It’s In the Bag


I may seem odd, but this Target bag has achieved some sentimental value to me. It’s the bag I’ve used to transport my AV stuff throughout most of the pandemic 1. Anything that didn’t have a shoulder strap, or was too bulky 2, got shoved in this bag and taken with me to set up for worship. It’s taken quite a journey.

A Target Bag, worn with almost 18 months of use.
This Target Bag, worn with almost 18 months of use, has been with me for just about every step of the pandemic worship journey.

In the earliest days of the pandemic, when it was just me in the sanctuary, I threw my small lights, my desktop tripod, a microphone, cables, and sometimes my camera bag into this bag. I’d drag all that stuff over to the sanctuary and set it up on the old table I was using as my production desk while we were 100% remote. The lights would be placed on two tripods, my camera would be set up on a third, and I’d run cables to where they needed to go. Every week, on my own, in an empty sanctuary. The bag was my only company.

As we moved out of phase one and took worship outdoors over the Summer of of 2020 the lights were replaced by a Mevo streaming camera and my microphone was left at home. I’d lug this bag outside every week 3 and then begin the process of lugging out the sound system from our storage room. This was a better time, because there were be people–and I even had someone to help me set up. It wasn’t normal, there were no vaccines that Summer so even outdoors we all masked up, but there were people. And there was even singing. And this bag was there.

We remained outdoors though the end of October 4, and then moved indoors. And still the Target bag was with me, filled with my cables and desktop tripod and Mevo travel bag. We determined that we’d be open for indoor worship, but with no real singing and everyone had to wear masks.

Our 2020 return to open indoor worship lasted exactly one week. The second wave began to hit and, given that our population was particularly vulnerable, we didn’t want to place anyone at an elevated risk. This time, however, we determined that it wouldn’t just be me in the sanctuary. Instead, we invited worship participants to come to the church building and be present as we worshiped. Many folks would come out on Sunday morning to participate, while others decided they felt better doing their parts by sending in videos.

By this time Mevo had come out with an application on Mac that let me use the Church’s camera as a wireless webcam. So we altered our setup again. My Mac once again became the streaming computer, but I set up the Mevo near the front of the sanctuary to capture the podium, and used two inexpensive HDMI capture cards to add a second camera in the back of the sanctuary and another to pull the lyrics from our lyrics machine. Over time we re-incorporated a screen to worship by getting some HDMI extenders 5, so the folks who were present in the sanctuary could see everything the folks back home were seeing 6. Every week, anything that either didn’t have a shoulder strap or remained set up, went in the Target bag. By this point it was becoming well worn.

This setup lasted through January of 2021, when we decided it was time to invite the general congregation back to worship. It was difficult to not have a typical Christmas Eve worship that year, but we tried our best to create something special–even if we had to pre-record the Choir piece because it rained Christmas Eve 7. When folks came back, we still had a number of people who didn’t feel comfortable being in the building for worship, so we continued to incorporate pre-recorded videos for things like Scripture readings. I even managed to bring in some special music live one week, which was cool.

One cool thing that came out of 2020 was came from our Choir director. She was determined to bring back some vocal music to our gathering, and worked to put together a virtual choir. This required not only vocal participants, but a huge amount of labor from a number of people. One of our key musicians came out with his recording equipment for each piece, and our accompanist recorded the piano for each vocal part. He then played these through headphones for her to sing the parts she could. I was there as well, along with my target bag, and I videoed these sessions for inclusion into worship. My lights were added back to the kit for this process, along with a microphone and a portable recorder to have better quality sound to sync to the audio recordings. All this, along with the videos each participant recorded, were sent to someone to mix and edit 8. It was a hit! And the Target bag was part of it.

In February, one more piece was added to my kit for worship. I was gifted an Elgato Stream Deck as a birthday present, and it simplified my setup. I no longer had to rewrite the shortcuts sheet for worship week after week because the person running the switcher could just press a labeled button, and if we threw a curve ball and added something last minute it was easy to configure. The Stream Deck became such a key part of my worship kit I often wouldn’t even take it out of the Target bag between Sundays.

As February transitioned to March more and more people were reaching their full immunization, and we began allowing fully vaccinated folks to remove their masks while they were up at the podium. Singing came back, as well as our band, and more folks began to feel comfortable being back in the building. After Easter we followed CDC recommendations that fully vaccinated people didn’t need to wear masks indoors, and things almost began to feel normal. During this time I found a great deal on a Mevo Start and decided to use some of my reimbursement money to pick it up. The Start has better low-light performance 9 and a 3.5mm jack for a line in or microphone. This, too, was added to my Target bag–and it enabled us to have three cameras in worship. One connected via the Mevo Wireless Webcam app, one through an inexpensive HDMI capture dongle, and a third over something called “NDI 10. This required me to re-think sound again, because NDI audio can get way out of sync–making worship look like an old Kung Fu movie. To fix this, another wire got added to Target Bag so I could run audio through my phone 11. And we’d stay this way until we moved outdoors for worship over the Summer once more.

Our outdoor service once again removed any video and lyrics presentation, but added a new twist–Mevo had released their multi-camera app for streaming and we decided to try it out. As we headed outside the Target bag held both Mevo cases, my desktop tripod 12, and an audio extension cable. Our band joined us outside and our sound genius got our outdoor system configured to handle the extra inputs. We routed the output to the microphone jack on the Mevo Start and, after some trial and error, we managed to get it sounding pretty good. With our sound genius present, I finally got away on a Sunday in July–for the first time in over 15 months. Central was gracious enough to offer me two extra weeks off in the Summer, so I was able to attempt a mini-sabbatical 13. But the Target bag was still out there, and somehow a microphone landed in it 14.

And that’s where we stand at present. We’re outdoors, we’re socially distant, and we’re maskless. We’ve got our musicians back, two cameras for the stream, and I get to see folks week by week 15. I’m not sure when we’re going back indoors, and we’re probably going to have to go back to “folks in the pews will wear masks” until Delta is finally checked, but we’re together. Central has come through this journey with grace, for which I am grateful. And, whatever comes down the pike in the next stage of this pandemic, I know one thing.

For the foreseeable future there’s going to be a Target bag along for the ride.

  1. I used another bag for a month or so, but it disappeared. The target bag has been “old faithful” ever since. 
  2. Think, “Tripods.” 
  3. even the four Sundays I was “off” in July. 
  4. And may do something similar this year with Delta raging. 
  5. Which had some serious hiccups that almost had me in tears on Sunday morning. 
  6. By this point we’d switched to OBS as our streaming application, which opened up some wonderful possibilities. 
  7. Thanks to Jeff Rife for Editing that piece. We were supposed to sing it live outdoors and he really stepped up. 
  8. Again, thanks Jeff Rife, because there’s no way I’d be able to do what you did. 
  9. Which is a must in every older sanctuary. 
  10. Network Device Interface 
  11. This assured the sound from the podium camera would stay in sync. 
  12. This held the phone, which is used to control the stream. 
  13. It kinda was, but life stress tends to find its way in to any rest. 
  14. The bag has, perhaps, achieved sentience and is collecting things which will improve its quality of life. 
  15. And that is something I missed.