What started as an emergency effort in March 2020 to share a word of hope and encouragement to Christ Church Easton’s congregation with the music video, “Hold Us Together,” has evolved into weekly contemporary and traditional music videos, virtual worship services, Bible study, prayer groups, and a virtual online prayer ministry.
“The consequence of COVID-19 presented most of us with the obstacle of trying to do online everything we normally did in-person. Instead of seeing it prohibitively as a problem to suffer, we accepted it as an opportunity to make the most of, and we embraced it as a new stage on which to stand. We asked ourselves, in the midst of an emergency, how can we be a blessing? Do we have something to be of help to others?” comments Father Bill Ortt, Rector of Christ Church Easton.
Ray Remesch, Christ Church Easton’s Minister of Contemporary Worship, who had a background in audio production, pitched the idea to a group at the church who was addressing how to reach people in their homes during the Governor’s stay-at-home-order. Ray, who produced the first music video, adds, “We got 20,000 views on Facebook when we posted the video – more online traffic than anything the church had ever done.”
Since the church’s first music video was so well received, Christ Church decided to keep the momentum going with weekly videos that could engage people like their weekly church services did and provide hope. Equipment was upgraded to provide better quality recordings. Traditional music videos were added around Easter – all of it coordinating with the Gospel readings for that particular week and with things going on in the community and the world at the time. Some of the traditional music videos dovetailed into a series the church offered on hymnody and soon will be tied to a series on Advent. The team is forced to work at a fast clip due to its productions being done weekly, with many of the creative decisions made during the editing of the videos.
Jimmy Maguire, who now helps produce most of the music videos with Ray and serves as lead guitarist, credits the team and talent at Christ Church with the success of the video outreach program. Bruce Strazza, Alive @ 5 Worship Leader and one of the lead vocalists in the contemporary videos, comments, “The world was in a blender and we tapped into the talent we had to bring hope to a hopeless situation with COVID. God does the rest. The response has been amazing.”
John Coleman’s presence in the contemporary music video, “There Was Jesus,” was another Christ Church Easton’s popular releases, with 200,000 views on Facebook.
Bruce adds, “People are claiming the church as their own having watched these videos. It’s radically changing how we do church.”
Michael Valliant, Minister for Adult Education and Small Groups at Christ Church Easton, states, “The online presence has redefined community for our church. People are watching regularly from all over the country and even the world. On a given weekend before COVID, we would reach 300 to 500 people through four in-person services. Now, on any given weekend, we can have 20,000 people viewing our videos.”
People are also responding online to the church’s videos, asking for prayer and engagement. For Michael, this means the church is more challenged to be authentic in how it lives into the calling of being a church and meeting the needs of those who ask for help. He imagines that the church will continue its online ministry after COVID is over because of the new space it is filling in people’s lives.
“Like most churches, Christ Church is a generous congregation. It provides funds for many organizations and many people in need. That work continues. We also know that people ‘do not live by bread alone, but every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’ and that we have a hope to offer to those who are seeking it. Our core work was still exactly the same, to proclaim the love of God and to encourage people in their hope and faith,” comments Father Bill.
“Only now, instead of having people come through our doors to sit in our pews and meet us where we were, we would be going out to them. For us, it was not only practical, but a very good thing and we are grateful. It has become a proclamation without walls.”
Michael adds, “Christ Church’s music programs have always been excellent. Everyone in these videos was a part of the music ministries in our church before COVID. It’s exciting that the videos can capture that same quality of music that would have been heard in the church in a live setting but deliver it virtually.”
Ray comments, “We have been able to channel the talent into a new medium.”
For Wes Lockfaw, Minister of Traditional Music, the challenges have been larger for producing the traditional music videos. “Traditional music is usually built around the space where it is delivered. When you are virtually presenting, it changes what traditional elements work for filming. I vary the instrumentalists, many of whom I have used in live performances before COVID and adapt them to the new digital platform in which we are now presenting our music.”
Talbot County has offered Christ Church limitless picturesque locations for shooting the videos and telling the narratives of each song. As the equipment evolved, the team was able to push the videography, filming at sunrise and sunset, on the water or even on the rooftop of the church.
Jimmy states, “We have also watched our singers blossom over the months. The microphone hears what the singers are thinking and feeling, providing a very intimate and personal experience for the viewer.”
“Sometimes we completely re-imagine a song with a small detail to make it our own. Father Bill has been nudging us to do an original song, which we hope to release soon,” comments Jimmy.
Wes quips, “The founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley, wrote in the 18th century, ‘The world is my pulpit.’ That was a bold proclamation. COVID has shown us just how inward the church has been and how important it is to reach outward.”
According to Michael, since Christ Church’s outreach began, the church has received many thousands of grateful comments, texts, and messages. The team has tried to respond to each one – regularly engaging with its online audience.
Father Bill concludes, “We have been moved and humbled by the responses. It has shown us that although we are neither large nor famous, for the time we have, we are being faithful in our calling to hold a lit candle in these dark times; and it has mattered. It will always matter. We can’t change the world, and we cannot be there for everyone, but to the glory of God we have been making a real and positive presence for some people and that has made a world of difference for them.”
For further information about Christ Church Easton’s services and music videos, visit christchurcheaston.org or visit them on Facebook Live and on YouTube Saturdays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at 9 a.m. The music videos for these services are released following the services. In-person services are held on Sundays at 10 a.m. at Christ Church with health and safety protocols in place for COVID-19. A special service will be held on Christmas Eve with information to follow on the church’s website and Facebook pages.
Christ Church Easton’s Music Video Performers
Nevin Dawson, violin/viola
Tom Gerni, acoustic guitar
Chris Hofer, bass
Jon Jacobs, bass guitar
Wes Lockfaw, organ/piano
Jimmy Maguire, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass guitar
Justin Pokrywka, acoustic guitar
Lisa Rowe, acoustic guitar
Martin Monnett, violin
Sally Montgomery, flute
Denise Nathanson, cello
E.J. Oesterle, timpani
Greg Remesch, banjo/percussion
Ray Remesch, piano/bass guitar/guitar/mandolin
Jordon Stanley, drums
John Stitcher, drums
Bruce Strazza, acoustic guitar
Steve Waldman, bass guitar
Ashley Watkins, flute
Bob West, drums
Carlos Zabala, trumpet
Jimmy Maguire and Ray Remesch