The Making of a "Coming Home" Video

This past summer the First Unitarian Church of Rochester, NY, produced a video, “Coming Home,” for its homecoming weekend September 10–11. The 4:09-minute video, a combination rap/music production, captivated the congregation and garnered a lot of attention across the Unitarian Universalist (UU) universe.

It was posted on many websites of other UU congregations and was the subject of much comment and reposting on Facebook and elsewhere. The video struck a chord because it was well done and because many other congregations would like to do the same thing, but don’t know if they have the same resources that First Unitarian did. So here’s what it took for the Rochester congregation to pull this off.

The Rev. Kaaren Anderson, cominister of First Unitarian with Rev. Scott Tayler, said that in addition to the members who appeared in the video, five people created and executed the project: First Unitarian Music and Arts Coordinator Mary Lyubomirsky, member Wendy Mancarella who directed the video, amateur filmmaker Adam Durand, and two “sound guys,” Gabe Siftar and Brendan Simms.

The lyrics to the video are a rewrite of the 2010 song “Coming Home” by rapper and producer Diddy and his band Dirty Money. The original lyrics, some of which were inappropriate, were rewritten by Lyubomirsky, retaining the original chorus of the song.

The congregation had permission to use the song through its license with Christian Copyright Solutions, which has a database of 16 million songs. The license costs First Unitarian about $1,500 annually. “That covers performing music in worship, plus webcasting,” said Lyubomirsky.

The video is made up of footage of many members of the congregation, each featured in brief segments, all singing while on their way to services by car, bike, skateboard, or foot, or while doing activities at church.

To make the video Siftar first got each of the performers into a basic studio in the congregation’s basement and recorded them singing the lyrics. Filmmaker Durand then filmed each of the performers riding, walking, biking, etc. They sang while he filmed. The hardest one, said Durand, was the bicyclist. “I rode next to him on a tandem bike, holding a camera in one hand and steering with the other. I had someone on the back playing the audio for him to sing to.”

The real sound came from the initial recordings. Simms artfully combined the film and the studio recordings. In all, the video took 400 hours to create. It cost the congregation nothing but volunteered time and the time of one staff person, Lyubomirsky. “I’m amazed how well it came together,” said Durand. “On past projects we had problems with audio quality. This time we avoided that by locking down the music first. We knew the audio would sound great.”

He said pretty much all the filming was done on two different Sundays on or near the First Unitarian campus. “I’d get there about 8:30 and we’d film until 1:30 or 2, whenever the camera battery ran out.”

Durand describes himself as an amateur filmmaker. He has created documentaries that have been entered in film festivals. He used his own camera, a $750 Canon Digital Rebel, recording to an SD (Secure Digital) memory card. “It takes amazing video footage,” he said.

Simms is a professional audio editor. “He was a great asset,” said Durand. Siftar is a volunteer audiophile. The film editing software was a “very high end” version of Adobe Premiere, said Durand. Garage Band for the Mac was also used. All of the editing was done on Macs or personal computers.

Mancarella said the response to the video was overwhelming. “Unitarian Universalists and non-UUs alike are remarking at the relevance of the message, the place, and the religion. Comments of inspiration are coming in from all over the country. I think what’s great about a music video is that it’s an easy and enjoyable way to receive a message. An unexpected benefit is that being on YouTube, it’s a great way to reach people who might not otherwise be coming through our doors.”

She added, “The goal in using videos in worship would be the same as using music, dance, art, dramatic pieces, storytelling, or other creative modalities—to experience the worship theme in a more visceral way, through art.”

First Unitarian has both a Worship Creative Arts Team and a Worship Team. The former is made up of artists, painters, writers, choreographers, performers, actors, storytellers, poets, etc. Lyubomirsky leads them through a process of thinking through First Unitarian’s monthly worship themes months in advance. The Worship Team is made up of the congregation’s musicians, ministers, and Lyubomirsky. “The glue between both groups is Mary and me,” said Anderson.

Anderson and Lyubomirsky have backgrounds in theater. Mancarella comes from the dance world and is trying her hand at screenplays. Anderson believes that although First Unitarian has a good-sized pool of creative people among its nearly 1,000 members (up from 700 in 2006), many other congregations also have talented people just waiting to be asked. “Many congregations have storytellers, choreographers, writers, filmmakers. When you tap into their talent it makes them and your congregation come alive.”

She added, “If you have the right people bringing the right passions to the table you can start thinking about worship in a broader context.”

Another article on First Unitarian’s use of videos and other creative arts is at

About the Author

  • Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

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