The Holy Genre: Lighting Houses of Worship

by Brad Schiller • in
  • Feeding the Machines
  • July 2018
• Created: July 13, 2018

Share This:

Over the past few months, I have been discussing various genres of production that automated lighting programmers often come across. This month, the genre study continues with a look at programming for House of Worship or religious based events. Typically, these occur in a church, synagogue, temple, or other religious location. Many are large productions, where others are subtle in terms of lighting effects. On the surface, one would think that these events don’t require any unique programming procedures; however there are actually many characteristics that programmers need to be aware of when building a show.

‡‡         Corporate Similarity

In many ways, the lighting and programming of a house of worship event is very similar to a corporate event. Both types of productions have a similar breakdown of needs — a person giving a speech/sermon, musical acts, special skits or ceremonies and heavy use of I-Mag or even live broadcast. The lighting programmer must organize the show file to match the flow of the daily events and also be ready for live changes and improvisation.

The house of worship programmer needs to make use of the standard set of programming tools such as palettes/presets, groups, cuelists, faders and more. In addition, a reference monitor at the FOH position will help to ensure that the lighting looks correct on camera.

‡‡         Defining Purpose

Depending on the religion, the purpose of the lighting at a worship event may require distinctive considerations. For instance, some worship services heavily rely on production and lighting to evoke emotions and further their message. On the other hand, some services are very solemn, and the lighting is primarily there for illumination (both live and for the camera). It is very important for the programmer to understand the desires of the staff and craft the lighting to match accordingly. No one wants to see an audience ballyhoo when it is not intended!

The lighting programmer at a house of worship event does not have to be a part of the given religion, but understanding and respect is required. Spending a little time to learn about the religion’s teachings, symbols, beliefs and values will assist in knowing what colors to use, what items to highlight, as well as understanding key moments.

In some cases, the lighting programmer is a member of the religion and may see the task of programming as part of a larger duty, mission, or ministry. He or she may feel called to make the lighting an integral part of the house of worship’s overall message and outreach. In such a case, the programmer needs to work closely with the clergy to ensure that the personal mission matches that of the overall goals of the main organization.

‡‡         Multi-Faceted Production

“House of worship” is a broad category that applies to religious based productions. Although it’s only one of many lighting genres, even within this category, there can be many subsets of activities. For example, common elements are the sermon, worship or music and special moments. These might happen during regular services. Then there are additional services such as youth ministries, weddings, funerals, holiday events and more. Each of these may require specific programming and lighting to enhance the event or to just simply illuminate.

The house of worship programmer must understand the different types of production that can occur within the walls of the space. While the programming principles and routines are very similar, the outcome can vary widely. In addition, many of these special events may require additional programming of supplemental fixtures or complex cueing. A programmer should prepare for longer hours around holiday events and such. It is also essential to understand how to add fixtures to the desk and show file without negatively affecting the standard set up.

‡‡         Maintaining Control

The biggest aspect that sets house of worship lighting programming apart from most other genres is the fact that many of the operators of the lighting are volunteers. You may be hired to program for a church or temple and then turn it over to non-professional volunteers to operate at each service. This means that, when programming, you need to set up everything to be easily played back by anyone.

Of course, your programming needs to make use of labeling, palettes/presets and the usual tools, but more importantly you need to think like a non-lighting person. On a given day, a volunteer may walk up to the console and need to slide a fader up to illuminate the pulpit. They wont know how to change pages, select fixtures, or other basic lighting tasks. Hopefully you have programmed the console to auto-start into a playback condition, with the proper windows displaying on the monitors. Then the playbacks need to be clearly labeled and simple to operate. Sliding the fader up/down should activate/deactivate the playback in a manner that also looks clean on stage.

When you really think about how a non-lighting person will approach the playback, you will see that it can be very complex. If you have arc-source fixtures, they will need a method (a macro or special cuelist) to strike and douse the fixtures. You may even need to set up automatic clock functions to douse the lamps at midnight in the event that the volunteers failed to do it manually. Furthermore, the console should be set up so that they can easily activate the common states needed in the space. The volunteers don’t need to understand selecting fixtures and programming, but they do need quick methods to get the proper areas illuminated or the correct effects happening.

Typically, the programmer will create a series of playbacks that conform to the usual tasks of the space. For instance, there will likely be faders for a stage wash, house lights, pulpit or podium, architectural details and the musical act (choir or band). Then they need some simple buttons or additional faders to easily change colors or add in effects such as ballyhoos or flyouts. Labeling of the playbacks should be in general terms and not based on a “lighting vocabulary.”

As you program all these playbacks, you must ensure that the priorities are correct to avoid conflicts and that the various elements reset correctly too. Furthermore, you need to make it easy to get back to the basic look with the room and stage area illuminated. All of the aforementioned requires planning and skills that are rarely used when programming for other genres of production.

‡‡         Praise the Light

Programming automated lighting for house of worship events can be very satisfying and challenging at the same time. While the art of building cues and palettes/presets is similar to other productions, the playback methods and operations are very different. You probably also need to spend time training the staff and volunteers and might even create documents to assist them when you are not in the building.

Remember that religious events have a higher purpose and can be more emotional for the audience than other productions. Care must be taken to adhere to the needs of the clergy and work with a respect for the overall message. As a programmer, you probably need to spend more time gaining an understanding the event and staff than with other genres. Then you can create a perfect console playback scheme that will satisfy the needs of the space and the person operating the desk, even if that person is you!


Photo of the Rock Community Church in Littleton, CO courtesy Clair Brothers

Share This:

Leave a Comment:

Check Out Some Past PLSN Issues