Today was our church’s Annual Parochial Church Meeting (APCM). Normally this would have happened at the end of March – the week after lockdown fell. It could be well past next March before things are back to normal, updated Diocesan guidance has been issued and so we went ahead with the meeting today, after our first Sunday morning back in the building for over six months.
Although we had a good turnout, there were a number of people who couldn’t attend in person, mainly due to health concerns. To support them, we attempted to provide an online option via Zoom, facilitated by me.
I muted all participants and provided them a view from a camera that took in the table the chair and secretary were sat at as well as some of the church. All were muted, so we had to rely on the chat option for communication but at least it put them in the room.
There were two main challenges. First of all, the sound. I’m increasingly coming to the view that we have issues recording sound in the church (it affects the services I film for online viewing too). There is a relatively strong natural reverb to the room although that was helped a bit by having more people than we’ve had on our Tuesday morning services – warm bodies soak up some of the unwanted sound reflections. However, there is also an issue with the hot air blowers and ceiling fans that provide our heating and heat circulation system. It creates a very high ‘noise floor’ – if you turn up the recording level so the voices are loud, you also turn up the droning sounds in the background, which affect clarity and are wearing over time. In the end I did a lot of typing in the chat window to try and convey what was going on – that was semi successful but meant the online participants were relying on my precis of what was being said.
The other challenge was voting. We only had one secret ballot, for PCC members, but out of the seven connected machines from which votes were cast, someone didn’t quite get my instructions and voted yes to more than three candidates so we had to count all the online votes as spoiled. Anonymous voting means there was no way for me to tell who this was. Fortunately, the pattern of voting was inline with what had been done by the larger number of people in the room so we took the decision to move ahead on the basis that the online vote wouldn’t have changed the results. There was also no way for a couple logged on together to each cast a separate vote. If we have another online secret ballot looming, we will have to look again at options that are more capable than Zoom.
So, imperfect but at least we tried. We’ll see what conditions are like when our next APCM rolls around, probably next March or so.