An audio engineer and jazz pianist by trade, Duncan was working a few hours per week in the A/V booth at Sylva First UMC, the church where he grew up. When the pandemic halted in-person worship, Duncan’s role expanded almost overnight. His self-taught expertise in streaming and video helped the church to not only survive, but to flourish.
Rev. Mary Brown calls it “just this beautiful way in which God sometimes works ahead of us and we don’t even know it.”
Duncan now serves full-time as Director of Music and A/V Technologies, a role that involves as many duties as you’d expect. On a typical Sunday morning, you’ll find him directing the choir or praise band, playing piano and managing the livestream — often all at the same time.
New ways to worship
The leadership of First Sylva saw an opportunity to do things differently as the pandemic abated and worshippers returned to the pews. For starters, the congregation now comes together for a single blended service at 10 a.m. instead of separate traditional and contemporary services.
The new format, coupled with the ability to do more with video, lends itself to creativity and innovation. Since 2020, Mary has recorded sermon clips while snowboarding and whitewater rafting. She used a megaphone as part of a skit during worship.
Such flourishes have gone over well with the 470-member congregation. For those on the periphery, the livestream offers a window into the life of the church.
“People who had taken a step back from the church, for whatever reason, could safely peek in without having to chat with everyone right away,” she said. “And people moving to the community get a taste of who we are and can visit the church (online) in a very quiet way.”
The Foundation manages Sylva First’s endowment through an investment fund option tailored to the church’s goals and risk tolerance. The church also invests in the UMF Development Fund, a low-risk option to generate consistent returns and embody the spirit of Methodists helping Methodists.
“I’m an English major,” Mary said. “I’m not the numbers person. One of the great benefits of working with the Foundation is that I can call and say, ‘My people are asking me this question and I don’t know the answer.'”
‘Glad I came back’
In his spare time, Duncan plays with Waynesville-based Blue Ridge Big Band, a cover band in Franklin called the Remnants, and the We Three Swing jazz collective in Sylva. He also writes and records music for his own jazz and singer-songwriting projects.
Fortunately for the congregation of Sylva First UMC, worship livestreaming is now part of his repertoire.
“I really didn’t know where I would end up after college,” Duncan said. “I’m glad I came back to work for my home church.”
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