By Cindy Solomon

Carthage (Tennessee) United Methodist Church received a $5,000 grant from the Golden Cross Foundation. The grant helped fund equipment needed to improve online and in-person worship services.

Pre-pandemic, the average attendance was 200 people each Sunday. The average number of people attending in person each Sunday now is about 100, but services also are livestreamed and posted on YouTube.

“Our 191-year-old building is historically registered,” said Carthage UMC’s pastor the Rev. Monica Mowdy. “The building’s age and the existing sound, light, and recording systems posed a hurdle in providing quality worship for those with vision and/or hearing issues. The sound quality was unclear and the sanctuary was dark.”

Realizing improvements were needed, 16 church members — many of them 70+ years of age — formed a team to discuss solutions. With the help of a visual design expert — who is also a church member — and a sound and video crew, the team identified equipment needed to retrofit the sanctuary. New speakers, monitors, a soundboard, two Smart TVs, and lighting fixtures made the list of must-haves.

In addition to money from a memorial fund and in-kind labor donations, a Golden Cross Foundation grant made church members’ dream of a better worship experience — both in person and online — a reality.

“Memorial fund money was set aside for future retrofitting projects,” Mowdy said. “We felt as though the future had come. However, we did not want to use the entire fund as we also need a new roof and must address a water issue with the building’s foundation. Thanks in part to the grant from the Golden Cross Foundation, we are addressing all of these issues.”

After all of the sound, lighting, and recording equipment is installed, an evaluation team — two older adults viewing online services, two older adults worshipping in-person, and two hearing-impaired persons — will provide monthly reports regarding their ability to see, hear, and engage with worship. Team members will also report needed adjustments as they arise.

In their own words, church members share how they have been blessed by the retrofitting projects:

“During the pandemic, I watched our services online,” said Jennifer H. “At first, the sound was difficult to hear consistently and clearly. But after the new sound equipment was installed, I no longer had to turn the volume all the way up, there weren’t spots of no audio, and I could hear voices from different parts of the sanctuary. I’ve since returned to in-person services and am amazed at how much better the sound is in the sanctuary.”

Church member Valerie U. said, “Phil and I are so pleased with the screens in the sanctuary. While we miss the Bibles and hymnals, we understand that they cannot be used at this time. The screens are unobtrusive and take care of that problem. Phil’s beginning to have some problems hearing, but the new sound system has truly helped. We’ve experienced good results from the changes that have been made. Thank you!”

Church members plan to continue livestreaming and posting of worship services after the pandemic subsides. This will allow those who are unable to attend in person, for whatever reason, to worship and stay connected with the congregation.