Let’s just agree that our sound system is a frustration for many of us! Some can’t hear the sermon or other parts of the service. On my side, it’s disheartening to hear that someone didn’t hear the entire service and then find out that it was something simple that could’ve been fixed with little interruption to worship. I heard some complaints shortly after I arrived, then they dropped off. I guess I thought the issues were all just a matter of getting used to each other—people, equipment and the space. But apparently they persist. I will apologize for the Sunday when parishioners spoke about their faith and St. Stephen’s. I should have had them all come early and test. I’m sorry. The system was on, but I did not know the pulpit microphone had been turned off.  Let me share a few things about this issue and some ideas about what can be done.

First, please know this is important to me. I don’t want anyone left out because they cannot hear. My first supervisor in the Air Force was hearing impaired from working on loud flight lines for too long. While I could tease him about selective hearing in meetings, when he’d turn his hearing aid off, I also observed firsthand the challenges of negotiating the hearing world and relying upon lip reading. Also, the primary worship service at my home church in Dayton has been interpreted for the deaf for almost fifty years. I’m used to having hearing-impaired persons in the congregation and being their pastor as well as I can. I can sing the Sanctus with my hands, bless, pray before surgery, and administer communion in American Sign Language. Beyond that it’s a little dicey with a lot of spelling! I also managed the comprehensive study and upgrade of a church sound system about ten years ago. So I am familiar with and sympathetic to many of the issues. 

What is going on is more subtle than ministry to those who happen to be profoundly deaf. It also involves the aging of our congregations. This becomes more of an issue across the church as we live longer active lives. I suspect it’s reaching the tipping point of requiring attention in many parishes.

At St. Stephen’s, in addition, basic physics is at play. The acoustical properties that make our spaces (our big church and Great Hall) so great for music are the same properties that make them challenging for the spoken word.

Here are a few things I have been doing and will do to help us meet these challenges:

  • Dennis and I have already met with an experienced sound technician to check microphones, settings and give a professional opinion on how to optimize the system we have for my voice. I will pay for his services from my budget for professional expenses.
  • I will continue to do my best to check my wireless microphone while vesting. I’ve been blessed with deacons who help with that task. There’s a lot going on just prior to worship not to mention preparing myself for preaching and celebrating. I appreciate it when others help with things like the technology.
  • One of the early sacristans normally turns the system on. It’s a simple light switch but it’s hidden in a closet outside the sacristy. I will ask ushers to also check that the system is on. 
  • I will try to have copies of my sermon, if I prepare a text, available on Sunday somewhere near the door closest to the pulpit. I try to put them on the website by sometime on Tuesday. Feel free to ask.

What I ask parishioners to do:

  • If you are normally able to hear when the system is functioning, and on a given Sunday you can’t hear in your favorite pew, please quietly tell an usher. Ushers, please check to see system is on. If it is, please pass me a note. It might be something as simple as a fresh battery that someone could fetch and we’ll all be better off.
  • Remember your hearing aids, if you have them! 
  • If you cannot hear, please try a different seat. The acoustical properties vary around the church. Did you know the only speakers are in the back half of the church? Some might find the back easier; others might prefer the unamplified front pews.

If it’s time to thing about a new system or major upgrade, please be aware that the process takes time—longer than I will be at St. Stephen’s. I wish it were as easy as going down to the big-box store on US41 and buying what we need, but it’s probably not. It is the vestry’s responsibility to provide such resources for ministry and to arrange for the funding, so please contact a vestry member if you want to be involved or to contribute financially. One of the most important needs would be a project manager from the parish. Interested? Please let one of the wardens or me know. If you have any questions, please ask.

If you have ears to hear, please hear and respond!

Rev. Mary+