By Dave Jolivet, Anchor Editor
VINEYARD HAVEN, Mass. — One of a pastor’s main concerns is to keep his flock together as a parish community. That’s not an easy thing to do, and when physical logistics play a hand, it increases the task.
Father Michael Nagle is pastor of Good Shepherd Parish on the island of Martha’s Vineyard which is nestled in Vineyard Sound to the northwest, Nantucket Sound to the northeast, and the Atlantic Ocean due south.
Father Nagle’s parish on the 100-square-mile isle includes St. Augustine’s Church in Vineyard Haven, St. Elizabeth’s Church in Edgartown, and Our Lady Star of the Sea Chapel in Oak Bluffs.
The island is home to a large Brazilian community, a fair amount of “snowbirds,” who make Florida their winter homes, people whose livelihoods lead them on and off island on a routine basis, and summer visitors who seek a Catholic community when away from home.
Added to the mix is the fact Martha’s Vineyard is the largest island on the east coast of the U.S. that has no bridge access to the mainland. Consequently, the primary transportation modes to and from the island are ferries and planes.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve tried to think of ways to keep our people connected,” Father Nagle told The Anchor. “I gave it a lot of thought, and then a man with whom I’d done business, Troy Jennings from Power Sound of New England, and I came up with the idea of installing a webcam in St. Augustine’s, that way people could watch a live stream of our Sunday Masses.”
Jennings, whose company does a fair amount of work with Catholic parishes across New England, told The Anchor, “The initial problem with a live webcam in the church was the resolution of the feed. The early hardware provided a stream that had poor resolution that made it difficult to make out the figures on the screen; the feed was staggered, and it was expensive.”
Jennings said his company went headlong into a research and development mode and found high resolution equipment and a server that could handle the crystal clear webcam feed and stream it live on the Internet without losing any of the resolution. And at a fair price.
“The movement is fluid, the pictures are clear, and the colors are true,” added Jennings.
“Father Nagle was very instrumental in getting this done,” Jennings said further. “He gave us access to St. Augustine’s Church when we needed to test and perfect the feed.”
“I have been very happy with the results of this venture,” said Father Nagle. “At first we started with St. Augustine’s a little over a year ago, then we installed a camera in the Oak Bluffs location, and just recently added the Edgartown site.
“Now people who are off island or who are shut-ins can watch live feeds of all our Masses, Baptisms, weddings, funerals and other services. It really is helping to keep our Good Shepherd community together. All they have to do is visit our parish website and click on the webcam button. As long as they know the time and the place, they can watch it live.”
Father Nagle told The Anchor that recently a woman with family in Brazil was married on the Vineyard, and her family was able to watch the wedding Mass live at home in South America. “The mother was very grateful and moved by that,” he said. “Also, we recently had a Baptism and the child’s great grandmother, a former Martha’s Vineyard inhabitant who had moved back to Germany, was able to watch the ceremony. She was so thankful.
“And we had a woman just up the street from us who is a shut-in whose great-great-grandson was being Christened and she was able to see it live. She couldn’t have been happier.”
Father Nagle said that he has a friend in Tuscon, Ariz., who watches the live feeds from the Vineyard, “and I’ve heard from people in Texas and Florida who watch. They all feel a connection to the parish.”
He added, “Many of those who vacation with us in the summer go back home and check out the webcams often.”
Father Nagle said the cameras weren’t too expensive and the monthly Internet fee is affordable. “To me, it’s a worthwhile expense, an investment in our parish community. We’re using the latest technical equipment to keep people connected with the Church.”
The use of modern technology for the Martha’s Vineyard parish doesn’t end with the live webcam feeds. “We also utilize a sound system in which we broadcast the ‘Gloria’ and the ‘Creed’ up on a screen in the front of the church through a PowerPoint presentation,” said Father Nagle. “That way people don’t have to fumble around with the prayer books for the prayers with which they don’t know by heart. At first we had some folks say they didn’t want a screen and a projector, but then they came around and enjoy having the prayers in front of them. It’s much more user-friendly.”
“Father Nagle is doing a great job down there,” Jennings told The Anchor from his Kittery, Maine office. “He’s using the technology available very effectively.
“Not only can the Martha’s Vineyard churches provide live feeds of Masses and services,” said Jennings, “but from our Maine location, we can archive each broadcast and post them on the website to be viewed at a later time.”
“We’ve been working with Catholic churches for 30 years,” Jennings, who is currently enrolled in RCIA classes, added. “We have worked with parishes and with elderly care facilities by providing residents with live Mass feeds either in a group setting at the home, or in their own rooms via a laptop.”
Jennings said the webcam ability can also bring parish meetings, activities, classes and other functions live into people’s living rooms if parishes choose to go that route.
There is also the capability to provide overflow congregations with a live feed of a Mass in a church hall or school should the need arise.
On the Power Sound website, Father Nagle speaks of the webcam experience, “Very Engaging! For pastors: If you’ve never used it during worship, you don’t know what you’re missing. Once you’ve used it you can’t imagine what you’d do without it.”
With all the evils associated with social media and Internet usage, a small island on the southern coast of southeastern Massachusetts is bringing the Good News of the celebration of the Mass to shut-ins up the street, and families and friends across New England and the U.S., and countries around the world.
To experience a live feed from Good Shepherd Parish on Martha’s Vineyard visit its website at goodshepherdmv.com, reference the Mass times and click on the appropriate church site’s webcam option.