A Family In Dire Need

This is the home of Matthew Hooper, his wife, and their one year old child. Matt’s wife is expecting their second child sometime in the next couple of weeks. Matt is studying for the ministry at Kingswood University (formerly Bethany Bible College) in Sussex, New Brunswick.

If you can’t extrapolate from the picture… they’ve lost everything.

I’ve been in touch with a dear friend of mine on the Kingswood faculty and asked HOW WE CAN HELP.

Obviously the arrival of their unborn child in the next couple of weeks adds an extra dimension of urgency to this situation. As such, my friend has advised me that their GREATEST need are baby clothes and baby furniture.

The call is twofold.

  1. For baby clothes and baby furniture.
  2. For a driver heading in that direction (or someone who would pay the courier fees) to get this stuff to Sussex.

Wesleyan, Methodist, Pentecostal, Baptist… we’re all members of the same family. If you can help, inbox me.

Worship Leaders And Social Media

And so I find myself writing this epistle again.  I wrote it two nights ago and clicked the wrong button and lost the whole thing.  It’s a shame because I was really happy with the way it turned out.  Let’s see if I can remember my key points.

I have led worship in churches and camp meetings for over twenty years.  I’ve done paid gigs, I’ve done volunteer gigs for the sheer joy of playing, and everything else in-between.  At the present time, I’m the Creative and Technological Ministries Lead at Evangel Church in Oshawa.  I have an office.  I have business cards.  I’m on salary.  I’m living in “my element” 24/7 and really there’s no higher calling for me.  There’s nothing left on my occupational bucket list.  This is “it” for me.  I love what I do and if I ever had to stop doing it, I would be overwhelmed with depression.  I have the best job in the world, and I’m doing what I’ve been called to do since I was barely a teenager.

When I first came to Evangel, I was committed to changing the church.  I was on-fire and gung ho to bring the church out of the seventies musically.  Because that’s what everybody around me — including those on Twitter — expected me to do.  It didn’t go so well and I quickly learned I had to play “the middle of the road”.

But these guys with 30,000 followers and mega-churches are constantly telling us what we must do in order to be used of God in worship ministry.

Some of it is amusing.  Some of it is nauseating.  Very little of it is useful.

I’ve seen it all.  One re-tweet the other day went on about how “too many songs” in your set list would dilute the focus of the service.  Let me get this straight.  God sent HIS SON (words we use so often, I think we’ve become immune to the meaning of them) to this earth to DIE to save us from ETERNAL ANGUISH IN HELL and you want me to keep my worship service under ten minutes?  (Incidentally that’s less than 0.09 PERCENT of your entire week.  Don’t you think God deserves more than that?)  The presence of God is a marinade, not a microwave and my worship service is not a drive-thru.  Maybe if you spent more than four minutes a week in His presence God would either cure you of your ADHD or convict you of using it as your excuse-du-jour (yeah, I went there) of why you can’t linger in His presence.

Another well-meaning expert proclaimed to the world-at-large this week that we should not have people on our platforms who don’t know how to sing.  We should either teach them, or put a pin through their balloon and “end the lie”.  Having people with turned-down or turned-off microphones is wrong.  There are so many ways I can attack this, I can’t decide which one to start with.

First of all, do you think there is a single voice on this planet that God does not enjoy hearing?  Personally, I’m freaked out by those gadgets that the people with no vocal cords use that they stick up to their throats to talk.  In honesty, they give me the creeps.  But God loves the sound of their praises just as much as he loves the sound of mine, or the sound of a triple-platinum recording artist.  I’m reminded of a church sign I saw a couple of years ago in the north end of Oshawa.  It read “You were created unique, so you could worship Him as only you can.”

Secondly, I’m reminded of a fellow from one of my past churches.  A wonderful godly man who loved to worship and had the rhythm and the moves of a stage dancer.  But he couldn’t find pitch if you mounted a tuning fork in his ear.  I don’t know about anyone else’s church, I can only speak for mine and for churches I’ve been to.  But in almost all the churches I’ve been to in my life, 80 to 90% of the “exuberant” worshippers have always been women.  We stuck this brother behind a mic that I don’t think would have worked even if we did turn it on.  In fact, we stuck him on the front row with the lead singers.  On the first beat of the first song every Sunday, he was moving and grooving around that mic stand like he was never going to have another chance to worship his Saviour ever again.  He really brought meaning to the quote about dancing like nobody is watching, and he was a spectacular role model to the men in that church who were shown that it was okay to raise their hands… it was okay to move around a little bit and celebrate the presence of God in a physical way.  But he couldn’t sing.  So he shouldn’t have been on the platform.  Yeah, right.  Worship is about more than singing, brother.

My point is this.  There are over 300,000 churches in North America.  What works in one may not (and probably WILL not) work in another.  THERE IS NO FORMULA SO STOP TRYING TO PRETEND LIKE THERE IS.

  • It doesn’t matter what songs we sing.
  • It doesn’t matter what genre of music we sing.
  • It doesn’t matter what equipment we use.
  • It doesn’t matter whether people are “turned on” or “turned down” or “turned off” as long as they are worshipping God and setting an example for folks in the congregation.
  • It doesn’t matter which team members are on the platform.

At the end of the day, the ONLY STANDARD by which my performance as a worship leader can be measured is if people in MY CONGREGATION experienced God in worship.

As Marvin Sapp would say… “Nothing Else Matters”…

A Long Story With A Happy Ending

I came to Evangel Church somewhere in the middle of June of 2011 as the Creative Ministries lead.  It started out as a “worship leader” portfolio and quickly evolved into a bunch of other things, including pretty much all of the technical aspects of the church.

The thing I noticed right off the bat was that I didn’t like the sound in our sanctuary, and I wasn’t sure why.  The components were pretty much A-list stuff, and there was no reason for it to be as thin as it was.  But it worked — at the time — and I didn’t want to embark on a gigantic project in my first week on-staff so I let sleeping dogs lie, and just “worked around it” often applying outrageously extreme equalization at the sound board to compensate for the system’s shortcomings.

Oh… and buzz.  Let’s talk about buzz and ground lifts.  If there was a book on the number of different kinds of buzz we had, we had all of them.  Sixty cycle was obviously the main offender, but we would get other weirdness from time to time.  It was kind of like a “noise du jour” situation where it would change from week to week.

Suddenly, I would say about in late February of this year, something gave out.  And we didn’t know what it was.  And we didn’t have the budget to have a big shot sound engineer come in and diagnose it.  The worst part was that it was very intermittent in nature, so it was very hard to diagnose.  I would chase a suspect, apply a fix, it would be gone for a week or three and I’d think it would be cured when the problem would come back again.  It was very frustrating.

What was the problem?  I’m so glad you asked.  At a random point in our Sunday service the gain would go flying through the ceiling (resulting in feedback) and the EQ would do strange things.  I’m sorry, but “strange things” is the best I can do.  There are no words in the English language for the sounds that came out of the speakers when this phenomena presented itself.  Often I found if I shouted into the mic as loudly as I could it would “reset” and everything would be fine and dandy and happy again.

I’ll give you our signal path as best as I can, so those among you who think you are smart can try to guess what the culprit was.

We start with an Allen-Heath GL2400 mixer, which then routes to our amp room where the signal would go through a JBL compressor/limiter, a Yamaha digital graphic equalizer, a JBL crossover, and then into two Bryston 3B ST power amplifiers that are connected to a custom enclosure in our sanctuary of unknown lineage, as well as a number of small satellite “repeater” speakers that I would like to practice my handgun targeting skills with.  ‘Nuff said.

This is how it was “when I came here”, and up until recently we didn’t touch it.

We sent the Allen-Heath out to be checked.  We sent the Brystons out and had them completely refurbished.  The amount of money I spent on rentals while this was going on was bordering on obscene.  (By the way, I had no idea how difficult it is to rent a crossover these days… it’s virtually impossible.)

This whole process took about three to four months.

One day while doing some stress testing (the phenomena also seemed to be triggered by high volume levels) I happened to luck out and “the culprit” decided to misbehave for about twenty five minutes instead of the usual two to three minutes.  A sprint from the sound board to the amp room and some furious hot patching, and we found the culprit…. at long last…. it was the Yamaha digital graphic equalizer… whose programmed curve that displayed on the front panel had always looked suspect to me anyway.  It looked too “artificial”.  Too perfect.  I knew there was no way that the frequency response in our sanctuary could resemble a french curve so closely.

So I went and bought a cheap to mid-range graphic equalizer that probably cost $800 less than the Yamaha did.  Fifteen band stereo.  Nothing fancy.

Then I got looking at the crossover.  As knowledgeable as I am about audio, I have never really messed with crossovers that much.  And I didn’t know the specs of the speakers either, but it seemed very odd to me that the crossover frequency knob was panned as hard to the left as it would possibly go.  It was at this point that I realized that whoever had set this thing up, had directed 80% of the signal to the horns.  Things were starting to come into focus.

I went looking for an RTA to rent and couldn’t find one of those either.  So I did something that is going to make some of you sound purists cringe.  I downloaded an RTA app from the iTunes App Store, and we used the internal microphone of an iPad to RTA the system.  I figured even if it wasn’t totally accurate it would at least give us a starting point, and we could adjust the rest “by ear”.  After all, there were only fifteen bands.

Here’s the shocker:  We EQ’ed the room flat with the iPad and decided to see what it sounded like.  First some familiar music.  The hairs on my arms were going straight up.  It sounded delightful.  The sound was full-bodied and clear with not a hint of mud or over-exaggeration in any part of the EQ.  In short… it was accurate sounding!  I picked up our cordless “preaching mic” — a mic I have HATED since the day I came here — unmuted it, and did the usual “Test 1, 2….” and almost fell on the floor.  The midrange was present, it sounded warm (unlike it had previously) and I actually liked the sounds of it.

The thing I have forgotten to mention is that during all of these tests, we set the channel EQ FLAT, making only the very smallest adjustments in the very top or very bottom.

And after flicking the built-in ground lift on the new equalizer, we have not had a single incident of hum ever since.  The system is totally quiet at idle, other than a small hiss that is almost impossible to hear.  We have had almost a month of services now with zero sound problems.

Oh… and the best part is yet to come.  The first Sunday after the new equalizer was installed and we had redone the EQ in the room, I was cornered by one of my board members.  This fellow wears hearing aids in both ears.  With tears in his eyes he told me that he had been able to hear everything in church for the first time since he started attending here.  He went on to say that he didn’t like it (previously) when I would be playing softly when the pastor was saying something because it “would all come through like mud” in his hearing aids.  But since the changes, he was able to separate the two sounds and hear them both clearly.

So… what’s the next step.

I want to get rid of my mains and hang a couple of powered 12’s… maybe QSC K-series stuff.  Not for more volume, but for more headroom.  We’ll see.  For now I’m just happy to be able to have an uninterrupted worship service.

Prayer Ruts And Bandage Prayers

Have you ever been in a prayer rut?  Let me explain.

For the past three weeks, I have been fighting pain.  A lot of pain, more than anybody knows.  On one particular day last week I hid in my office because I could barely walk.  It was coming from one side of my hip and it was intense.  I won’t be dramatic and say it was “the worst” pain I’ve ever had in my life.  (That honour goes to the time I wedged my finger in a steel door frame a couple months back.)  It was pretty intense though.  And it was magnified because every time I moved my leg, it throbbed.  Some things were more painful than others, but even walking was a chore sometimes.

So I was laying in bed this morning doing what in the last couple of weeks has become my “pre-vertical hip assessment” — the time when I lay in bed and contort myself in various different directions to see “how bad” the day is going to be.  Today looked to be about a five or six out of worst-possible ten, but past experience had shown me that it could very easily get worse later in the day.  I laid in bed and closed my eyes and the first thought that came to my mind was a thought of terror.  Our kid’s summer day camp is coming up in three weeks and I not only have to be mobile, I have to be limber.  In all seriousness, this could week could prove to be the most physically demanding music ministry I’ve ever done in my life.  More resembling a cardio workout, which is not on my daily list of favourite activities either.  I realized at that moment that I was in trouble.

I confess before you that my first thought was the emergency room at the local hospital, mostly because I didn’t know what it was and I figured diagnosis had to be the first step.  I had a few ideas what it was, and none of them were particularly appealing.

The the little voice piped up and said “Why don’t you pray about it.”  And the story would be great if it ended there, the pain left, and everybody lived happily ever after.  It didn’t end that way though.  For some strange reason I felt compelled to take a moment and consider what I was going to pray before I prayed it and the thought crossed my mind that so often we pray “for the pain to be gone in Jesus name” because it’s the generic fits-all healing prayer that I think sometimes we invoke mostly out of habit.  But consider for a moment if I’d gone to the hospital and the doctor said to me “How can I help you today?” and I replied “Make the pain go away”, he would have given me a  prescription for Tylenol or some other painkiller and sent me home and after my prescription ran out, I would have been right back at square one again.

Instead of praying for the pain to go away — which when you think of it, is an incredibly selfish prayer — I prayed for the cause of the pain to be healed.  The prayer was nothing substantial.  It was over in fifteen seconds.  But when I was done, I swung around to get off the bed and I have to admit, I didn’t expect results as fast as they came.  The knot and the tightness in that area was completely gone.  There was still a little bit of residual pain, but the condition that was causing it was gone.  I got to work, took an Alieve (which had zero effect last week, by the way), and I’m doing all the things I haven’t been able to do without the distraction of pain for two to three weeks.

I’m not a big believer in rituals.  I don’t think there is a secret formula to prayer — or anything else in our Christian walk.  Food for thought.

Welcome

I’ve been holding onto this domain for quite some time and never knew quite what to do with it. I have a Tumblr blog I use for my “less serious” content, so I figured I would connect this site with my day job as Family Ministries co-lead at Evangel Church in Oshawa, Ontario.

Years ago before I was in full-time ministry (man it feels weird saying that), I used to blog professionally for a subsidiary of America Online. Yup. I got paid to write. On a site that averaged a quarter million hits a day.

I doubt this blog will get that kind of traffic, but I welcome you regardless as we embark on this journey through the blogosphere together.

I can now strike “blogosphere” off my vocabulary bucket list. Yay.