Third Reformed Church in Holland Michigan has been a vibrant congregation for 154 years and worships with traditional reformed liturgy and traditional music in a traditional building. The congregation desired to keep this style of worship easily accessible and vibrant and, therefore,  began exploring upgrading their sound system and adding video components to their sanctuary in a way that was architecturally transparent.

Technology in Keeping with the Values and Aesthetics of the Church

A group of media savvy members from the church reached out to Tim from Hamilton AV design to enlist his services to help the church figure out how to integrate technology in a way in which it would not be problematic to the architecture, feel, and design of the sanctuary. After discussion with Tim and a review of several potential design concepts the team determined the approach that would best meet the needs would be to project directly onto the large back wall of the sanctuary chancel. In order to do this in an architecturally sensitive way, Hamilton engineered a solution utilizing projectors mounted on the side walls of the space that would be mostly hidden behind the Chancel arch. And then the Pandemic hit.

Audio Video Upgrade gets on the Fast Track

Third Reformed Church moved Sanctuary worship onto the Zoom platform in a space of a few days in order to allow the congregation to continue to participate in worship even while staying home. The pastors lead worship from their homes and the experience confirmed to all the value of audio and video technology which allowed the church to stay connected during the Michigan Stay Home Stay Safe.

As the Pandemic progressed, the Third Reformed Church leadership put the Audio Video Upgrade on a fast track because the Pandemic clearly called for the Church to engineer for  hybrid worship, allowing for the congregation to contribute to worship both in person in the sanctuary and from geographically diverse locations on Zoom.

Confronting Challenges with Inaccurate Drawings, and Using an Edge Blended Projector System

This fast-track development had several challenges that needed to be overcome and the lack of current drawings of the space meant reliance on drawings from the 1960s was both necessary and not always completely accurate. The core question at the heart of the design was whether projecting onto the wall would provide a bright enough and sharp enough image for it to work well.

The goal was to make the entire rear wall of the chancel become a projection surface and Hamilton planned to use a videowall processor to enable the church to use the entire wall as a canvas. But the unique shape of the wall presented a challenge as to how well that would function. Working closely with the engineering team from Panasonic, Hamilton devised an edge blended projector system that would be visually unobtrusive and allow the church to fill the entire back wall with the projected video image.

In its resting state the wall just projects a color designed to mix with the screen gray painted wall so that the wall appears to be the same color as the other surfaces in the room and does not have any noticeable projection on it at all. But when the church wants to have images, lyrics, or music projected those can be easily overlaid on top of the neutral background. The intended result is that a seamless and visually unobtrusive display would empower the church to maintain its architectural sensitivity and also utilize video technology.

But before the church made a big investment in the technology, leadership wanted to be confident that it would actually work. With the lack of accurate blueprint drawings to work from and several other factors working together at the same time, the church participated in a full-scale demo to see if the concept could be proven so they could move forward with the installation.

Temporary wall mounted projectors from Panasonic.

Testing the Solution

Hamilton made arrangements with several manufacturers to have equipment shipped into the church for testing. Church leadership and a team of volunteers assembled scaffolding and worked to put the projectors in place on a temporary basis 22 feet in the air so that they could be tested to verify the concept. Things such as mounting heights of projectors, visibility of projectors from congregation pews, ability to fill the whole wall at the proper aspect ratio, navigating the curved arch at the top of the wall, and successfully performing the edge blend on a consistent day-to-day basis, were all questions that the group needed answered before proceeding.

Proof of Concept Complete

To the delight and relief of all present, all of the conceptual pieces checked out and the system looked great!  With the proof of concept complete, Hamilton and the church then enlisted the services of Advanced Lighting and Sound, a Michigan based AV and Stage Lighting contractor, to perform the final installation of all the equipment. Hamilton specified new, 12,000 lumen laser projectors from Panasonic, new loudspeakers and amplifiers from Danley Sound Labs, a new mixing board from Allen and Heath, and a video wall processor from TV one.  A camera system was also implemented as part of the design utilizing a Newtec TriCaster and Birddog N200 cameras to feed video to the remote viewers on Zoom. In order to better capture the video with the new cameras some updates were also required for the lighting of the space.  New fixtures and controls from ETC were selected to better light the chancel lectern and pulpit areas at the front of the space so that speakers and presenters would be better seen for those viewing the remote video.

Installing a New Audio Control Location

While the church had always had a small audio control location at the back of the main floor it became evident very quickly that the new technology in the space would require a much larger space for controls. The existing tech booth was removed, and space in the balcony was repurposed for the tech booth so that all of the operators could be in the same general location. Not only does this provide the ability for operators to interact with each other as needed during services, it also allows a single operator to control all of the equipment for smaller services and gatherings when needed.

Hybrid Services and a Return to in- Person Gatherings

All of the technical upgrades to the sound, video, and lighting systems were able to be completed in a very short project schedule. Advanced Lighting and Sound did an excellent job of project coordination which led to successful project completion and training on a very compressed timeline.

The rapid completion of the project allowed for the pastors to return to the sanctuary as they continued to lead Zoom worship. As safe gathering conditions improved, the use of the new technology in both the online streaming format and in-person worship services has been welcomed by the church and has allowed for very effective hybrid worship helping to keep this congregation together and moving forward even when the pandemic kept us apart.

“We are so happy that we chose to partner with Hamilton AV Design”, remarked Steve Orlow.  “Tim helped us figure out what we really needed and how to best get it implemented.  He also understood how our church wanted and needed to implement this type of technology and was a great help and resource throughout the project.  We are very happy with the end results and look forward to years of use with the new systems.”