By Cindy Solomon

McMinnville’s Christ United Methodist Church (UMC) and Clarksville’s Madison Street UMC each received a $5,000 grant from the Golden Cross Foundation, a ministry of the Tennessee Conference of The United Methodist Church. The grants helped fund equipment needed to facilitate livestream worship services during the pandemic.

“When Tennessee Conference Bishop William McAlilly requested that churches suspend in-person worship last March due to COVID-19,” said Christ UMC member John Worley, “we did not know how to livestream a service. After watching a few online tutorials, we started with a laptop, cheap webcam, and audio interface plugged into a 12-channel mixer.

“It worked, kind of. But the quality was, at best, subpar. Members complained they could not hear it very well; many people with hearing issues could not hear it all.”

Staff and worship committee members at Madison Street UMC faced their own livestreaming issues after suspending in-person worship.

“Our sanctuary was too large to record worship using our limited equipment,” said Aleeta Christian, a member of Serendipity, Madison Street’s older adult ministry program, “and internet access for live streaming was spotty at best.

“Consequently, each service was recorded in segments. It took at least two full days to record, produce, and post on YouTube.”

Last summer, members from both churches requested and received Golden Cross Foundation grants. The funds were put to good use immediately.

Christ UMC members converted the church’s Cry Room — a space for people to take babies and small children for privacy or to reduce the disturbance of others during worship — into a sound booth. Grant money helped purchase a 32-channel mixer and computer, thus enabling the church to livestream and post worship services that all could hear.

Madison Street UMC applied its  grant money toward purchasing and installing livestreaming equipment such as cameras as well as hardware boosting their internet signal. While a few issues have delayed their ability to livestream, members look forward to livestreaming and posting worship services soon.

Since upgrading, Christ UMC has seen an increase in participation — by members and nonmembers alike.

“Through streamed services, weekly studies, and daily reading videos, Christ UMC is maintaining lines of communication with members,” said Worley. “We are also reaching non-members in our community, other states, and even around the world. As an outreach tool, it has been a blessing in a time when many people are simply struggling to stay afloat.”

Christian echoed the impact she hopes the grant will make for Madison Street UMC. “We look forward to people outside of our geographical area joining us for worship after being invited church members. This could include older adults who might be a part of smaller churches unable to offer online worship.”

Post-COVID, members from both churches plan on continuing livestreaming services and programs.

“Now that we have the necessary equipment,” said Worley, “we hope to bring Jesus to as many people as we can through Sunday services, special events, small praise concerts, and small-group Bible studies.

“Some of our daily Bible reading videos have had nearly 1,000 views online. For a small church, in a small town, this congregation is truly making an impact on the world thanks to the Golden Cross Foundation Grant and the equipment needed to accomplish that impact for Christ.”