Northside UMC uses live video to reach elderly in Christ Jesus

By Jessica Connor

GREENVILLE—New technology is helping one United Methodist Church reach an older generation for the Kingdom.

Nine months ago Northside UMC, Greenville, began to explore new ways they could reach the least of these in Christ. Northside is directly across the street from Pendleton Manor, a retirement community that houses functioning seniors along with those who have dementia and Alzheimer s disease. Some of Northside s members live at Pendleton Manor.

As conversations blossomed in the church about how to truly evangelize, Northside member Landy Randolph started feeling called to reach out to the people of Pendleton Manor. He began thinking about how to reach not only Pendleton residents, but their families, as well. While he knew they could record their worship service and show a video, Randolph knew that wasn t the same as a live service. But he wasn t quite sure how to make that work.

Then one day, Randolph had a conversation with Pendleton Executive Director David Walker, who told him a story about a woman with Alzheimer s whose one moment of clarity came when she sang Amazing Grace. So every single morning until she died, Walker sang that hymn with her.

Suddenly, something clicked for Randolph, and he knew he needed to figure out some way for the residents to experience a live worship service complete with prayer, praise, song and sermon.

It was planted in me by God, no thought “ just, ˜We have to do this, Randolph said.

While he didn t have a strong technology background, he knew how to make connections. He quickly teamed up with Northside member Smith Mackie McDonald Jr., who donated the equipment and expertise to put the ministry together.

Now, every Sunday since spring 2011, Northside has broadcast their full worship service live from the church directly to Pendleton Manor.

It s amazing “ the residents just love it, said Walker, Pendleton director. They get up there every Sunday morning and just rave about being able to be at a live service, singing the hymns and the praise and everything. ¦ They have the whole experience.

Randolph said the worship team feels great after they leave Pendleton Manor each Sunday.

You are supposed to spread the good news, and it s truly good news “ you just make people happy, give people an outlet, Randolph said. They just love you, and they just want to be loved.

Senior pastor the Rev. Elizabeth Thompson said there is absolutely nothing tangible Northside gets from the ministry “ no new members, no money, no praise. It s a pure and simple Christian gift.

It s just evangelism in the sense that we are sharing what it means to be alive with people who have nothing: the least, the lost, the marginalized, Thompson said. That s the essence of Jesus.

How it works

From a technological perspective, the video broadcasting involves an Internet-based surveillance camera that Northside has wired its sound system into. The camera is stationary, set wide enough so it records everything from the full choir to the preacher. As the service is recorded by the video-based surveillance camera, it is connected to the church router, which broadcasts directly to a computer-television hookup across the street at Pendleton Manor.

Pendleton s setup involves an inexpensive computer that is connected to a television set, and people are able to watch the service live on the TV screen without ever leaving Pendleton Manor.

Northside sends over worship leaders “ who also serve as ushers and communion servers “ and passes out hymnals and bulletins.

We have church exactly at the same time and the same way as we have it across the street, Randolph said.

There are six rotating worship leaders who partner in groups of two; leaders range in age from 11 to 84. Thompson blesses the bread from across the street, and they are able to do communion.

Thompson said she is not very tech-savvy and didn t know how the ministry would possibly work. But she didn t want that to hold the project back.

My initial reaction was if God wants it to happen, if this is part of God s design, then you can t stop it. But if it s not going to work, it will collapse under its own weight, Thompson said. And I figured if we didn t pursue it, it wouldn t materialize.

But organizers had to accommodate so many tiny details, from exactly how to do communion to training people on how to operate the equipment.

It s not just turn and click anymore, Thompson said, laughing.

They had to put together a notebook of detailed instructions, plus accommodate for elderly people who have trouble reading and following a printed bulletin. She herself had to learn to preach from her camera marks so she would not go out of camera range.

It took time to work out, but we worked it out and stayed with it, and we laughed about it and had fun, she said. There s always been fun and a sense of delight and joy about it. ¦ It s exactly what it s supposed to be, how it s supposed to happen.

Next, Northside hopes to possibly broadcast their service into people s homes, perhaps via Podcast. They are researching how to do this.

Because after all, Thompson said, it s all about doing whatever we can to reach out to people, proclaim the word of God, remind them of their original purpose and lead them more fully into the arms of Christ.

They re not always cognitive all the time, but when they hear the hymns and the Lord s Prayer, it s ingrained in them, Randolph said. It feels good to recognize something and have familiarity when you are in that state. It really is a blessing, and it s awesome to see them.

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