An estimated 26,802 viewers - give or take a few - from across the UCC joined together simultaneously on Nov. 5, for the church's first-ever, multi-site, interactive webstreaming event in order to help launch the denomination's year-long 50th anniversary celebration.
"It makes it the largest gathering in the history of the denomination. But, of course it's a different kind of gathering," remarked the Rev. Robert Chase, the UCC's communications director.
Hosted by the Rev. Paul Sadler, pastor of Mt. Zion UCC in Cleveland, and Megan Holle, a member of Lake Oswego UCC in Oregon, the 40-minute webcast included personal greetings, video clips, music, dancing and brief interviews. It originated from the Amistad Chapel at the UCC's Church House in Cleveland, where several hundred from across the Ohio Conference were gathered, and included teleconferencing feeds from Redeemer UCC in Sussex, Wis.; Heritage UCC in Baltimore, Md.; and Cathedral of Hope UCC in Dallas, Texas.
Hans Holznagel, the UCC's minister for community life at the Church House in Cleveland, says he cannot recall a similar experience where the Amistad Chapel was "so alive" as it was that day. "An electric kind of feeling" is how he described it.
Participants gathered from 3,744 unique sites, according to IP data reports. Many attended regional or church-based parties that included worship and fellowship dinners. The average size of each "viewing group" was seven, based on sign-in data each participant was asked to provide.
Remarkably, most sites reported few, if any, technical problems with the experimental webcast.
In Hawaii, members of the UCC's Kauai Association celebrated the UCC's 50th anniversary by creating a 50-foot spam musubi and sharing 50 containers of kalua pork and poi. They topped it off with 50 scoops of ice cream. Entertainment was provided by 50 people singing with ukulele accompaniment.
The top five states, in terms of viewer participation, were Illinois, Connecticut, Ohio, California and Minnesota. Among those with five or fewer gathered at a single computer, Ohio and New York had the most involvement.
"The best feedback I've found is that whenever people talk about this, they do so with a smile on their face," Chase said. "We accomplished what we set out to do - to create a buzz, to create a sense of connection as we began our 50th celebration. It was a new way to use emerging technology that was energizing and forward-looking."
Download a video of the webcast at ucc.org.