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Aug 19, 2013 | Luke Blount

Virtually There Palmer Takes Service Online


[Diolog Magazine] Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church has a fantastic location in Houston, nestled between Hermann Park, the Texas Medical Center and Rice University. But thanks to some innovative thinking and a healthy amount of perseverance, Palmer isn’t limited to just that space—they can reach people all around the world.


On Easter of this year, the church leadership launched Palmer Radio, a live audio stream of the church service on the Internet. This fall, they plan to expand that offering into video as well, calling it “Palmer Live.”  For the staff at Palmer, the project has been the result of a long series of trials and improvements to existing systems, but their experimentation has led to discovering a system that most churches could easily and cheaply replicate. 


“If it were a snake it would have bit me,” said Ross Heinsohn, Palmer’s media ministry and youth ministry director. “All these things were laying out there, these puzzle pieces that needed to be put together. And all of the sudden, we can stream live video and audio for $8 a month.”


Heinsohn began experimenting with streaming video when the church leadership asked him to find a way to broadcast the service from the Palmer nave into St. Bede’s Chapel on the other side of the church campus. To accomplish this, Heinsohn purchased a camera with a long zoom and hooked it into a product called a “Slingbox,” which allows someone to wirelessly tap into a live stream of video from anywhere in the world. Then, they hooked a laptop into a projector in St. Bede’s, logged into the Slingbox and voila: a live video stream! 


This innovation allowed Palmer to reduce their five morning services down to two when they needed to host church-wide events on campus. 


Not long after completing that project, the leadership pushed Heinsohn further, asking him to find a way to broadcast a live service over the Web. The only problem was that the original structure allowed only one viewer to tap into the video stream, so they needed a new fix. Professional estimates ranged close to $10,000 just to get a system set up, which was definitely not in the budget. 


That’s when Heinsohn realized what was there all along. The church staff had recently switched their email server to Google Mail, enrolling in a service called Google for Nonprofits. As part of their charitable donations, Google provides free services to nonprofit organizations, which includes email hosting, cloud storage, advertising and even grants. And since Google owns YouTube, organizations enrolled in Google for Nonprofits receive free upgraded YouTube accounts, including free live-streaming. 


Heinsohn downloaded a piece of software that would allow him to control multiple cameras and microphones at once and direct a stream to any source for $8 a month. Then he directed his output to the Palmer YouTube channel, enabling Palmer to broadcast their services to anyone with an online connection, including mobile devices like phones and tablets. 


To most people, this setup would seem incredibly difficult to even understand, much less implement, but Heinsohn insists that every church has someone in their congregation who is tech-savvy enough to create a similar system. 


“In my ministries, I follow my grandmother’s advice which was ‘do what you can with what you got, where you are at,’” Heinsohn said. “Being able to do things by ourselves using the hands that God gave us and the brains that God gave us and the creativity that God gave us to come up with these ways to spread the word of God is one of the things I love most about my job.”


With just minor improvements to existing resources, Palmer services are now heard in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and even Puerto Rico. According to Heinsohn, a family from Puerto Rico has now formally joined the church through their interactions online. 


Additionally, the new capabilities of Palmer’s media ministry has allowed the youth to contribute in new ways while gaining valuable work experience working with audio, video and software. 


“Having the youth serve as acolytes and lay readers is fantastic, but some youth are not extroverts or do not like putting on albs and sitting in front of the entire congregation,” Heinsohn said. “This allows those individuals who feel called to serve God in the church to do so without putting themselves in uncomfortable situations. If you are an introvert and don’t like standing in front of people, wonderful! You are going to come back here and stand in front of this camera.”


For Palmer, the addition of a live feed of their services has impacted all ages, non-members and members alike. Perhaps the most important aspect of this new technology is the ability for those who are homebound or hospitalized to participate in the service on Sunday mornings.


Fran Wallis, Palmer’s membership secretary, has listened to Palmer Radio several times from her home. She battles daily with the debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis, and sometimes she cannot make it to church. 


“I can hear it live, and it’s glorious,” she said. “The reason I come to church is to give glory and honor and worth to God. Now, in my small way, I can do that at home when I can’t make it in.”


Depending on the day, Wallis can sometimes get ready fairly quickly. But other days, it may take hours just to get out of her home. With Palmer Radio, Wallis can stay in her pajamas, close her eyes and sing along with the hymns as she used to do as a member of the choir.


“It’s just special,” Wallis said. “You feel like you are still there. It is a way to complete the day … It just brings in the people who aren’t able to attend and makes them feel like they are part of the community. You may be a face that isn’t seen at the church, but it doesn’t mean you aren’t there.”


To learn more about Palmer Radio and Palmer Live, contact Palmer at 713.529.6196 or visit