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Integrating Technology in a Worship Building

See how technology plays a role in the house of worship in El Cajon, the impact it has on worship services, and why people are calling this place home.


Integrating Technology in a Worship Building

Nan Zapanta: Location, location, location. For as long as I can remember, the big cities were always the place to be. The career and growth opportunities were there. You could always find new things to do and new restaurants to try. Plus, in cities like San Francisco, L.A., and Hawaii, the weather always seemed better. Well, most of the time.

But since 2020, we’ve experienced a ton of changes in the way we work, go to school, and how we communicate with each other that many, especially young people, are realizing they need more than just good weather and career opportunities to give them a sense of stability.

Loaine Lubong: Especially because of the pandemic, I feel like I lost my sense of self, normalcy.

[Video clip source: NBC News]

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Newscaster: GenZ, during the pandemic, has borne the economic brunt of this in the workforce.

Nan: So, in this almost post-pandemic era we’re in, is there something or someplace that can help us feel hope and connected, despite the rocky road ahead?

Loraine: So, this is where I find myself, and I feel like nothing has changed here in the house of worship.

Nan: Right, it’s like the constant.

Lorraine: Yeah, the constant.

[Show open]

Nan:  I’m Nan Zapanta. As an industrial designer, I spent years admiring the great designs of products, vehicles, and architecture from all over the world. But, I found architecture to be the most captivating. I love learning about each building and discovering the characteristics that make it unique and understanding the purpose behind its design. Most of all, I love hearing the stories behind each structure, seeing God’s plan, and putting it all together.

Join us as we discover the Blueprint of the buildings and structures inside the Iglesia Ni Cristo.

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Nan Zapanta

Cerritos, California

Nan: So, we’re on our way to El Cajon, California. It’s a town outside of San Diego. And I’ve got to tell you, I’ve been looking forward to this trip. Ever since I found out that it was on the list of those [houses of worship] being renovated, you know, with all the changes happening around us, some good and some not so good, this is one of the transformations that I was really, really looking forward to.

So, I’m really glad you guys can join me. So, let’s go!

Located 17 miles east of San Diego, El Cajon enjoys much of what makes San Diego County one of my favorite places to visit; good weather, good food, and good people. Maybe that’s why so many have made this place home over the years, including Fely Eugenio, an 82-year-old who retired from the US Navy and settled in Southern California in the 1980s.

Brother Fely, nice to see you! Nice to finally meet you. I’ve heard so much about you.

Fely: Hi. Thank you! Come in.

Nan: Thank you. I’ve heard so much about you. I’ve been so excited to finally meet you and be here at this beautiful house of worship.

Built-in the 1950s, the worship building in El Cajon was part of the church construction boom and suburban expansion that was happening in the United States.

Nan: And you know one thing I noticed, and this is the first time I’ve seen, kind of, this detail on the door.

Fely: Yeah.

Nan: Was this the original door?

Fely: Yes, this is the original door, about 1950s.

Nan: Oh, so that explains this look because this look there’s a patina look to it. And it was popular in the 1950s, and that explains why it looks that way. That’s why I’m more excited to see what’s on the inside, if that’s okay, in the main sanctuary.

Fely: Oh, sure.

Nan: I’ll follow your lead.

Maybe it’s been a while since we last shot an episode, or maybe it was the time away from worship buildings, but I had never seen a bigger smile than the one I saw on Fely’s face.

Wow, what a beautiful sanctuary. This is really, really beautiful. And I can’t help but look up because of just how the exposed beams really get your attention.

In most worship buildings, the ceiling usually features intricate details and moldings, but in El Cajon, the ceiling is completely open.

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Nan: Four sets of cross beams run the length of the sanctuary completely exposed. Not only are the cross beams exposed, but the wooden planks of the roof as well, providing a beautifully warm aesthetic that opened up the space in the sanctuary even more.

From my understanding, how much time do you spend here at the house of worship?

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Fely Eugenio

Head Deacon – El Cajon, California

Fely: Oh, I volunteer to stay here Monday to Friday,

Nan: Monday to Friday!

Fely: From nine to one. That’s my volunteer [hours].

Nan: So, this is your main place that you stay in.

Fely: Yes, this is my address actually. [laughs]

Nan: So, the actual home you live in that’s just your secondary home.

Fely: Yes. I keep kidding them and say, “If you want to find me, come to 401 Broadway.”

Nan: They know where to find you.

Honestly, it’s probably one of the most beautiful interiors I’ve been in. I can see why he would want to be in the building all the time. While preserving the exposed beams and planks only required refinishing, the rest of the sanctuary was completely transformed.

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Nan: Starting with the construction and installation of a new podium in the traditional INC (Iglesia Ni Cristo or Church Of Christ) design. To allow for a more united design, the color of the wood for the podium was chosen to match the wood finish of the exposed beams.

Was there even a podium in that space?

Fely: Yes, actually we made a podium by ourselves.

Nan: Oh, you did? So, before the renovation.

Fely: Before the renovation. So, I made some estimates and everything. I need some plywood. That’s all. So, the brethren will go to Home Depot, bring four pieces of plywood, two pieces of two by eight, two by six. Then we just put it up.

Nan: Oh, so it was the whole congregation just helping each other out.

Fely: Yeah, the whole congregation.

Nan: What about as far as the actual construction of the podium? Did you play a part in constructing it?

Fely: Actually, I am the carpenter, the designer, everything. [laughs]

Nan: Oh, okay. So, you designed and you constructed the podium.

Fely: Yeah, it’s just a simple one.

Nan: Was it difficult to make?

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Fely Eugenio

Head Deacon – El Cajon, California

Fely: Not really. We just [made] it.

Nan: Before that, did you already have a background in carpentry?

Fely: I went to school, a trade school.

Nan: Oh, okay.

[On-screen architectural modeling]

Nan: The ceiling above the podium is a step arch design that naturally leads the eye towards the choir loft. New canned lights were added, bringing a more modern feel that brightens up the podium as well as the choir loft.

New pews, specifically crafted for the sanctuary, were also added. Each pew features a traditional waterfall design and the same wood finish as the podium.

From my understanding, you were really instrumental in getting these pews here.

Fely: Before they want(ed) us to use the old ones. But I told them, I said, “They are so old. They are creaky and everything, if we could have a new one.” So finally they approved to have (new ones).

Nan: Oh, so these are custom-built specifically for this space.

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Fely Eugenio

Coordinated with Pew Manufacturers

Fely: The maker was very understanding. He came over here so many times to match our (podium).

Nan: And it shows. The matching is really, really close.

One of my favorite vantage points, in the worship buildings, (is) the balcony. You can really see the intricate details of the sanctuary, as well as the design cues that make the INC buildings so unique. So, whenever we’re in a building that has one, I’m going up there.

Dan Dacon, a longtime member in El Cajon and one of the individuals responsible for documenting the renovation, met me upstairs.

Brother Don, this is an amazing view of the sanctuary, above the main sanctuary. Can you tell us what space is this that we’re in and what is it used for?

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Dan Dacon

Documented the Renovation of El Cajon

Dan Dacon: Oh, this is the cry room and was used for our brethren who have children.

Nan: I noticed at the end of each beam, there’s a little bit of a decorative piece at the end. Was that original or was it added?

Dan: Yes, it’s all original.

Nan: Oh, so even that is original.

Dan: Nothing was removed or added. It’s all original. Just add(ed) the (lighting). That’s it.

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Nan: In many of the worship buildings we’ve visited, the sides of the sanctuary are mirror images of each other. The sanctuary of the El Cajon building is only one part of the entire structure. As you can see, one side of the sanctuary is lined with frosted windows, allowing for natural light to come in. The other doesn’t.

So, in order to create symmetry in the sanctuary, moldings were added to the opposite wall. These were framed exactly like the windows from the opposite side. And since this side doesn’t actually have windows, sconces were added as an elegant solution to mirror the light from the opposite wall.

Now speaking of lighting, to match the openness of the ceilings, additional lighting was then added to brighten up the space. This includes replacing the eight smaller chandeliers with three bigger chandeliers, positioned along the center of the sanctuary. Canned lights were also placed throughout the ceiling, giving the entire sanctuary a brighter look than prior to the renovation.

Dan: They didn’t even varnish it or something like that.

Nan: The reddish tone of the upholstery, as well as the wood details from the pews, beams, and podium, tie in the design of the sanctuary and bring an overall warmth to the space.

When they first told you that this house of worship was going to be fully renovated, how did you feel? Do you remember that moment?

Dan: Oh, I (felt) great, because, you know, it’s been a long, long time.

Nan: The renovation of the house of worship was completed in 2021, just in time to be one of the first worship buildings dedicated by the Executive Minister of the Church Of Christ during the time of the pandemic. It was an answered prayer for the entire congregation who, like the rest of the world, were still locked down during the height of the pandemic.

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Dan Dacon

Member of the El Cajon Congregation for 20+ Years

Dan: We still keep praying, you know, keep praying, praying. It will go away. But even though it didn’t go away, (this has) still been dedicated with other, like three more houses of worship. And it’s a live (video) streaming with Brother Eduardo V. Manalo.

Nan: Especially when you think about when it happened because that was around the peak of the pandemic when a lot of places were shut down. No one was really going anywhere.

Dan: Yeah, it didn’t hinder the Church Administration (in) dedicat(ing) a beautiful chapel. Even though it’s a (video) streaming, you can still see our Executive Minister preaching the gospel. And the brethren feel really good and really happy about it.

Nan: Now, while the pews, the podium, and the moldings are more obvious features of the house of worship, there are a number of details that are less obvious but equally important in the houses of worship of the Church Of Christ.

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Janice Pestanas

TSV Lead – El Cajon

Janice Pestanas: These are new. All this, the speaker, everything here. The rack is new and then the TVs like that. Actually, we have a projector that comes down from here, but it’s not there right now.

Nan: With a career in IT, Janice Pestana was able to utilize her background to help with the growing technical needs of the congregation.

Janice: That’s the view that the congregation sees like that’s where we play the hymns, show the view for the ministers like that.

Nan: Very cool. So as far as, like, AV, you guys are pretty optimized.

Janice: Yes, it made it real easier for us.

Nan: As part of TSV or the Technical Support for Video Streaming, Janice helps monitor the audio and video for worship services and activities inside the sanctuary. It’s a role that became especially essential, even after people started returning to in-person worship services during the pandemic.

Having this setup, has it enhanced the way that, you know, worship services are conducted?

Janice: Definitely, definitely. We can adjust the sound from the congregation. We actually have this iPad here, that we can adjust the, like, we can go outside and then kind of like adjust the volume like that or the views like that. So, yeah.

Nan: Oh, that’s awesome. So you can carry that tablet with you, go out there, and then in real-time adjust.

Janice: Adjust the view or the volume, yeah.

Nan: And you can monitor all the changes you’re making while you’re standing in the middle.

Janice: Yes.

Nan: That makes it a lot easier.

You know, before the pandemic, right, we were kind of already having video streaming, different kinds of live streams. Do you feel that that also helped in preparing for, you know, when the pandemic hit?

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Janice Pestanas

Helped with the Technical Set Up of the El Cajon Worship Building

Janice: It’s like, we didn’t transition at all. We already had everything that we needed.

Nan: As Janice gave me an inside look at the technical elements incorporated into the sanctuary, I could see the intention that went into the design. Details that may seem small at first, but are ready to accommodate the ever-expanding technical requirements of a globally connected church.

Janice: So, this is the view that the congregation sees. You can see, you can control the projector. Usually, we just use the controller for it just to turn it on.

Nan: Right, and then as I’m looking up at the projector, I also notice two microphones, those little ones that are pointed down.

Janice: Right. So, we have different mics, like, for the congregation and then for the organ. But these are for the congregation.

Nan: You know, sometimes I wonder, years from now when people look back at this moment in history, what will they remember? Will it be the pandemic, the masks, the protests, the uncertainty?

[Video source: The New Yorker]

An empty Times Square

[Video source: CBS Los Angeles]

People wearing masks

[Video source: ABC]

Breaking News

America Braces for Sixth Night of Massive Protests

[Video source: CBS Los Angeles]

People wearing masks

[videos end]

Nan: Sure, the past couple of years have changed so much of our lives, but not all of the change was bad. In fact, for some like Janice, it was an opportunity to step into a role that would impact so many people in El Cajon

Would you have ever, or could you ever have pictured you(self) being a technical lead?

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Janice Pestanas

TSV Lead

Janice: No, to be honest, I didn’t. It was just everything went by fast, but I was actually amazed how I was able to help out with the TRG (Technical Resource Group) and then becoming the TSV lead, you know.

Nan: And then now, looking back, what is your favorite addition here in the house of worship?

Janice: Everything, everything in it, not just, like, the technical. The design of the chapel itself, everything. Because it’s completely changed.

Nan: During the pandemic, there was a lot of talk about how isolated people had become. This was especially true for young people who were, all of a sudden, just home, away from friends, and communicating only through technology.

So, I was a little surprised when the producer mentioned interviewing Lorraine, a 21-year-old student who spends much of her time at the El Cajon worship building.

Right, there’s hiking around here. There’s San Diego. So many nice places to see and visit in San Diego, where you can find or try to find happiness. Why is the house of worship the true place where you can find, like, true happiness?

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Loraine Lubong

College Student

Loraine Lubong:  I think the house of worship is where I find my true happiness, because I feel like I lost my sense of self, I guess, normalcy. You know, we lost our routine.

Nan: Yeah.

Loraine: So, this is where I find myself, and I feel like nothing has changed here in the house of worship.

Nan: Right, it’s like the constant.

Loraine: Yeah, the constant.

Nan: So then, in a way, because of the time that you spend here, would you consider this like your home away from home?

Loraine: Yes. Definitely.

Nan: Definitely?

Loraine: Yeah, wherever you go, there’s always a chapel.

Nan: Pretty much, right?

Speaking with Loraine, I got to thinking. How many young people out there are looking for that constant in their lives? A place where they could not just have a sense of home and familiarity but also a sense of purpose, just as Lorraine found in El Cajon.

Why are you here almost every day?

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Loraine Lubong

Secretary – El Cajon, California

Loraine: Well, I’m a (Church) officer here in the local congregation of El Cajon.  I’m the head secretary and I spend most of my time catching up on paperwork or helping brethren with registering in or helping with activities.

Nan: When you think about the renovations, right, I mean is there a room or even a detail that you consider your favorite since the renovation?

Loraine: Yeah. Definitely, the lobby area, because that’s where the brethren first see the officers, basically greet them into the house of worship. And they get that impression of the local congregation and of the Church from you because you’re an officer.

Nan: That is an interesting way to put it. You know, I’ve experienced that myself whenever we visit houses of worship. The first person that I usually see is a local secretary. And you’re right, you’re kind of the one that sets that first impression for anyone visiting.

Speaking of first impressions, El Cajon’s renovation also included a transformation of the exterior facade facing the busy intersection of Broadway and Ballantyne.

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Nan: A new steeple was added, along with traditional moldings. And last but not least, the Iglesia Ni Cristo seal and nameplate. And while no longer used, the existing bell tower was preserved, adding a unique but subtle detail to the structure.

[Video source: ABC News]

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New Developments

U.S. in Crisis: Cities Rocked by 13 More Mass Shootings in Two Days

News Anchor: We begin with the mass shooting crisis in America growing more urgent and deadly by the day and by the hour.

[Video ends]

[Video source: ABC 10 News]

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Breaking News

1 Killed, 5 Injured in Orange County Church Shooting

Laguna Woods

News Reporter: Mass shooting this afternoon in an Orange County church leaves at least one person dead, five injured.

[Video source: ABC News]

News Anchor 2: Buffalo, Uvalde, Orange County, Tulsa, now Highland Park; locations of recent high-profile mass shootings. But every day, there are more shootings that kill or injure four or more people.

Three hundred and fifteen. That is the number of shootings.

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Nan: Almost every other day we hear of breaking news of shootings at schools, supermarkets, and even churches. It can be pretty scary, especially when you’re a young mom like Dani who grew up in the El Cajon area.

With everything happening around us, you know, I mean, it’s almost impossible to avoid bad news, whatever it might be. Right? So would you consider this definitely one of the safe places that you can go to?

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Danilyn Flores

Grew up in El Cajon, California

Danilyn Flores: Definitely, and I hope, and that’s what I want to instill to my children is, that even if maybe they can’t talk to mommy and daddy, which I hope they could, they can definitely come here and then pray and be closer to God. They have a physical space that they can feel safe in.

Nan: Yeah, that’s great

To members of the Church Of Christ, the house of worship is that sacred place. And so when the pandemic hit, many, like Dani’s family, were kept home due to COVID protocols.

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Danilyn Flores

Raising Children in El Cajon, California

Danilyn: We took it for granted, I guess, as parents in the beginning that, you know, we had a place of worship. And all of a sudden, it’s taken away. You definitely appreciate it more, and you give more care to it now. So in that way that was also another blessing.

Nan: Yeah, you don’t know what you have until you lose it, right?

Danilyn: You lose it, right? And that’s the reality.

Nan: Like many of the Church Of Christ members in El Cajon, Dani didn’t get to see the renovation process until the day of the dedication.

Danilyn: We were away, so no one knew what was going on. And so, when (the day of the chapel) dedication came, it was the very first time we were all in the worship service together. So, it took your breath away, when you saw everything that was inside and what they did. It’s definitely 100% different from what it used to look like.

So, I just remember sitting there and throughout the many years, I was here for almost 20 years, I’ve seen it grow from, you know, a rented hall to now this beautiful house of worship. And you couldn’t feel but blessed, joy, pride.

Nan: As I talked to Dani, it was easy to see how much this worship building meant to her, especially now as she looks forward to passing on to her children the values she learned growing up.

What are your hopes for your kids, you know, knowing that they have a dedicated house of worship?

Danilyn: I feel as if that was an added blessing for my family and everyone else. But for my kids, it’s important for me because I grew up in the Church. And they’re still small. My children are three, five, and eight. So, establishing that foundation, letting them know that there’s a physical place of worship that we can go to, kind of sets that foundation for them.

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Danilyn Flores

Grew up in El Cajon, California

Danilyn: And I just want them to be able to learn that this is a place for them that they can always cherish and go to, and be closer to God, to establishing that relationship from the very beginning.

Nan: Change is inevitable. Whether it’s in the careers we choose, the homes we live in, even the plans we make, things are bound to change. But for members of the Church Of Christ, one thing that doesn’t ever change is the roles buildings, like this one in El Cajon, have in their lives.

Well, thanks for joining us on this episode of Blueprint, where in the end, everything is part of God’s plan.

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Available downloads

Integrating Technology in a Worship Building