SOCCOM members working behind the scenes of online Masses in Sacred Heart Cathedral


June 18 2020

Here is the inside story of courageous workers risking their lives for the rest of us during the pandemic.

The Movement Control Order (MCO), which was announced to take effect from Mar 18, was imposed by the government in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The fateful announcement came on the heels of Archbishop John Wong’s announcement of the suspension of all public weekend and weekday Masses for the period of Mar 14 – Apr 1.

Parish priest of Sacred Heart Cathedral (SHC) Fr Paul Lo immediately gathered the parish clergy, parish staff and members of the parish Social Communications (SOCCOM) on Mar 13 even though it was late at 10.30 pm. The urgency of the meeting was obvious – to discuss the live streaming process for the weekend Masses beginning the next day.

Working within the constraint of time, the SOCCOM team hastily posted out an advertisement announcing the live streaming of the weekend Masses via Facebook, and at the same time researched programs and ways to broadcast the live stream. The live stream crew was quickly formed, and history was made on Saturday, Mar 14, when the first live streaming at Sacred Heart Cathedral Kota Kinabalu went on screen.

Over the weeks, feedbacks poured in from the parish and from others who joined the live streamed Masses. Some were on improving the audio or visual while some were trying to join the live stream. Many were touched by the parish’s efforts to bring Mass into their homes.

Least expected, the two-week initial planning grew into a three-month (still ongoing) indispensable service for the Church and the parishioners.

Sharing with Catholic Sabah, the SHC SOCCOM Team spoke of their journey which saw them debut and becoming pro in online streaming and broadcasting in real time.

Initial response

We have no experience whatsoever in live streaming. We were not sure of its setup and how to station ourselves. Our crew was not formed overnight. It started out with two, then three, and presently four to live stream behind the scenes. Overall, our team was nervous but excited to be helping the parish.

Sleepless nights for the first two weeks were inevitable as we needed to learn and conduct tests on live streaming and continuous learning
Challenges faced                                                                                                

We faced the risk of being stopped at roadblocks (even with proper letters) because live streaming commenced only after 6 pm for the Sunset Masses on Saturdays.

The risk of being infected with the virus and bringing the virus home to our families was real.

There was no wired internet connection available in the Chapel; and we had no choice but to use our personal hotspot, which had slight drawbacks due to internet connection instability at times.

As the Church was not fully equipped with the proper gears for live streaming, we had to resort to use our personal equipment, coupled with the risk of not being able to buy replacements (since shops were all temporarily closed) should our equipment malfunction in the middle of the live streams.

Behind the scene during one of the online Mass presided by parish priest Fr Paul Lo

Sleepless nights for the first two weeks were inevitable as we needed to learn and conduct tests on live streaming and continuous learning to constantly improve the stream’s quality in terms of presentation, video and audio.

We had our hands full, monitoring Facebook messages, especially the live chats, besides handling visitors who surged the website, and responding to parishioners’ enquiries on Facebook. Many parishioners needed guidance on where to go or where to click to view the live broadcast. 

We needed to maintain our energy and productivity up for the 3 to 5-hour live streaming session per day, which included equipment setup and tear-down before and after Mass (since the Church has never done any live streaming, there is no fixed setup available).

Task delegation – Among the four of us, only one of us is very well versed with the whole live streaming system. We had to delegate tasks and learn each other’s role for any worse-case scenarios, which happened during one live stream episode when the main streamer was involved in a car accident just before the live streaming but the live Mass was able to run smoothly because of the initial task delegation.

Delegate tasks and learn each other’s role…live Mass was able to run smoothly because of the initial task delegation.

Working with lectors, commentators and priests on proper microphone adjustment and voice projection and with sign language interpreters on positioning for clearer visuals for our parishioners to see and hear clearly when watching the live stream was challenging and not to be taken lightly.

One of the biggest challenges of our live streaming experience was during the Holy Week and the Easter Triduum. From Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday, we had back to back Masses for three languages, totalling 12 Masses live streamed in the span of four days. This took up a lot of our energy and the need to think of various camera angles to capture the ‘atmosphere’ of the biggest event in the Catholic liturgical calendar. 

Lessons learned

We realized the importance of staying in touch with parishioners via social media in the midst of the pandemic, and the necessity to improve the live stream. It is evident that everyone has a role to play to help the Church. As important as it is for one person to hold the lead role, we must always keep in mind the sustainability of the work that we do. The pandemic has taught us to always be ready for unexpected events to come our way. Sometimes we may or may not get it but, at least we are ready for it. It does no harm to keep in mind that the journey is made bearable with good company. Last but not least, it is never too old to learn anything!

We hope that the Archdiocese would equip all those who are involved in social communications with up to date resources
Outlook of the ministry in the post-covid and new normal

No one can be certain of how long we will be live streaming Masses in Sacred Heart Cathedral, but we can look forward to plan, to create and to provide useful content for the parishioners via social media.

We have seen that online platforms/channels have proven to be an important source to pass on spiritual guidance and we hope that the Archdiocese would equip all those who are involved in social communications with up to date resources.

We too, as ministry workers/volunteers, need to do our part to equip ourselves to be ready to answer enquiries related to the Church and her teachings and traditions, and our Catholic Faith.

We hope that the parishioners will continue to support the Church, pray for strength and pray for us that we may continue to serve the Church. We hope to see the younger generations coming forward to serve the Church too. There is always a place for everyone.

All in all, we are glad to have this opportunity to serve the Church and fellow parishioners especially in uncertain times like this. We would like to extend our gratitude to all who have helped our crew during this live streaming journey.