None of the churches in the Claypole Benefice have broadband so over the course of the pandemic, Robert Prabucki, one of the churchwardens with a lifelong interest in IT, has been using his knowledge to broadcast services using a MiFi (mobile WiFi) unit to great success.  He wanted to share details of how they have achieved this so that others may benefit.

He writes: 

"In the current situation many have been using online conferencing to deliver services and attend meetings. I’ve been using it since the 1980s and the technology has advanced over the years to the point where it is now relatively easy to use.

"In the Claypole Benefice our Rector, the Revd Canon Tony Tucker, has been running a Sunday service every week using Zoom software. Similar to many churches, the number of participants is probably twice the normal church service attendance. One of the options in Zoom is to use an image stored on your computer to be a visual background. This works surprisingly well although not always perfectly. I chose to use images from the interior of St Peter's Church Claypole, where I am one of the two Church Wardens. This technology works well from home where there is generally a good broadband connection."

Would this work actually in the church ?

"We don’t have broadband in any of the benefice churches and the costs of installation and line rental would be relatively high. Getting the broadband line to the church is one thing, but into the church itself and in an appropriate location, is quite another. It wouldn’t be a standard installation.

"Several other options are available:

"A smartphone could connect to the internet using the mobile phone network and then the phone set up to share its connection with other devices.  An alternative, but similar and perhaps simpler arrangement, uses a Mobile WiFi Router commonly known as a MiFi unit.

There are different versions available. 

"This (pictured above) was purchased online for about £60 and came complete with a SIM card to connect to the Mobile 4G network at a cost of £10 per month for a 10Gb data volume. This has proven to be of sufficient capacity but could easily be increased. Physically, the device is slightly larger than a bankcard and about 6mm thick.

"Setting it up was completed in several easy stages. After charging up the battery in the device from a USB socket and switching it on, the MiFi broadcasts a WiFi network name. A laptop, smartphone (or any other WiFi enabled device) can connect to the network after entering the password.

"The laptop uses its Zoom software and connects over the MiFi to the internet and hence to our online congregation.

"I visited each of our five churches and discovered that this setup works perfectly in four of them. This is dependant upon having a good 4G or 3G mobile phone signal. So if your phone works inside your church there is a good chance this arrangement will also work.

"We decided to have a monthly subscription to Zoom to overcome the 40 minute time limit and the limit to the number of participants in the free version. We also ensured that we have a licence from the copyright organisations.

Other Opportunities

"One next step was to use the setup to Zoom the induction of the Revd Canon Tony Tucker with Bishop Nicholas and ArchDeacon Justine from St Peter's at the end of July.

"Multiple camera points would help and the setup became a little more sophisticated using a second laptop that had an external webcam and microphone and an additional smartphone. These were all connected to the WiFi network and were treated as participants in the session. The session was recorded (a simple tick in an option) and subsequent editing resulted in the video being posted on our web site. It is not the BBC but not too bad for a first attempt.

"At St Peter's we have a projector and large screen, which are regularly used at family service to present the words for hymns, responses, videos of choirs and Messy Church presentations. A laptop is connected to the projector (and also the sound system) and could be running a Zoom session.

"This takes us to the concept of having a Minister taking a live service in one church and it being zoomed to one or more other churches, and even homes. The service becomes a fully interactive arrangement extending the reach of the Minister without needing to hold more services. Scheduling and moving the live service around multiple churches with an online live session at others could well be a way forward to address the need for change outlined by Bishop David recently.

"I’ve mentioned Zoom in this article but there are other applications such as Microsoft Teams, Skype and others that can also work in a similar setup.

"If you would like to try this out or need some help to setup a similar arrangement, we would be happy to help."

Please get in touch at [email protected]

The recording can be found at www.claypolebenefice.org