Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How to Podcast--Part 1

As promised I will do my best to provide step-by-step instructions on podcasting that include some technical information. In a previous post I talked a bit about the creative aspects of podcasting, though if you are unfamiliar with podcasting you might want to start here. I'm not a real Techie, so if you find my instructions confusing, send me an email and I will do my best to answer your questions.

I do my podcasting at home with my home computer. Some Podcasters record away from a computer using a portable recording device (usually the preferred device is a digital device that can be plugged directly into the computer in order to download the recording.) These devices cost between $50-100 and can be obtained through sites such as or at stores like Staples. I use a Logitech stand microphone that I plug into my computer. I paid less than $30 for it and the quality is adequate.

I record using Audacity, a free program downloaded from the internet. (Audacity makes money by selling merchandise and accepting donations, so if you use it often you might want to consider compensating the programmers for their excellent work.) It is easy to record using Audacity.

Try to find a quiet time/place to record. If you can hear someone mowing the lawn, for example, wait for them to finish. Most microphones have noise reduction but the feature is not perfect. I keep my "record" volume fairly low (below 50 percent) in order to avoid picking up too much ambient background noise.

When you are ready to start, just plug your microphone into your computer using the manufacturer's instructions (making sure it is turned on), open Audacity, and click on the red dot to begin recording. Remain quiet and motionless for a few seconds before beginning. This will provide a sample to use if you will utilize the noise removal feature of Audacity (which I will talk about later.)

Generally I click the record button, wait a few seconds, then open my text in Microsoft word, then begin reading. If you make a mistake (loud noise, coughing, or mangling your words), pause for a second or so and then go back a bit and continue. Later you will simply snip the offending passage out, just as you delete a passage from a text document. When you are finished, hit the square yellow stop button in Audacity.

The next step is editing. What you see in Audacity is sound waves, although they are compressed and don't look like it. If you want to see the actual stretched-out waves, click on the magnifying glass in the tool bar and drag it to the waves and click on them to expand them. In order to facilitate editing you will want to collapse them again by using the magnifying glass tool while holding down the shift key. You will probably want to expand the height of the sound waves; use the magnify tool and click on the "0.0" at the beginning of the wave line until you can clearly see the waves to edit the recording.

Begin by removing extraneous sound. Take a sample of about 3 seconds of silence at the beginning of the recording by highlighting it (use the cursor from the tool bar.) Listen to the sample to make sure there are no distinct sounds (like a breath or clicking the keyboards). Click on "Effect" from the menu and then choose "noise removal.) Click "Get noise profile." Then go back to the recording and highlight the whole recording (you can hold down Control + A together to do this) and go back to "noise removal." This time choose "ok."

Then I use the normalize effect. Keep the whole recording highlighted. (Just click on "normalize" and click "ok" to the default.) The final effect I use is "equalization." Go to "equalization" under "effects." I choose "Columbia LP" from the menu and then click "ok."

I go through the podcast and eliminate coughs, throat clears, and shorten overly long pauses. To eliminate a piece of the recording, highlight it and listen to it to make sure you have the proper section, then just hit the "delete" key. You can always reverse a mistake by holding down control and hitting "Z." There is a "silence finder" function under "Analyze" that can help you find long pauses. It will mark the pauses. You can scroll through the recording using the arrows underneath. The best way to find coughs and other noises to be removed is to listen to the recording. (You may actually remember them, or you can even mark them down on scratch paper while you record.) Be careful when removing portions of the recording; go back before the section you removed to ensure a smooth transition. It can help to use the magnifying tool to expand the section to see exactly where to cut.

If you would like to add music or sound effects, you will need to add one or two additional tracks. Go to "Track" and under track click "add new" and choose either stereo or mono, depending on the type of recording you will be adding.

Music and clips added to your podcast can enhance it greatly but it adds to editing time. You need to find clips that are legal for you to use and you need to provide proper credit. In some cases you can use music recorded at your church or by you; make sure you check the copyright on the sheet music and consult with the musicians you use. A lot of older sacred music is in the public domain, so if that is the case with the music you choose, as long as the musicians agree to allow you to use the music without paying them a royalty you are free to do so.

You can also use instrumental or inspirational music through Creative Commons. Many Creative Commons licenses allow for free use as long as you will not be making a profit from the project in which the music is used. I find my Creative Commons music at CCMixter. You can search for the music by keyword. If you will be using just a portion of the music make sure that the license allows for that. Download the music onto your computer and then open it in a new file in Audacity. I highlight the portion I want to use and then copy and paste it into the second track on the recording. Usually I fade the music in at the beginning and out at the end to make for a more graceful transition. Highlight the portion you want to fade in or out and then choose "fade in" or "fade out" under effects. Usually I will add in a piece that is a bit too long and then just delete out the end part, and then fade it in and out. You can adjust the sound on each track at the left hand side but you can also adjust the sound of portions up or down by using the "Amplify" function under "Effects." You can slide the "amplify" effect down into the negative numbers to make the section quieter or in the regular numbers to make it louder. Proper sound mixing is crucial when using background music; if music drowns out your speaking it ruins the recording.
If you want to add sound effects that overlap the music, you will need to add a third track. I generally record my sound effects at home because I have found free sound effects difficult to find over the internet, but you might have luck by doing a Google search for a particular sound.
If you want to add snippets from other programs (such as news programs) you can ask for permission from the copyright holder (and make certain you reach the correct copyright holder.) In some cases you may be allowed to use clips from news sources under fair use. I am not going to discuss what constitutes fair use, but you can learn more about it at the Wikipedia entry. From there you can explore the topic as much as you choose, draw your own conclusions and proceed accordingly. I will say that if you do decide to include snippets under what you believe is fair use and you get any complaints from someone claiming to own the copyright who asks you to cease and desist, my advice is to remove the clip in question immediately.

This concludes part one; the creation of the podcast. In a separate post I will talk about how to get the podcast online and into iTunes.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What is Podcasting, and why is it happening to me?

This past May I attended a wonderful presentation by Rev. John McIver Gage of United Church on the Green in New Haven on using new media in ministry. One of his ideas involved podcasting. I was immediately intrigued and began plotting to create my own sermon podcasts. This post will detail the creative aspects of creating a podcast; a future blog post will go into detail about the technical aspects (and there are many, many technical aspects.)

The Riverton Sermon podcast is designed both for people who have missed a church service and want to hear some of what they missed, and for people who might be interested in checking out the church but want a "sneak preview." I start by recording a script based on the scripture lessons and sermons for a particular week. After a few attempts I settled on condensing the scripture reading and in some cases the sermon. After that I sometimes add background music and even sound effects. I use both traditional, familiar sacred music and evocative instrumental music. When a podcast uses music and sound effects, it is important to be certain that laws and rules regarding fair usage and crediting sources are strictly observed. Go to Creative Commons to learn more about obtaining free and low-cost music and effects for podcasts. Mostly I use music to accompany scripture and to enhance the conclusion of the sermon, but sometimes music feels right in other places as well. I enjoy experimenting with music and sound.

While there is a wide world of great music and sounds available for free use by Podcasters, more than once I have resorted to creating my own sounds at home. The art of creating sound effects using ordinary household objects is called "Foley" after an early pioneer, and you can learn more about it here.

Our sermon podcast has a unique combination of words and music we call the "Intro" and "Outro" for the podcast. It will remain the same, enabling the listener to know when a particular podcast begins and ends.

After the podcast is completed it is downloaded to Podbean, a podcast hosting service. It is possible to listen directly from the Podbean site, or to use Podbean as a portal to subscribe and download the podcasts using other services such as Itunes.

If you are thinking of creating your own Podcast on any subject, I would definitely encourage you to try it, although be warned that your learning curve may be pretty steep early on and that listening to your own voice is stern medicine for most people. Nobody sounds the same on tape as they do in their own head, so it can take some getting used to. Another useful tip is to observe a general schedule for podcasting. Most podcasts come out on a regular schedule (usually daily, weekly or bi-weekly.) It makes it easier to develop a base of listeners if they know when they can look forward to hearing you next! I personally have a number of podcasts I listen to regularly; ones you might check out (besides the previously-mentioned United Church on the Green) include Working Preacher (designed to help prepare preachers for the coming Sunday) and Being. Happy podcast listening and podcasting!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Reformation Sunday 2010

In order to make the Reformation come alive for the congregation I crafted some hats in the style of famous Reformers. The hats were available for folks to try on during coffee hour; unfortunately I forgot my camera. I enlisted a willing volunteer at home in case you missed it. Here are the hats with the captions from the Wikipedia entries of the Reformers who wore them underneath. If you would like to learn more about the Protestant Reformation, you can learn more at the main Wikipedia entry.
Jan Hus also known as Jan Huss, John Hus, John Huss ; ca. 1369 Husinec, Bohemia – 6 July 1415 Constance (today Konstanz, Germany)), often referred to in English as John Huss or variations thereof, was a Czech priest, philosopher, reformer, and master at Charles University in Prague.
Martin Luther (10 November 1483 – 18 February 1546) was a German priest and professor of theology who initiated the Protestant Reformation.
ohn Wycliffe (pronounced /ˈwɪklɪf/; also spelled Wyclif, Wycliff, Wiclef, Wicliffe, orWickliffe) (c. 1324 – 31 December 1384) was an English theologian, lay preacher, translator,reformist and university teacher who was known as an early dissident in the Roman Catholic Church during the 14th century.
Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (October 28, 1466 – July 12, 1536), sometimes known asDesiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, was a Dutch Renaissance humanist and a Catholic priest and theologian.

Huldrych (or Ulrich) Zwingli (1 January 1484 – 11 October 1531) was a leader of the Reformation in Switzerland.

John Calvin (Middle French: Jean Cauvin) (10 July 1509 – 27 May 1564) was an influential French theologian and pastor during the Protestant Reformation.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Martin Luther--Fashionista?

A recent poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that many Christians don't know much about religion, including our own Christian history. As a pastor I think it is important to take this as a wake-up call, and so I am determined to put more energy into Reformation Sunday every year (in past years our congregation has sung "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" and gone about our business as usual...)

Interestingly, this year Reformation Sunday falls on Halloween, so in keeping with the current American way of celebrating this holiday, this Reformation Sunday at Riverton Church we will be trying on some of the interesting hats worn by some famous Reformers. Yes, I know that such an activity would cause our Puritan ancestors great consternation, but they should have thought of that before actually wearing the hats out in public themselves. (Please note that I will not be attempting to re-create their hairstyles and/or facial hair. That would be taking things a bit too far.)
If you haven't taken the Pew Survey you can find it here. You can preview some of the hats at the Wikipedia entry on the Protestant Reformation. You can learn more about Connecticut's own great theologian Jonathan Edwards here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What are you, some kind of animal?

Early on in my ministry at Riverton Church I learned that most of our members are heavily involved in the annual Riverton Fair, a large fair held on the second weekend of October. Wanting to participate in some way, my first year at Riverton I baked some cookies, affixed a label with information about the fair, and passed them out on the main fairway. The next year I planned to do the same (except with purchased candy--it takes a long time to bake cookies for a fair that has about 20,000 visitors annually) when I spied a cow costume while shopping one day. That year marked my first as a fair "animal." In subsequent years the church began to host a duck race fundraiser at the fair, so I switched to dressing like a duck.

From the start people remarked upon my bravery for stepping out in public dressed as a large farm animal. From the outside it might look brave, but the view from inside the costume is very different. When I walk around as just-plain-me children don't jump up and down with excitement at my approach and tug their parent's sleeves to have a look at me. I don't get asked to pose for photos with dozens of people. Even though you can't see my face in these pictures, I assure you that I'm smiling down to my toes. Yes, I'm uncomfortably hot in the costume much of the time, and the visibility is poor, but the opportunity to be a human day-brightener, even in a small way, makes it well worth it. It makes me realize how much we as people can do to spread joy to each other when we take the time to make the effort. When I'm a duck I make an effort to be friendly to everyone I see. When I hear music I like I sway and dance. In real life I can be more shy and retiring. The fair is over for another year and I'm back to being just-plain-me again, but I'm going to try to bring my duck attitude into my regular life.

Monday, October 4, 2010

All Saints/Day of the Dead

Over a decade ago, while I was serving as a Protestant Chaplain at a University, I received word that a young faculty member had died suddenly and unexpectedly. While this is never welcome news, it came at an especially challenging time--I was co-hosting a regional campus ministry conference. Nevertheless, I sped over to the home of the young woman who had died and spent an hour or so just sitting with her husband, who was more or less in shock.

That event inspired me to learn more about death, dying, grief and mourning, and I signed up for a seminar in Mexico about The Day of the Dead.

The Day of the Dead is a national holiday that falls at the end of October and the beginning of November. It is usually observed from October 31-Nov. 2, with citizens getting the day of Nov. 2 off. It begins with family members creating an Ofrenda, or altar, in their home on the eve of October 31. They decorate the offering with paper cutouts and cover it with photos and mementos of loved ones who have died, with candles, flowers, traditional breads and with their loved one's favorite dishes.
A path of marigold petals leads from the entrance of the property to the altar, to lead the loved ones to the display.
Many families also decorate the graves of loved ones, and some spend the night of Nov. 1 at the cemetery, feasting and feeling close to those who are gone.
I returned from Mexico convinced that this practice would translate well to an American church context. Happily, I have been right.
It is easy to set up an Ofrenda in your home or your worship space. Begin with a table large enough to accommodate photos, flowers and candles. At church we generally place a smaller table on top for a tiered effect. At one church I used a tiered poinsettia stand. Cover the table with a white cloth or sheet. Flowers in vases, candles, dishes of food, etc., help anchor the tablecloth. (Usually we just stick with the traditional Pan de Muerto, or Bread of the Dead,
sprinkled with pastel colored sugars in pink, orange and blue.)
Then come the colorful cutouts. These are like large snowflakes cut from crepe paper. Usually the children at the church are invited to create these on the Sunday before the celebration. These are taped to to the front of the white cloth. Depending on where your church is located and how your worship space is set up, marigold petals may or may not be a suitable addition. In early years we harvested marigolds and froze the petals, but as they thawed they stained the carpet. I also tried mum petals before settling on orange and yellow confetti.
Worshippers are asked to bring photos and mementos of loved ones. As the photos arrive, arrange them on the altar. I usually light a few large votive candles prior to the service, and then after the sacrament of communion I invite people to come up and light a candle in honor of lost loved ones. I usually use small votive candles for this purpose. I have also provided colorful cutouts of autumn leaves for people to write the names of loved ones upon and place upon the altar.
This is a photo of a pretty traditional looking altar (except for the black cloth.) Here is a photo of a nice home alta
Altars can getpretty elaborate and include wired arches made of marigolds.

The first time I celebrated this custom in the United States, I was both really excited to share with my American Congregants and really afraid that they would find the entire thing weird or even offensive, so I put it in the entryway of the church rather than up front. I needn't have worried. By the time it was all over everyone was suggesting we move it up front. The next time I did, and it has been up in the front of the church ever since.

I do take care every year to explain and prepare the congregation, particularly as new people need to learn about it and others forget aspects from year to year. Sometimes I make a flyer explaining the practice to the congregation and even then I always explain verbally and point out each element of the display.

Worship Costume instead of Vestments

At the 2009 United Church of Christ National Synod meeting, many worship services were led by people in costumes rather than more traditional robes. I liked that idea and decided to implement it for our annual outdoor worship service by the Farmington River. I didn't want to spend a lot of money or time on the costume so I re-purposed a dress by creating iron-on transfers with my computer printer. I also sewed some matching trim on the neck, sleeves and hem of the garment.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Star Gifts Sunday

On the first Sunday of the new year, church members choose, at random a paper star inscribed with a word such as "love" or "sharing" or "prayerfulness," in celebration of the gifts that the Magi (also called Wise Men or Kings) brought to the Christ child. There are a total of 128 gifts in all, so even in a large congregation there are only a few repeats. Each person is instructed to take their gift home, put it somewhere they will see it often (computer monitors and refrigerators are popular spots) and meditate upon it whenever they see it. Some people find this to be one of the most meaningful Sundays of the entire church year. I first encountered this worship practice at South Church/First Baptist in New Britain, when I worshiped there in the early 90s. I received the gift of "sharing" and instantly rolled my eyes. Didn't I do enough "sharing?" But even though I wasn't excited by my gift, I placed it on my refrigerator, where it caught my eye every time I went to get some milk for my coffee (which is to say, pretty often.) Over the course of several weeks and months I gradually became aware of how often people shared with me--shared of their wisdom or their bounty (fresh produce!) or thoughtfully included me in their lives. I approached other church members and asked them if their star gifts were meaningful as well, and everyone I talked to said yes. The following year I found a way to distribute the stars to the entire faculty and staff of Central Connecticut State University, where I served as the Ecumenical Protestant minister. I did remove some of the exclusively Christian words to make it more universal, and I explained the story of the Magi, and the gifts got a delighted reception. Over the years I have distributed literally thousands of these stars.
I have long since lost track of the original source of the idea. It came from a Presbyterian publication (if you know, please provide it to me so I can credit the author.)

Currently we create the stars on brightly colored card stock. It has become a family project to cut out the stars. I also make star-themed snacks (usually cut-out cookies.)

The Blessing of the Animals or Pets in Church! What's Not to Love?

Today we held our annual Blessing of the Animals in honor of St. Francis. I started doing this eight years ago with no previous experience--I just googled "St. Francis Day" and "Blessing of the Animals" and turned up lots of resources. Today it's even easier to plan a Blessing of the Animals--many resources are available on

Add some animal-themed refreshments, treats for pets, and you're looking at a fun and memorable event.