So…..I have had some, um….challenging Holy Weeks since being ordained. At St. Patrick’s in Long Beach, MS we had to figure out Holy Week in a gym at Coast Episcopal School post Katrina. We did it all of course, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil (yes, with baptisms) in the shell of a gym we were worshipping in and then in the “new” volunteer quarters. How exciting was our first Holy Week in our new space in 2010, lighting the Vigil fire in the middle of our outdoor labyrinth and processing from there into our new space. We did baptisms that first Easter Vigil in our new home, with two young people standing in a large tub where I poured water over their heads. Here is a pic – it was really cool!
Holy Week of 2011 at St. Patrick’s saw Jennifer suffering through a delicate painful 6 hour surgery on her sinuses (you do NOT want details) on Monday of Holy Week, and was then admitted to the hospital on Wednesday through Easter Sunday to manage things. I missed our first ever attempt at a Tennebrae service at St. Patrick’s that Wednesday!
Holy Week of 2013 as Interim Rector of St. Paul’s in Delray Beach, Florida was probably the most challenging. I was really sick, just trying to ignore the obvious and make it through the week. We had 3 Palm Sunday services and afterwards Jennifer took me straight to the ER, where I was admitted. I don’t remember ANYTHING about those Palm Sunday services! I was a sick puppy. I begged the doctor to get me out of there by Maundy Thursday, and he did, Jennifer and I went straight to the church, arriving just after the service started. I sat in the pew for that one, we had very capable Associate Priests there. By Easter Sunday I was much better. Yay Jesus!
In all these circumstances, we did all we could to make Holy Week as meaningful, beautiful and “normal” as possible. Putting our illnesses aside, I think a lot about how we put HW together those three “Holy Weeks in exile” at S.t Patrick’s. The church really came together to support, participate, and help lead.
Even so, we certainly learned there is something about sacred space that makes a difference.
And I have learned this Holy Week, that sacred people mean so much more.
This was the most exhausting and challenging Holy Week I’ve ever been a part of. Trying to provide some semblance of these special services via Live Streaming, at the mercy of a Windows computer (UGH) and finicky software, a sound mixer board that is slowly gasping and dying, and a Priest having to learn how to deal with it all made for some long, long days and nights. I am so blessed to have my LW Jennifer with me, who ran the sound and cameras for our live services and helped me tremendously when we were producing the others. Due to the stay at home orders, although churches can decide to be exempt, I felt it important not to have more than 2 or 3 people on site, and although our A/V guy Chris Sheppard is great and more than willing to be there, I decided due to the close proximity we would have to work, it would be better if we keep it in the family. It was wonderful to have Deacon Clelia there for Good Friday service, that one is almost impossible to do alone.
Maundy Thursday included a pre-recorded beautiful stripping of the altar with David Jones and John Leatherwood chanting Psalm 22 while Chris Westphal and I stripped the altar bare. That action gets me right in the feels! We encouraged foot washing at home, and I would love more pictures if anyone has some.
But first we had some problems! We thought all was ready to go Thursday and started the Live Stream, when we started getting messages that no sound was coming across. UGH. We just had to shut it down, reboot the computer, reset the VERY FRUSTRATING software and try again. Success, although the volume was very low for the live parts. The next day that problem miraculously went away..
Our plan for Good Friday was to pre-record and then use what is called Facebook Premiere and YouTube Premier. Premiers allow you to “run” a video (once) as if it is live, everyone watches at the same time and can comment just like on a live showing. Since we were repeating the GF service for later (noon and 630) we thought recording it and uploading as premiers made the most sense. HA. The file was over 5gb and it took FOREVER to upload to YouTube and Facebook. Finally YouTube finished “processing” and we started that premiere over an hour late. Facebook never did process the video, it just hung up forever, so we ended up just uploading it and letting people know they could watch it, without all the fancy premiere stuff. Sigh
My original plan was to have an Easter Vigil service with all its own complications, even when not streaming, as our Easter Sunday offering, starting it before sunrise (we usually do the Vigil pre-sunrise in our gorgeous outdoor chapel) and then offering it again at 1030. I just didn’t see any way to make the “normal” 8:00 or 10:30 Easter Day services work. I felt it would be anti-climatic and maybe even depressing. But some others convinced me to try it. That was before we started putting the Vigil together, we soon realized what a monster it was (I was there Saturday from 530am to get some shots of sunrise at our chapel, until about 10pm working on the production). The Great Vigil of Easter is the queen of all liturgies and also quite complicated. So we went back to the original plan, hoping it would expose many people to the Vigil who don’t normally come at sunrise.
The Vigil required 35 different inputs (that’s what the Vmix software calls anything you insert into a stream or video). We lit the new fire, processed the Paschal Candle, had videos of church members, including kids and teens, doing the four Old Testament lessons. We had my son Joseph and our youth director, Philip Iverson, send videos of several songs each. We had pictures of flowers and of the sun rising over the chapel. We had audio of hymns sung by our choir at last year’s Easter Day service. And we had the brilliant homily by my 4 year old granddaughter Eliza, explaining the mystery of Good Friday and Easter (Jesus came right back and saved the world!). We had to re-tape my homily 4 times due to sound issues. (It was different every time too. This Holy Week I did not type a manuscript or notes for any of the sermons). I had a GREAT opening funny Story to share, then forgot to do it for the final take…..you will hear it eventually though!
So instead of trying to pre-record or do Premiers, we decided to “run” the Vigil live at 6am and 1030 am. Partly because we could redo things if we failed, but mainly because I just didn’t trust the software, YouTube, or Facebook for such a delicate and complicated task. So at 6am, we go live. Mainly it meant “playing” each of those inputs in the order needed, it’s way harder than it sounds. If you were watching, you know we had to restart as Cox internet had an outage and everything froze. We started live again and that’s when, in the moment, we learned my original homily had no audio. Don’t ask! I cut that video out midway and we finished that live viewing. So between the end of the 6am and the start of 1030, we had to record another homily and that’s when my microphone decided to quit. We ended up doing the homily recording with a cell phone, and making that an input into the service.
So thanks to the help of Jennifer and many, many others, I think we produced something quite good. No, it’s not the same as being there and I missed everyone so much. The sheep in the pews helped a lot! Much love to you all as we continue to navigate this virus. In the midst of that, remember Easter is a season of 50 days, so let’s keep saying YAY JESUS as we offer our prayers for one another. God bless!
Special thanks to Chris Westphal (altar guild) and Debbie
Vaughn (flower guild) for the beautiful work they did telling the Holy Week story.
And of course, sound and video tech supreme, Jennifer Knight!