Sound Theology

Michael J. Brooks
Faith Columnist

My dad was a pipefitter at the Birmingham steel mill, which means he worked with pipes and plumbing. He was also a general handyman who could fix most anything and would at least try. He was on the maintenance committee at church and often spent afternoons repairing toilets or replacing broken windowpanes. But he also developed an interest in the church’s sound system. This was in the days of cassette tapes. He loved to make copies of special music or youth testimonies and give tapes to those who’d sung or spoken. It was a ministry of encouragement.

I had a cassette tape player in those days that allowed me to playback at higher speeds, thus reducing the time it took to hear a sermon or a lecture. Now I’m not sure how one might play a cassette tape, nor have many younger people ever seen one.

I remember another dedicated layperson who helped us with sound years ago in our church. He worked in the textile mill before hearing protection was required. Accordingly, Winston couldn’t hear well. When the sound system squealed and we looked back at him in the booth, he’d just smile back sweetly, unaware of what we were hearing. But he was always in his place and did his best.

I’ve been thinking lately of how audio-visual tasks have changed in our churches.

We remember the corded microphones with their “rat’s nest” of coil. Now cordless and Bluetooth is the standard and modern soundboards allow mixing so that the exact sound is produced.

During the Covid pandemic many of our churches began to broadcast or live stream Bible study or worship. This has presented a new challenge to us. I jokingly told our church that our staff was the “not ready for prime time players”! 

I heard a conference leader lately who said his church had a lighting system that would rival Disneyworld. I’m sure he was using hyperbole. Then he explained that the “traditional” service had bright lights, and the “contemporary” service had dim lights like a music concert. Certainly this is something new and unique to my generation. On those Sundays when I bumble and stumble in the pulpit, I could wish to call for darkness so as to slink off without notice!

Winston and my dad were among the finest Christians I’ve known. They faithfully served the Lord with cassette tapes and microphones. Some churches now use paid sound operators, and this might be something that becomes more common in the days ahead. The audio/visual folk I’ve known have been dedicated volunteers always in place and doing their best. They worked in the background to make us in the spotlight look and sound better. 

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