ONTARIO: Just as so many others pivoted to reach those who depend on them when the pandemic took hold last year, so, too, did churches. In so doing, houses of worship were faced with expanding on, or in some cases, creating ways to reach their congregations remotely and promptly, and found themselves looking for the appropriate technology and support to continue their ministry effectively and fluently.
Here we look at two Ontario churches, Ajax’s Christian Life Centre and Ottawa’s Bethel Pentecostal Church, whose efforts to pivot led each to purchase DiGiCo S21 consoles – a choice driven by the console’s deep feature-set, flexibility, audio quality, and potential as a user-friendly solution for their volunteer audio crews.
Christian Life Centre
Located in Ajax, Christian Life Centre (CLC) hired Jon Butler of Oshawa’s Livewire Media to help find a solution for their needs. “Jon has done a few things for CLC, so I knew he’d be able to help us,” says Associate Pastor, Andrew Jones, explaining that their aging sound system had begun malfunctioning and was no longer a fit for their evolving needs, especially for live streaming and making things simpler for our volunteers. “The consoles are used for all of their services, Jones continues, “for worship, the preaching of the Word, and for an eclectic mix of contemporary and gospel music.”
“There were a few options we looked at,” Butler explains, “but we decided on a pair of DiGiCo S21s because the S-Series is very user-friendly and, with the Dante boxes, very modular.” “One is used for FOH and the other for live streaming, he continues. “The consoles are running into three DiGiCo Dante boxes, which allows the church to split the inputs and have discreet control for each application, so there’s a lot of flexibility without a ton of complexity. Also, when CLC does outdoor services they just take the Dante boxes outside, plug them into an S21 out there, run a Cat 5 cable back to the live stream rig, and they’re good to go. It’s light years ahead of their previous console.”
CLC also purchased a DMI-ME Card to allow them to interface fluidly with their existing Allen & Heath ME monitoring system, Jones says. But beyond that (and a fresh system tuning following the install) nothing else changed in their audio system. “Now everything sounds a lot cleaner and smoother. Our last console was outdated and hard for our volunteers to work out, which also made it difficult to make that sound cleaner.”
This is a game-changer for their worship, and for the workflow of the church’s volunteers. He continues, “When we got the S21 we didn’t know how to use it, but Jon and his associates have worked alongside our volunteers and all of us to teach us. I’m also learning as we go along.” That effort is ongoing, he adds, explaining that even during services Butler is available to provide remote support and walk Jones and his volunteer production staff through any issues.
The addition of the S-Series consoles was a critical upgrade, Jones explains. Before the installation in January 2021, CLC had been set up for live streaming, but their needs were quickly outpacing the capabilities of their existing system, which consisted of a barebones computer/software solution. To make the jump from providing only recorded content to providing the live streaming services their congregation finds so much more engaging, a dedicated control surface was a must. “Previously, there were sound and level problems every week,” Jones notes, “but since we installed the consoles those problems have been wiped out.”
While offering the degree of connection they’re currently providing is critical during the pandemic, Jones also sees the capabilities they now have as a game-changer going forward. “Even when we get back to normal, some people may hesitate to attend larger gatherings. Now we can use the DiGiCo boards to minister to them online and in-house as well.”
Bethel Pentecostal Church
For Bethel, this upgrade in March 2021 was equally critical but unplanned. “It came out of the blue,” explains Technical Director, Tyler Rotsaert. “In January, we saw signs that our consoles were failing and we couldn’t let that happen. It’s mission-critical equipment, and we’re growing and needed a more flexible audio package.”
Although the PA was updated in mid-2020, the consoles weren’t. When they began to fail, he adds, “Given what the church wanted to do, DiGiCo was my go-to.” In all, they purchased two S21s and a pair of 16x8 Dante I/O boxes and DMI-Dante cards.
Over its 100-year history, Bethel has initiated outreach and community programs in lockstep with evolving communications technology and continued to do so during the pandemic. “Bethel is seen as a leader in Ottawa and has been first to the gate on several things. When Covid hit, we adopted streaming very quickly.”
Early on, Rotsaert continues, they could only stream pre-recorded content. “But now we’re live streaming and (when regulations permit) doing hybrid services – so the flexibility of the S21s and the ability to route audio over our network to anywhere in the building at any point in time with the click of a button is huge, and with the DMI-Dante cards it’s just a few clicks and away we go.”
Although Rotsaert did the install, he worked closely with Neil Collier of Wall Sound, a company that has had an almost twenty-year relationship with Bethel. “Tyler did a lot of research on how to move forward, and he’s worked with DiGiCo consoles before,” Collier notes. “The S21 package made the most sense both performance and economics-wise, and allowed them to expand to doing full broadcast mixes, which they couldn’t before.”
Rotsaert’s choice of DiGiCo was driven by several factors, first and foremost being support. He says, “There are DiGiCo S21s in Wall Sound’s rental inventory in Ottawa, so if something were to go wrong they’re 20 minutes way. And if we need parts, GerrAudio is just an hour away.” Additionally, DiGiCo’s reputation for providing support and the console’s overall reliability was key to the choice.
Outside of his role at Bethel, Rotsaert serves as a Project Manager for Encore Global and recalls meeting GerrAudio’s founder, Bob Snelgrove at MIAC when DiGiCo’s SD8 came out. “DiGiCo’s been on my radar for a long time and Wall Sound is my go-to cross rental house.”
Collier and Wall helped to get Bethel’s leadership on board with the loan of an S21, SD12, and two D2 racks. “After mixing services on the SD12 the choice was obvious. People came up to me afterward and said, ‘Something was different today. Don’t change it.’ We also multi-tracked our Christmas services on the SD12, and although we planned on mixing them later, once everyone heard the stereo mix they asked us not to because it sounded great as it was.”
“DiGiCo's quality just shows,” Rotsaert continues, citing his use DiGiCo products in Encore’s projects throughout the Caribbean and their overall reliability and road-worthiness. Quite beyond his preference for using DiGiCo in Encore’s applications, their consoles’ user-friendliness and flexibility also make them a fit for Bethel’s volunteer audio team; particularly for repurposing the system between contemporary and traditional services.
“The setups are different, but the S21s allow us to build templates and just recall them. I’m the resident FOH person, but we’re also training volunteers, so another big selling feature of the S21s was the ability to multi-track our band and train volunteers without having a full worship team present. And with Dante, we have far more flexibility. So, for example, if we’re doing larger Christmas and/or Easter productions we can rent an SD12 from Wall Sound, put our Dante card in that, and add D2 racks. Not being locked into one console is a big deal.”
Collier sums up: “Not only does it solve Bethel’s immediate needs but it also gets them on track for the future.”