A digital faith

Sara Macho

Area church uses multimedia to engage parishioners

Reverend David Palmer speaks to his congregation at the United Methodist Church on Main Street. The video screens are used to display announcements, prayer requests, readings and live video. ELIZABETH MYERS | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Jason Hall

As he looks out from his rich wooden lecturn, David Palmer is pleased with what he sees.

His kind brown eyes scan the church, which is brightly lit this Sunday morning not only from the colorful stained glass windows which adorn the walls, but also from the alert faces listening eagerly to his inspirational sermon on miracles.

But the parishioners’ eyes not only focus on the Rev. David Palmer as he boldly reads a verse from Acts 2:22, but they also look toward two large projection screens located to the left and right sides of the pastor.

Depicted on the screen is a sunset skyline with the word “miracles” written in tranquil blue.

“Jesus of Nazareth is a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders and signs that God did through him among you,” Palmer read off the screen.

And as quickly as Palmer said those biblical words, the phrase appears on the screens for all parishioners to see.

The United Methodist Church of Kent, located on East Main Street, is one of many area churches that has recently introduced the usage of projection screens to further ensure God’s message reaches a mixed congregation of men, women and children.

In the late ’90s, Palmer envisioned these screens — which present the words of the sermon, prayer requests, song lyrics and images. With the help of interested parishioners, Palmer formed a committee to turn the dream into reality.

After nearly 10 years of negotiating and planning, the church finally received its own miracle – a sizable donation from a parishioner that helped pay for the more than $100,000 of the project.

Palmer said the committee still faced a problem: How would it construct the screens without taking away from the beauty and aesthetics of the church?

To design the screens in the most precise, yet inconspicuous way, it was suggested that two wooden platforms be added to the left and right walls of the church. Construction began soon after, and the screens made their debut two years later.

Breaking barriers

The introduction of the screens took some getting used to, not only by churchgoers, but also by a crew of 12 parishioners who volunteered to help with the design and presentation of each slide.

Bill Childers, 45, a 15-year parishioner and video production team member, said the first few Sundays wore on everyone’s patience as the crew experienced technical glitches.

“The minister selects everything he wants to appear on the PowerPoint presentation, and we design it all,” Childers said. “We have to make sure we change the slide at certain points during the service and Pastor Palmer’s sermon. Mistakes did happen and … sometimes still do.”

Each Saturday evening, the crew, which is made up of two sets of volunteers, one for the 8:30 a.m. service and another for the 10:30 a.m. service, meets with Palmer to finalize and rehearse the next morning’s slideshow presentation.

To further enhance the service, the crew will not only design the slides in the most eye-pleasing way, but also search for images and maps to help parishioners get an even better understanding of Palmer’s sermons.

“The purpose of the screens is to be able to use modern visual technology as a means for enhancing the experience,” Palmer said. “It kind of works like stained glass windows did many years ago.”

Camerawoman Terrie Sargi also captures live images such as “Children’s Hour,” when all the youngest parishioners gather at Palmer’s feet to hear passages from the Bible which are broadcast onto the screens. The screens are also used at baptisms and other rituals. In addition, Sargi videotapes the entire service for parishioners who may be unable to attend.

Beneficial to all

Palmer says the screens successfully add to the parishioners’ mass time experience.

Louise Klein, a senior citizen living in Kent, said the screens help her see and understand ceremonies performed in the church.

“I can’t see that well, so the screens help me,” she said. “They definitely enhance my experience.”

The screens reach not only older parishioners, but younger ones too.

Bess Heidenreich, freshman biology and pre-med major, said the screens are a beneficial tool.

“They guide your thoughts throughout the service,” she said. “The different focus points have an impact on getting the message across.”

Palmer said he is happy the projection screens have been successful and further expand on the experience of United Methodist Church of Kent churchgoers.

“The screens enable us to do stuff we otherwise couldn’t do,” he said. “You can feel more like part of what’s going on. By using this technology, we’re reaching a new generation with the gospel.”

Contact features reporter Sara Macho at [email protected].