Staff pours heart, soul
By Brian Koonce
ST. LOUIS – What takes 10 months of planning, 75 workers, a stage manager, a half-mile of cable and a 24-foot car hauler with five tons of audio/video equipment? No, it’s not a stop on the latest sell-out concert tour; it’s your Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) annual meeting.
A behind-the-scenes look at the annual meeting reveals a flurry of planning and coordination, all so the business of Missouri Baptists can take place efficiently.
Jay Hughes normally concerns himself with ledgers and budgets as MBC’s controller, but in 2004 he began moonlighting as an event coordinator, sporting an annual meeting file more than three inches thick. Although he had to finalize and sign contracts for this year’s meeting as early as 2004, Hughes and the 20 or so people on the MBC annual meeting planning committee began planning in earnest for this week in January. And he hasn’t stopped yet.
“We have a checklist of things to do that begins in March and runs all the way through the end of October,” he said. “It takes 20 of us working to get it done.”
Since the MBC has to plan ahead and select meeting sites so far in advance, making sure all the bases are covered can get tricky as things evolve over those four years.
“Four years ago, we didn’t think about having wireless Internet in place,” he said. “It’s not in our contract, so we’re having to go out and get that taken care of separately.”
Hughes said that finding the right facility for a four-day meeting for 2,500 people and all of the MBC’s specific needs can also be a challenge.
“Every place has its problems, but every place has its good points,” he said.
When a large church hosts the annual meeting, he said it’s an entirely different game. Certain things are easier, because they already have a stage, sound system, etc, but things are also more difficult, such as finding meeting spaces and even mundane things like keeping messengers from spilling coffee on the pews.
Other minutiae are handled by the local arrangements committee consisting of Missouri Baptists from the local host area. They’re the ones responsible for shuttling speakers to and from Lambert Airport and getting other convention organizers the inside scoop on how things get done in St. Louis.
“We couldn’t do it without them,” Hughes said. “They help us with promotion, security, safety, ushers.”
Then there’s the committees working to finalize the order of business, secure speakers, and tie down local arrangements, and someone has to arrange for the Legal Task Force’s video report and ensure there’s enough parking spaces. Bulletins, programs, and the Annual Report have to be produced, then proofed and trucked in a 24-foot trailer from Jefferson City. The week’s activities began Sunday with the Solemn Assembly prayer meeting, which meant MBC workers had to begin setting up early Saturday morning.
One of those details is something many messengers take for granted, but would be hard-pressed to do without.
“This particular facility is below ground level, so there’s no cell phone reception,” said Dave Ellis, technology leader for the MBC and floor/stage manager during the annual meeting. “We purchased a repeater and we’re hoping that extends the signal enough for people to be able to use their phones.”
Throughout the annual meeting, the 10-man audio/video and floor/stage crews will pack in 18-hour days and will have to have their meals brought to them as they work, ensuring the closed circuit TV loop to the overflow rooms works as well as sorting out the podiums for use during the business sessions and dealing with computers that seem to have a knack for crashing at inopportune times.
“It’s non-stop,” Ellis said. “When there are breaks in the program, that’s when sound checks and troubleshooting happens.”
For years, the MBC outsourced the audio/video production during the convention. It worked well, but it also was costly. In 2006, MBC Media Technician Chris Rhodes began producing the convention in house. It not only gave the MBC more control of production details, but it has paid for itself already, even after investing in the equipment.
“We’re actually saving about $40,000 a year, and since it’s our equipment, we’re getting to use it year-round,” Rhodes said.
“It’s allowing us to be good stewards and do a good job,” Ellis said.
The oval shape of the ballroom originally presented a challenge for Ellis and Rhodes. Originally, the stage was set up along the wide end of the oval.
“To throw sound at that wide of an angle without having dead spots is almost impossible,” Ellis said. “We ended up having to rotate everything 90 degrees and that works much better.”
Things don’t always go as planned, but with a little bit of luck messengers won’t know it. Last year in Tan-Tar-A, Rhodes said they ran out of cable as they neared the end of set up, and were soldering cables through the night right up to the last minute before the Pastors’ Conference began.
One of the comments they received last year was that the contrast with the dark background with bright stage lights made the stage personalities hard to see and gave the stage an odd “tunneling” effect. The solution? A state-of-the-art 40-foot wide screen across the back of the stage that will not only be a video boon, but will also be easier on messengers’ eyes.
“This will be our third year of doing things in house and each year we learn a lot about how to improve it,” Rhodes said.
After four and a half days of solid work, it all starts over. In two months, Hughes will have to start thinking about the contracts for 2013.
“Our job is to make it so there are no complaints and get the convention’s business done,” he said. “We want the messengers to do what they came here to do.”