Like most of New Jersey's seaside communities, life on this resort island near Atlantic City is affected by the seasons. In the summer months, the sun seekers and beach lovers help to swell the congregation at St. Thomas the Apostle from 1,000 to more than 3,000—well beyond what their existing sanctuary can handle.
As Bobby Harper, vice president of sales at Egg Harbor-based ACIR Professional explained, the church came up with a creative solution.
"It's an older structure, and it has some history, and they didn't want to just tear it down and build something bigger," said Harper. "So they opted to renovate the original building and also build an event center, which could handle the overflow, as well as other functions."
The idea of connecting the events center to the sanctuary via audio and video was suggested early on, but a complex digital matrix with touch panels was simply not feasible. "We wanted to create a solution for them that would meet their needs without getting into complex and expensive networking," Harper explained.
Using the seasonal population shifts to their advantage, the project was carried out in two phases. "The first summer, they used the (just-completed) events center as just that - a multi-purpose events center," explained Harper. When fall approached, the event center was pressed into service as temporary sanctuary while the original 1920s-era building was then renovated, expanded, and tied in with the events center via audio and video feeds. "This summer they are finally enjoying it as an expansion space."
The new sanctuary presented some challenging acoustics. "The sanctuary is pretty reflective inside," said Harper. "They replaced the carpet with granite and marble, which increased the reverberance." The addition of naves to the left and right of the altar also impacted the room's acoustics.
"We decided to go with a distributed system," Harper continued. "We didn't want to energize the space with a large system, and we wanted clarity and consistency in coverage."
The room's audio includes a pair of Community VERIS 28 dual eight-inch systems at left and right of the altar, with another three VERIS 8 single eight-inch loudspeakers along each side. Yamaha 3500 and 5000 amplifiers power the system. "The church has a full praise band, with drummer, bass, keyboard, organ, a couple of violins, and flute, and musicality was an important consideration," said Harper. "We had been looking into the VERIS systems, and it seemed like a perfect fit."
System drive and processing is covered by Community's dSPEC networked loudspeaker processor. "The dSPEC is a great piece of gear," said Harper. "We're hardly pushing the amps—that's the beauty of it. We use the dSPEC to calibrate the limiters on the amps for maximum efficiency with the loudspeakers. And it's very user friendly. I plugged it in, had no training on it, and had it sorted out in less than an hour."
Space to the left and right of the altar have been converted into naves, each of which are served by a pair of MX10 compact monitors as wedges. "We custom-painted them to match the wall, and mounted them where the wall meets ceiling," said Harper. "They look fantastic and they sound great."
A Yamaha MG16 console is installed at the sanctuary's mix position, with a Yamaha MG24 for the choir monitors. Sennheiser mics and wireless systems cover the choir loft, altar and musicians. A Sony PTZ70 camera captures the service and sends the signal via Ethernet to the event center.
Over in the event center, another Yamaha MG16 console covers mix position. Connected pairs between each of the three consoles enables each to receive aux send audio feeds from the others. As Harper observes, "the system is not quite foolproof, but fortunately the church's technical personnel are savvy enough not to route things into a feedback loop." A smaller 5.1 consumer system covers most of the room's audio needs, and an Eiki LCWB42NA projector gets the Sony PTZ's video feed to a ceiling-mounted DaLite screen.
As Harper points out, the event center was conceived from the outset as a multi-use venue, with flexibility a key requirement. "We installed audio I/O panels throughout the room, and they can easily configure the system for whatever event they're holding. They can take the audio and video feed from the sanctuary, or they can host a power point demonstration, or watch a movie, or Monday night football," he says. "It also made it easy to configure a portable church while the main sanctuary was under construction."
While AV interconnectivity is more often the province of contemporary churches, Harper said the implementation of it in this older, more traditional setting was worth it. "There were certainly some challenges in terms of running cable and working out logistics, but the end result is exactly what we wanted."