Much time, work, sweat goes into setup for BGCT Convention

The later it got on Monday morning, the higher the noise levels in Baylor University's Ferrell Center rose. It was Nov. 11, the first day of the Baptist General Convention of Texas' annual meeting. Messengers from churches all over the state were wading through registration lines, picking up information and filing into the arena for a seat before the meeting officially started.

What visitors saw was an array of chairs, a platform stage with screens, curtained-off backstage areas and numbered microphones standing at attention throughout the arena. During the action, screens showed video clips and projected speakers for those with far-off seats, while amplifiers blared the music and messages to each corner of the room. What they did not see was the hours of work that went on beforehand to make all those things possible.

Steve Long knows firsthand. Not only has he seen the process, he's also been part of it for the past 13 years. As assistant professor of mass communications at Wayland Baptist University, Long has served as one-third of the audio crew that assembles and operates sound equipment for the convention. Jeff Davidson, minister of media at First Baptist Church in Dallas, and Steve Storie, director of audiovisuals at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, round out the crew.

Long said Davidson and Storie - who had been his supervisors while working on a master's degree at Southwestern - recruited him to be on the audio crew during his first semester teaching at Wayland. He agreed, and said the experience has been enjoyable, while admittedly tiring.

For one thing, the effort always involves travel. First the equipment must be gathered from storage at the Broadcast Center of the North American Mission Board, located in Dallas, and hauled by semi-truck to the host city. Then the truck must be unloaded at the convention site and prepared for set-up, which typically takes about two days, Long said, though that might come in chunks of hours depending on others involved.

The convention typically subcontracts a company to do lighting and set up the stage area, phones, screens and video components, so Long and the audio crew have to work around those groups and in sequence with them.

Many hours later, the main sound board, along with speakers, amplifiers and microphones galore are all in place. A sound check and walk-through is typically planned for Sunday evening. But then on Monday when the convention actually kicks off, the crew slips into operator mode, with Davidson assuming duties on the soundboard and Storie on the headset to receive any cues or last minute changes. Long hovers just off-stage to keep microphones and lavaliers in the right places and on the right people. After the event has ended, the equipment is unhooked, repacked and driven back to Dallas.

Long said the crew's work is not difficult, especially since all three are experts in audiovisual equipment and troubleshooting.

"By now we all know what we have to do when we get there. We may do some first or later, but there's a long list of things to do," he said. "No one has to tell anyone else what needs to be done, because we all know. That's the magic of how this all comes together."

He said the key to the crew's success is their familiarity both with one another - all three grew up together in Oklahoma - and their equipment. The cooperative effort among the crew and others with whom they must work also makes for a smoother show. For example, the audio equipment all belongs to the Southern Baptist Convention and is used at their annual meetings as well. But there have been years when things were a bit more hairy.

"In 1991, when the convention was in Waco and there were more than 10,000 people in attendance, we had to hook microwave links (from Ferrell Center) to the convention center and to First Baptist Church to create overflow spaces," Long recalled. "People were at all those places making motions and speaking, so we had to have the microphones and everything in place. That was kind of crazy."

In many cases, the crew must work their schedule around the facility itself, such as holding off on set-up until a basketball game is over or tearing down equipment right after the closing session in order to free up the facility for other events. In those cases, Long said being flexible and allowing plenty of time is typically all that is necessary.

Literally hanging on every word of the convention might seem to make the crew ultra-aware of the meetings' proceedings and messages. But their technical role often means they're watching and making sure others can hear and enjoy the convention. Their attention is not always on content, and Long said that can make actually being a participant in the worship a bit difficult.

"I have a different perspective when I'm the support person. I know I have to make it worshipful for myself as well, so I have to consciously make sure I'm part of the service," he said. "If the worship succeeds and others have had a worshipful experience, I feel I've had my part in worship as well.

"I compare it to the story of Mary and Martha," he adds. "We'd all like to be out front just enjoying the worship. But there are those behind the scenes that have to help make it happen."