Multi-point Worship On the Cheap

It is not my purpose to replace the standard multi-point system of worship presently
available to communities of faith through the United Church, but it is my belief that a less
costly version might be of use for communities of faith that lack a local area hub, or have
limited financial resources, and few technical volunteers. It certainly would not meet the
degree of professionalism of the standard hub/satellite system presently in use. Yet, it could work for small communities of faith that just occasionally wish to have a joint service together, but distance is a problem. Therefore, an easy and less expensive solution was going through my mind, and I have been experimenting with a possible open source solution, namely “Jitsi Meet”, a free video conferencing service of which I have written an earlier article.

With “Jitsi Meet” there is nothing to download onto a computer, as it just uses the Internet
browser, like Firefox or Chrome. I have conducted two experiments with this set-up, one with two participants locally and the other with three participants, one on PEI and the others in rural Ontario.

Here is what I did:

I sent a “Jitsi Meet” email invitation from my laptop to the other participant’s laptops. Thus, the first laptop (mine) was the host. Participants just need to click the emailed link.

After all participants were online, I then toggled onto “gallery view” through  the icon in the toolbar.

By clicking onto the picture on each individual site in the gallery screen view, I was able to
switch into full screen for each participant.

Then I shared the host’s screen (laptop 1) with the other participant’s laptops.
At this point I was able to switch the full screen view of the other laptops back and forth as
needed from the host’s laptop.

The host could also mute the microphone of the other participants if needed. However, the host can only send a message to the other participants to unmute their microphone
afterwards. This is a bothersome deficiency. During the singing of a hymn, Internet latency
(delays) can cause problems with everyone singing at the same time. Therefore, the host just mutes all microphones but the host’s own, allowing each church’s singing to the host’s signal, even if it a second or two slower because of this Internet delay. Afterwards, you can request that a participant unmute their microphone when their part in the service arrives. The host, then, could switch back and forth between different participants to accommodate different parts of the worship. e.g. the choir at the host church, scripture reading at another, and the sermon at yet another etc. If the host goes into the 3 dot symbol for other options, “Jitsi Meet” does allow you to stream this video call through YouTube if you have an account. (I don’t have one, so I could not confirm if this functioned correctly)

In the end, the host (only one tech person) could run a simple combined worship service with one or two other communities of faith, (with only one tech person needed at each site), in this fashion at a minimum cost. The host and satellite communities of faith would each need a computer, a big screen TV with HDMI (therefore it would have speakers built-in), or a projector, (but it would need sound amplification), a medium quality USB camera,  an USB microphone, USB extension cables, an Internet connection (Ethernet hard wire is better than Wifi), and stands of some sort for the camera and microphone to best position them. Much of this equipment can be used, or already available within the community of faith.

The only limiting factor is the quality of the Internet connection available. “Jitsi Meet” even allows you to make adjustments for this by reducing the video quality if necessary through its settings. I did this, as the connection to cottage country in Ontario was not as strong as my own on PEI. A slight reduction solved the problem, and the experiment was successful.

My guess is that something like this set-up could be accomplished with other video
conferencing software like Zoom; however, Zoom is not open source or free of charge.
Moreover, you must download a specific program to use it. Please check out the earlier
resource link above to find out all the advantages of “Jitsi Meet”.

Rev. Martin Dawson (retired in Cornwall, PEI)