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Going live

Going live

Going live

Karen Wallace’s home church of St Peter’s Pembury has taken delivery of a new audio, video and livestreaming setup for its services

St Peter’s Pembury is a parish consisting of two churches – St Peter’s Upper Church in the centre of the village and the Old Church located in woodland on the outskirts of the village. The Old Church was originally built around 1080AD, while St Peter’s Upper Church was built in 1847 in response to village expansion from the 17th century onwards.

The audio system at both churches was long overdue for an upgrade. The setup in the Upper Church was 30 years old and was both obsolete and unreliable, with only one working microphone. Upgrading the existing equipment was quickly ruled out as the speakers were discontinued long ago. With over 50% of the congregation aged 70 and above, many reported that they found it hard to hear what was being said in the services.

Among those pioneering the update was licensed lay minister Gill Betts, who dedicated so much of her time to St Peter’s – she was actively involved in youth ministry, but her creativity was being hampered by an old projector and portable screen that had to be set up and dismantled each time. Very sadly, Betts lost her battle with cancer in early 2021.

“I first met Gill before I came to Pembury,” explains Reverend Richard Worssam. “I was teaching on a diocesan course for licensed lay ministers and Gill was one of those attending. So, it was a delight to see her engaged in active ministry when I came here as vicar.”

Mark Willets shows Reverend Worssam the livestreaming setup at the Old Church
Mark Willets shows Reverend Worssam the livestreaming setup at the Old Church

With the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 when St Peter’s doors were closed for the first of two UK lockdowns, the church made the decision to switch to Zoom for weekly services. There wasn’t the infrastructure to even consider streaming services live on YouTube once the church was allowed to reopen. And so the plan to upgrade the AV system became not only one of necessity but of a desire to carry on Betts’s work and fulfil her dreams of being able to use new technology to involve the younger members of the congregation.

When the AV upgrade journey began in February 2021, St Peter’s had been holding Zoom services for almost a year. While no one was sure when Covid restrictions would be lifted, Zoom services had raised accessibility to home­bound worshippers, including residents in the village’s two care homes. St Peter’s is designated as an Inclusive Church – a church that celebrates and affirms every person and does not discriminate on disability, ethnicity, gender, learning disability, mental health or sexuality – and the need to maintain and grow this inclusion in services was paramount. A fundraising campaign was launched in the summer of 2021 and was met with a very generous response from members of the congregation.

Local systems integrator, Ashdown AV, which had recently installed an Electro-Voice EVA line array system into a nearby church, was one of the companies contacted to provide a quote for the upgrade. The PCC accepted Ashdown’s proposal in July 2021. Following a lengthy Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC) approval process, permission was finally granted to go ahead with the AV upgrade in both churches in February this year.

“St Peter’s was an obvious choice for me to manage because I specialise in listed and graded buildings and English heritage projects,” explains Ashdown AV senior engineer, Mark Willetts. “It was a real pleasure to find a church in this condition – it was well decorated and well kept. I love ancient churches – they are challenging to deal with but working in the Old Church was an absolute delight. The more difficult it is, the more I enjoy it. When you realise how old churches were built, you really start to understand where all the nooks and crannies are, how all the old ducts and heating pipes run and so on. It’s as though you have x-ray eyes and you can see into the floors and into the walls.

View of the two EVC-1082 nave speakers and the central projection screen from the balcony of the Upper Church
View of the two EVC-1082 nave speakers and the central projection screen from the balcony of the Upper Church

“In the Upper Church, you only had to look at the speakers to realise that the original installation had been modified over the years to try and make it a bit more useful as the church grew but, in the process, had caused quite a few issues. However, it did make it easier for us to follow some of the cable routes that were already there and helped me overcome one of the biggest challenges, which was getting the cables from the balcony where the main AV rack was to be situated into the church without being seen.”

At the Old Church, drilling and fixing equipment proved the biggest problem for Willetts. The PTZ camera at the back of the church sits on the stone arch capital but he couldn’t fix it into the stonework, so it had to be fitted into the mortar joints. “We had to create custom bracketry to make sure that we only picked up where the mortar lines were and then use stainless-steel fixings so that they didn’t rust or cause any discolouration of the stonework. There always has to be extra sensitivity in old buildings.”

However, when the time came to begin the installation, a couple of all-too-familiar setbacks delayed the start by a couple of weeks – nearly the entire Ashdown AV team contracted Covid in May and supply chain issues resulted in items on the original specification no longer being available. Additionally, between quoting for the job and installation, the audio processor and the main projector in the nave had to be replaced. “You have to be agile and be able to redesign on the spot, especially at the moment, which can be quite tricky with lead times,” adds Willetts.

The audio system at the Upper Church consists of four Electro-Voice EVC-1082 two-way, full-range speakers, located 5m up and titled down to ensure even coverage from front to back. Two EVC-1082s cover the nave, with the other two located in each aisle. “The EVC-1082s have excellent low end and this allowed me to remove the sub from the design,” explains Willetts, “and, because they’re positioned in a corner, it has the added benefit of increased low-frequency output by taking advantage of the ‘boundary effect’. By placing them 5m up, the sound level is constant across all seats and therefore the reflections (echoes) are lower, you don’t have to have them so loud and the room reverberates even less, ensuring clearer reproduction of audio.”

One of two Yamaha VXL1W8 eight-driver line array columns
One of two Yamaha VXL1W8 eight-driver line array columns

In the chancel, an Electro-Voice ZX1i fires backwards and down towards the east window for speech reinforcement – particularly important when the screen is lowered as it can block sound coming from the four main speakers – while two EVID S4.2T speakers have been installed in the upstairs and downstairs children’s rooms. An Audio-Technica Pro44 unidirectional boundary microphone has also been fitted on the balcony as a congregational microphone and is utilised by the streaming system. In the rack upstairs on the balcony are two Dynacord C Series amplifiers for the main speakers and aisle speakers, a Yamaha MTX3 digital matrix, three Audio-Technica 2000 Series radio microphone receivers and an Audio-Technica combiner for the aerials. A Yamaha PA20 100V line amplifier drives the chancel speaker and the speakers in the children’s rooms, and is on a separate channel to the other speakers. This setup allowed for all the speakers to be independently configured for the best sound and level.

In terms of projection, initial plans involved the installation of two large monitor screens, fixed to the columns on either side of the chancel arch. However, while more expensive, it soon became clear that the DAC was in favour of retractable screens that would not obstruct the line of sight when not in use. Ashdown proposed a central winch projection screen which is fixed behind the main chancel arch and lowers on two thin steel cables. Two wall-mounted projection screens have been installed in the side aisles, due to the view of the main screen being partially obstructed by the columns. The main white Barco G60-W7 projector with a long-throw lens is located above the balcony, with two black Panasonic PT-FRZ50BEJ laser projectors fixed to the wooden beams on the ceiling in the side aisles. A Samsung 55-inch confidence monitor has been attached to the balcony, which relays the same images as the main screens and is used to assist those leading from the front, facing the congregation. An Extron IN1604 four-input HDCP-compliant scaler has three HDMI inputs and one VGA input, while a Pulse-Eight neo:4 4x4 HDBaseT matrix facilitates distribution to four displays – the main projector, two side projectors and the confidence monitor.

The layout of the Old Church differs from the Upper Church, with the altar located at the east end of the church immediately under the east window and a longer chancel area for the choir. Two L-R Yamaha VXL1W8 eight-driver line array columns – measuring only 54mm x 480mm x 104mm (WxHxD) – have been installed at the front of the nave, on the edge of recessed windows, directly replacing the original speakers. A Yamaha VXS10S subwoofer is located on the floor on the right of the nave behind the pew frontal and immediately in front of the lectern, while a Yamaha PX3 amplifier is situated in the vertical rack in the choir stalls.

The livestreaming setup at the Upper Church
The livestreaming setup at the Upper Church

The loop system in both churches also needed updating. Ashdown specified a new Ampetronic ILD122 induction loop amplifier for the Old Church and an Ampetronic C5-1 C Series induction loop driver for the Upper Church.

Both sanctuaries are now using two Audio-Technica ATW-2110BP radio systems with clip-on lapel microphones and one ATW-2120B system comprising a handheld microphone. In the Old Church, Audio-Technica ES935 gooseneck microphones have been added to the pulpit (with shockmount) and lectern, while a further ES935 with shockmount has been added to the lectern at the Upper Church. “The pulpit in the Old Church is really ornate,” explains Willetts, “and, because it’s used for weddings, whatever you do, the equipment cannot steal the show or look ugly in the photograph. The ES935s have a very natural sound so you hardly have to EQ them and the feedback rejection is amazing. Another reason I put Audio-Technica into all churches is that they have an easy-to-get-to on/off switch for the user.”

While there was no requirement for projectors or screens at the Old Church, the livestreaming setup at both churches is identical. An Avonic CM40 PTZ camera has been fitted discreetly to the front face of the balcony in the Upper Church and to the tower arch in the Old Church. A controller for the PTZ, a HANNspree 24-inch display with HDMI, DVI and VGA inputs and a Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Pro complete the livestreaming setup at both churches.

The audio setup at the Old Church is much simpler than the Upper Church with the amplification being primarily used for the spoken voice. However, the Old Church is a popular choice for weddings given the age and beauty of the building, and so there’s also a requirement for music, but this is the only aspect that needs full range.

The eagle lectern in the Old Church with an Audio-Technica ES935 mic
The eagle lectern in the Old Church with an Audio-Technica ES935 mic

“All the microphones come out of the small Yamaha speakers and the full-range music, which uses the sub tucked away on the corner, is purely routing the music, which keeps the whole system very subtle and stable,” says Willetts. “The acoustics in the church do not have much reverberation, which means you can turn the speakers up considerably before feedback. Choosing the line array speakers meant that I could fire the sound directly into the congregation knowing that all seats would get the same level and coverage. Because the sound is so directional on a line array, it’s firing not only into the congregation but a little bit of the sound reflects onto the flat walls at the back and it’s enough with the ambient sound in the church for anyone in the chancel to hear clearly.”

Betts’s funeral at the Upper Church in February 2021 was limited to just 30 people, so her family planned to have a much larger memorial service when Covid restrictions were lifted. This took place in July 2022, just one day after Ashdown completed the installation. “St Peter’s had a definite end date, so I had to find replacements for equipment that was no longer available and make them work,” explains Willetts. “Normally, you would ask a client if they could wait a bit longer and I would have more control over the end date and the equipment. This was unique and, unfortunately, I didn’t have control over either of those things. It made everything a lot more challenging.”

The Old Church Avonic CM40 PTZ sits on the stone arch capital
The Old Church Avonic CM40 PTZ sits on the stone arch capital

However, with Willetts’ help and training the day before the memorial service, as well as assistance on the day, everyone gathered to give thanks for everything Betts had contributed to the life of St Peter’s. “It’s good that we can gather without restrictions to give thanks for Gill’s life and celebrate all that she meant to us,” explains Reverend Worssam. “And it’s very fitting that this is the first service in which our new AV system is being used as Gill’s family contributed to the microphones and speakers. We’re looking forward over the coming weeks and months to exploring the new potential that this system will have for us and we give thanks to Gill who was the one who set us on that road.”



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