New Technologies, New Members at St. Andrew’s, Burt

Like members of many worshipping communities, the people of St. Andrew’s, Burt have become well-versed in the art of Zoom church during the past pandemic year. But even as in-person worship resumes, the congregation has no intention of returning to its pre-pandemic ways. “We’re not going back,” says St. Andrew’s senior warden Doug Wintersteen. “We’re going forward.”

“We are now set up to do hybrid services, which works whether you’re in the church or joining over Zoom,” says the Rev. Randi Hicks Rowe, St. Andrew’s rector. “Everyone can participate fully, which means they can do readings, they can preach, and even our singers can come in over Zoom.”

The total cost of implementing hybrid worship was around $1,500. “We’re not a big church, we don’t have tons of money,” says Rowe. “But we still pulled this off. You don’t have to have lots of money to do this.”

The people St. Andrew’s has reached through its Zoom services serve both as motivation and support for implementing the new hybrid technology. “People who have been with us on Zoom who never came in person or came twice a year in person pledged this year,” say Rowe. “We didn’t do hybrid worship so that it would pay for itself, but it’s like it has.”

“We’ve got people that live far away, people who probably aren’t going to join us in person that much, and we’re also catching some of the older folks who are connecting with us through Zoom,” says Wintersteen. “We’re in Western New York and let’s face it, our weather sucks. So we’re not going to stop broadcasting.”

The congregation has found hybrid worship to be a particularly meaningful format for funerals. While some families have chosen simply to wait until a large group can safely gather for an in-person service, others have asked for something more immediate. “One family really wanted to have the funeral,” says Rowe. “And because we had this technology, we were able to have this funeral that the family really wanted. And then we did another funeral that same way, with people joining over Zoom. It’s just been such a fabulous solution, and I can see that happening again and again after we go back. A lot of times family can’t travel for a funeral, even in normal times.”

While the parish invested a relatively small amount of money in the system, Wintersteen’s energy and expertise were a key component in making hybrid worship happen. “I’m a nerd anyway,” he says. “I’m a retired engineer and I’m a musician. I learned audio through playing in bands.”

Wintersteen sought the counsel of a camera shop in Buffalo to help him complete the set-up, which includes two video cameras, a small video monitor, a video switcher, and a laptop. He has recruited and trained four additional parishioners to take turns in the newly created role of video producer.

“These are all volunteers,” says Rowe, who predicts hybrid worship will continue to be so important that the congregation may need to find additional paid contractors for funerals and other services that take place during the hours most congregants are at work.

“It’s a new ministry!” Wintersteen says. “‘You’re a part of the service,’ I tell my producers. ‘You’ve got more control than anyone. You’re kind of like a mini version of the guys in the trailer for Monday Night Football.’”

“With hybrid worship, no matter where you are or whether you’re worshipping on Zoom or in the church, you can participate,” Rowe says.

“We’re a close-knit church,” Wintersteen says. “We like to have fun together and we like to be able to see and hear each other.”

photo: Video producer’s station at St. Andrew’s Burt. Photo courtesy of Doug Wintersteen.