It’s 7 ‘clock Friday morning, and just like the week before and the week before and the week before, Jonathan Kofahl arrives at Covenant and unpacks cameras, lights, sound equipment and more.
Jonathan is the videographer behind our online worship services. Hired that first day in mid-March to shoot a short service on the off-chance that we couldn't meet in person, Jonathan has become an indispensable part of the Covenant Worship team.
"We filmed that first service with Jonathan just in case," Covenant Senior Pastor Thomas Daniel recalled. "I remember thinking 'This feels a little unnecessary.' We made the decision and then shortly after, everything shut down."
Opportunity to Learn
The fast switch to online worship has been a challenge, but also a joy for Thomas. “Personally, I love the challenge of learning something really new. It’s so different than what we would be doing.”
Thomas likes to compare the progression of the Covenant online worship service to early movies. “At first, they were just filming live plays. Then, they figured out that there was a craft to moviemaking. We are trying to figure out what is an effective online tool, rather than film what we normally do,” he said.
“We’ve been doing this for a while now,” Jonathan reflected, “We’re better at every step of the process. From a technical perspective, the look of the service has gotten better; it’s gotten more consistent. Some of it has to do with the lighting that was installed in the sanctuary. The biggest thing is that the people are generally more comfortable. “
Thomas agreed. “Delivery is really hard. It’s hard because we don’t film in the order that it takes place. Even more difficult than an empty sanctuary is not having the context around the sermon. It’s you and the videographer and it’s just ‘Go!’” he said. “The thing I miss the most is the choir. Often before I preach, the choir would sing an anthem. I feel the emptiness of the choir loft every time.”
Thomas said his sermons are shorter and he joked, “I’m sure a lot of people appreciate that.” On a more serious note he said, “This format allows for different ways of teaching. We’ve introduced more visual ways for teaching – we are showing movie clips, art and quotes. We’ve tried to take advantage of the unique opportunities afforded in this context.”
Opportunity for Connection
“It’s been wonderful watching Michael (Shuman) and Jerry (Wise) work together,” Thomas said. “I think that has yielded a lot of wonderful gifts."
Director of Music Ministry Michael Shuman echoed that sentiment. “Typically Jerry and I wouldn’t be able to play together because of schedules and the nature of the Sunday services. This has allowed us to collaborate; we get to play together for a change. It’s fun to play with Jerry and to play different types of music.”
“Jerry” is Jerry Wise, worship leader for the Contemporary Service. He agreed, “It’s been wonderful. Michael has been so great to work with. I love collaborating with him. He’s a wonderful musician.”
Even more, Jerry said, “I’ve just gotten to know him as a person. Typically I would see him in staff meetings and that would be it. Now we actually get to interact; we get to play music together. You can get to know somebody, but playing music with someone, you get to know them on a different level.”
Michael and Jerry aren’t the only musicians. Each week, a different group of them is scheduled. “The group makeup is based on what songs we are doing,” Michael said, “and a little bit on who is available.”
One new face is Ange Kogutz, who has played in worship bands with Jerry for more than 10 years. They also play music together in the Matchmaker Band. “We’ve been singing together for a long time,” Jerry said. “Ange and I have always had a sweet, special connection.”
Ange said she was happy to help with the services when Jerry invited her. “Being at Covenant is such a blessing to me personally. I love the intimate worship style, the relatable manner in which the message is delivered, the evidence of how members of the community strive to continue to stay connected, and I love the way the familiar song choices encourage engagement from those at home watching.”
Ange is grateful that what started as a ‘one time thing’ has become a recurring invitation to join in leading worship with Covenant. “I give so much praise and thanks to the Lord for using me and for making a way for me to stay engaged in spreading the gospel (musically) in the community in multiple ways.”
Violinist Alexis Buffman, pictured below, has enjoyed playing at Covenant and some additional churches during the pandemic. “It’s really nice to be exposed to different ministries. I love sharing my gift and, together with other musicians, being part of Austin as one Christian community.”
Online worship participants have seen additional faces, too. “I think we’ve had opportunities, through technology, to hear more voices than we usually do,” Thomas said. “For example, through the video at the beginning of the school year, we got to hear teachers, administrators and high school students. We also had high school senior recognition in May and we heard from a lot of our seniors. The technology has allowed for more voices to be heard. That’s really unique, and I don’t want to lose that."
And Jonathan, the man leading the technical production, feels welcome, as well. “I definitely feel like I’m part of the team,” he said. “And I appreciate that it’s one of the professional things that I do that in some way interfaces with my master’s degree in divinity.”
Opportunity to Wear Many Hats
Over the past six months, Jonathan has established a routine. “I get to Covenant between 7 and 7:30, set up all the equipment, and prep all the cameras. At 9, either one of the pastors or the musicians come in and we do our first segment, which takes about an hour. The next segment – music or prayer – is wrapped by 11. Most days, we’re done by about 11:30, but some weeks, it takes longer.”
After finishing the video section of the service, Jonathan really goes to work. The editing and sound mixing often take him until the early hours of Saturday morning.
“I either go to my office or home. I dump the footage and transcode it all. I media manage everything, name it and put it in order, and then I do the music mix, which takes anywhere from an hour and a half to three and a half hours.
“I spend a lot of time on the music. I try to make it sound as good as it can. It’s so different week-to-week. Everybody’s voice is different and they play the music differently. It requires a lot of massaging. I try to get it perfect every week, and it can take a while.
“I really enjoy that part, so I do spend extra time on it. When I started, I was on audio and I don’t have the opportunity to mix music like that very often.”
Jonathan syncs up all the camera angles and then, for each segment, he’s got a multi-camera clip. (He uses four cameras for the music.) He then color corrects the videos, makes sure the cameras match and then goes through the service, start to finish.
“Sometimes, I deliver it as late as 1 a.m., sometimes, I’m done by 9 p.m. I haven’t figured out where the bottlenecks are. Certain things are pandemic-related, like life at home,” Jonathan said.
Jonathan said he uses the four cameras for variety, especially with the music. “We generally use two cameras for the speaking parks. Really, the multiple cameras give the viewer a different perspective.”
The number of jobs Jonathan is doing on Friday morning can be a challenge – four cameras, audio, line producing. “Wearing every hat at once is challenging, but it is not that unusual. The thing that makes it more unique is the sound component. It’s difficult to record at really high levels of audio without paying close attention to it.”
He admitted to forgetting to hit “record” – one time. “I’m thankful and surprised that that has only happened once. I check and recheck before we shoot.”
Jonathan’s weekend work is not over after he delivers the Covenant video. He spends Saturdays helping his church, Westlake United Methodist, with its video services, which can take up to nine hours.
Opportunity to Grow
Thomas said this experience has made him realize how much he loves his job. “I miss the worship and the preaching that happens when we’re all together. This time has reminded me of how blessed I am to have the job that I have,” he said, laughing, “There’s no part of me that wants to become a televangelist.”
“This experience has rekindled the idea to not get too set in my ways,” he continued. “It has forced me to learn new things, adapt as a preacher, as a pastor,” Thomas said, again reflecting on the idea to bring in more voices and incorporate art. “Those are great things. I hope that we’ll be fresher and more creative coming out of this. I think there’s a lot of good. I feel positive and rejuvenated about these things.”
Regardless of the upside, he’s quick to remind us that it’s temporary. “I love to do what I do and I miss it. I miss the energy. I miss the faces!”