile phone” or “for iPhone” (even if you use Android).
If you have WiFi at home or in Church then in preference, connect your phone to that: it’s always faster and faster means cleaner audio and video at the other end. However, if you haven’t got broadband then 4G is fine, 3G+ is acceptable. Some of our Churches are on Dartmoor, and there isn’t enough bandwidth, so I purposely chose to focus our worship coming from a Church with the best signal. I don’t have broadband at any of my churches, so 4G has proved to be more than adequate.
I recommend recording using the main (rear) camera. Although if it is pointing at you you cannot see yourself (which is why you lined it up in preparation), the quality of the camera is always a million times better. This is why I tend not to feature myself saying the Offices and focus on an ikon or cross or a burning candle. A Mass is different as the liturgical action is more important, but this is where preparation pays off. Notice in this image below, how I have moved the elements of the Mass closer in – the candles and focus of the action, leading the readings from behind the altar and testing that my arms did not go outside the frame when in the Orans position.
Having experimented with all three main platforms I have remained with Periscope because this is easy to setup and it posts my livestream to my main communication platform Twitter. Our parish webpage points to my Periscope landing page which automatically shows the live broadcast and past services (so people can time-shift if the time of broadcast is inconvenient). For us, visitors are directed to
Facebook and YouTube may be better for you, but our Parish Facebook Page has a permanent link to the Periscope landing page and this proves effective.
I am often… er… negligent in the use of copyrighted material in live worship, especially in an alt.worship/missional context but this is covered by the PRS’s exclusion of copyrighted material used in divine worship.
HOWEVER, this is different – we are broadcasting and this is not exempt. At best your video could be yanked for breach of copyright and at worst you could get fined. Also, you are depriving someone of their rights for broadcasting their song outside of your church (which as a Christian you should be morally paying).
There are three solutions:
- pay up, which can be expensive and frankly I haven’t got the time.
- write your own material
- use non-copyrighted/classic material in the Public Domain
Our organist is recording classic songs for me, and some members of the choir are gathering with her (at a distance) to record audio versions of hymns from Ancient and Modern – well loved classics from before copyright was a problem. I’m going to subtitle the lyrics and use them as videos to support people singing along at home.
This suffices, but it can be better and so this is where with a little bit more equipment and some free software you can make it much better.
You might already have a Video Camera with a Firewire Connection, and perhaps a (slightly older) laptop which supports firewire, or a TV card/box which can accept a composite input (the red, yellow and white cables) which some video cameras can output.
My Sony A6000 Camera puts out an HDMI signal: this is a still camera but which can record movies at high quality. I also have a Nikon DSLR which can also do the same. So, how do we get a video camera into the PC?
If you have young people into gaming around, you may already have or are aware of a Video or Gaming Capture device: it records the output of a PC or a Game Console (Playstation, XBox etc) and can record and broadcast these.
There are some very low-cost options available, but I have a slightly better quality device: the Elgato HD60
This connects via a USB 3 (the blue one) to my laptop. There is a version for a desktop which plugs directly into a PC (some assembly required) but as my laptop has this fast USB, this was the version for me. The system can use its own streaming software which is geared towards (as you might have guessed) gaming but once the unit is connected it becomes an input for other programs better suited to our needs.
vMix is a software based video mixer. When they show the control room of the telly studio, the bank of hardware, monitors and buttons are hardware video mixers. We can do that with software.
VMix can take imputs from all kinds of things, including videos, still images, webpages (such as YouTube), Powerpoint Slides and – get this – live video feeds. The Free Edition enables me to create an output at 720p resolution which given our bandwidth limitations is fine (we are not a Church expecting to stream 4k quality on our budget). It is limited to only 4 items at a time able to be queued, but again with a little planning in advance this can prove adequate (especially when a Powerpoint slide deck is utilised to hold all the pictures I will need). At one of our churches we use Easyworship and this could be piped directly into the system to show lyrics on screen, or as I will do during these times of Coronavirus when there is no congregation, I will show videos with lyric subtitles).
vMix has a number of semi-preconfigured outputs for recording the output (for uploading later) or for a screren (when worship becomes a public event again) or for streaming. These options include Periscope, Facebook and YouTube. If you do not have accounts, the signups are available through the application and as I had already set one up, all I had to do was log into Twitter and press “Stream” and my content could be live.
Tests proved that over 4G the whole thing runs about 30 secs behind reality but this is fine because everything is 30 secs behind. However, if/when you start inviting comments and Twitter engagements as you can, this delay might be off putting as people are reacting to stuff you said and did 30 secs ago. I’m probably no going to enable Twitter engagement.
When worship is public again, someone can run the desk for you, but in these current times I have discovered that with this simple setup (a camera feed, a still logo image, a powerpoint and videos of music) I can run the whole thing myself. There is even a phone app which you can use to run the thing remotely so you don’t need to see the laptop screen.
I have even experimented with two feeds coming in through the Elgato box by using a simple and cheap HDMI switch. Its the sort of thing you might buy to enable you to switch between a console, a set-top box and a DVD player: here it enables me to choose between the camera and a laptop running videos or webpages.
This is the solution and by having even just a switch between a logo graphic and a camera means I can start the livestream in adnvance and there are no clunky camera setup movements or sounds: I start the live feed when and how I want. The Elgato HD60 was a good investment.
However, we are not a rich parish and I am by no means a rich priest. If you are able and willing to make a small donation – perhaps a fiver or a tenner to help support our ministry here and in this new and exciting although challenging area, then please can I encourage you to do so here.