The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

June 7, 2013

Church here offers its services everywhere else

By Chuck Roberts

SHARON — In Merredin, Western Australia, it is 10:58 Monday night as my wife’s son’s family gathers around the computer screen. Opening a web browsing program, her son types into the address bar, presses “Enter” and waits for the screen to fill with the Sharon First United Methodist Church’s home web page. 

Here in Sharon, it is 10:58 a.m. Sunday morning and inside the church the final touches for the worship service are under way. In the media room the 12 megapixel camera is mounted, wires are plugged in and the computer monitor displays the image coming from the camera. We are linked into our streaming service and ready. 

The organist finishes the prelude and the minister nods, signaling the media team to click the church bell to toll 11 times and click the start button for the service streaming to begin.

Back in Merredin, the “Live Video” on the Sharon First United Methodist Church web page has been selected and the white arrow on the church view screen is selected. In a moment the video viewing screen changes to a wide shot of the church front.

Bong, bong, bong is heard in the background.

“What’s happening?” I imagine the Merredin family asking.

“It’s beginning,” I silently answer.

The bongs stop and the liturgist seated at the right-hand side of the viewed monitor gets out of her chair, moves to the podium, and exclaims, “Good morning!” Chuckles erupt from the Australian family seeing the deep dark outside their windows while their clock continues ticking toward midnight.

The family in Merredin looks on, waiting to see a familiar face. Quiet comments are exchanged as they watch the service progress. From the computer speakers the organ music swells and the melody of a familiar hymn is heard.  Singing begins and from the lower portion of the monitor screen, first heads, then robed bodies appear as the choir walks down the aisle into view.

“Oh, look, look, that is Grandma!” A tiny finger points to one of the members on the right-hand side of the choir loft. The figure turns to face the camera as the singing continues. And yes, it is Grandma.

Eleven thousand, 213 miles ... one date line ... and 12 hours are spanned in seconds, joining one family in Australia with mother, grandmother and a Sunday church service as it happens live. 

Sharon First United Methodist Church has been sending out its live church service every Sunday and some special services like the Christmas Eve candlelight service. A Shenango Valley church providing service for more than 200 years, a church that has survived floods and fires, is now using hi-tech tools to reach out beyond physical boundaries. 

Sharon First United Methodist Church has a rich history of community involvement in the Shenango Valley and its hi-tech streaming program is one of its newest. It also embraces the responsibility that comes with sharing a spiritual point of view with others. 

Sharon First United Methodist Church has opened wide a very large door with its hi-tech portal but what is streamed only goes out live once, and ends when the service ends. The minister’s message is saved and is available at the church web page at the “Sermon Video” tab.

We’ve streamed some baptisms live and we are prepared to do the same for weddings or even funerals if a family so desires. Services can be made available wherever an Internet-connected computer is turned on. A hospital room, where a loved one is confined, a vacation home away from the Valley, a business trip that keeps one from participating in person. No matter where you are, you can tune in to Sharon First’s service on Sunday morning and feel as if you’re back in your pew.

We are now serving the Shenango Valley and beyond.

Chuck Roberts is a computer software designer-programmer and a member of First United Methodist Church in Sharon.