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Pandemic has hastened technology upgrades for parishes in Texas diocese

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Pandemic has hastened technology upgrades for parishes in Texas diocese

VICTORIA, Texas (CNS) — About two weeks after having no public Masses, St. Joseph Church in Yoakum started livestreaming on Facebook.

Father Matthew Huehlefeld, the pastor, had an organist, a cantor and two parishioners helping with the streaming.

But they have had ongoing challenges from their signal strength to their sound quality.

“It’s like having a kite and a key, praying for a lightning strike,” Father Huehlefeld told The Catholic Lighthouse, newspaper of the Diocese of Victoria.

Instead of a lightning strike, they got a little windfall that will provide the means to have a much more professional production.

“Our problem is where the church is located,” he said. The signal was poor, so Father Huehlefeld bought a signal booster and it helped. “But the sound was not the best,” he said.

They have been using a cellphone strapped to an old Vivitar camera tripod with a rubber band and have been moving around the church, opening windows and using antennas, whatever they can do to get the best quality. They even tried streaming from St. Ann’s Church in Hochheim because the church is on a hill, but the sound was not much better.

Regardless of the quality, a good number of people have been logging on to participate in Mass at their home parish from their home computers. So it has continued despite the struggles. “We’ve had to replace the rubber band already,” Father Huehlefeld said with a chuckle.

A parishioner who has benefited from the virtual format and wants it to continue offered the money to hardwire the church and purchase a camera that will work with its sound system and cover four angles, so Mass can be seen and heard clearly. In return, the church will commit to regularly broadcasting its 9 a.m. Sunday Mass on the internet.

Father Michael Rother at St. Philip the Apostle Church in El Campo is doing similar upgrades. He said the idea has been on his heart for a while, even before the COVID-19 crisis, but there had not been a big push for it.

When public Masses were suspended, lots of ministers got a hard shove into the “virtual” world, and he knew he had to do something to reach his congregation other than advising them to watch EWTN. He wanted them to continue to experience Mass in the parish they call home.

“I said, ‘How hard is it to get livestream going?’ And it was like, ‘Boom!’ Done!” said Father Rother.

It started with a cellphone, then a camcorder for a better picture, then hooking up to the sound system for a better sound. Now, Father Rother is ready to purchase more professional cameras to enhance the experience of those who are continuing to watch online.

His vision is to continue doing a live feed of the 10 a.m. Mass each week and probably streaming or recording special services or events.

Of course, both churches are going to have to recruit a dedicated group of people who willing to serve as camera/Internet crew to keep the broadcasts going.

Of course, having the new capacity gives them tools to develop new ideas.

“At first it was just Mass, but more things are kind of coming to mind,” said Father Rother. For example, he is considering recording the altar servers to create a learning tool for new servers.

“They sky is the limit,” he said.

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Jones is editor of The Catholic Lighthouse, newspaper of the Diocese of Victoria.

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