Church of Christ Congregational Norfolk
Church of Christ Congregational Norfolk
Photo Snapshot of 2020 at Church of Christ Congregational Norfolk
Interview with Rev. Erick Olsen
As you reflect on the 2020 pandemic, both with regard to COVID-19 and Racism:
How did these pandemics impact your mission and ministry activities?
- The events of 2020 were very significant and transformative. We had to shut down what we were doing and really reinvent ourselves.
- We found that we were actually reaching more people.
- Offered a Virtual Coffee hour
- The challenges changed who we are and how we are: It was an “immersive discovery.”
- There’s a lot more to being church.
- Met with local teen mental health service. They were noticing an uptick in emergency calls involving youth. Church started Friday nights on the green: concerts and pizza parties in partnership with Winsted Youth Services Bureau.
- Sunday worship: started with pre-recorded videos released through email and Facebook just before 10am Sunday mornings. Eventually we switched to a livestream format.
- Formed an in-person worship task force composed mostly of nurses.
How did your church continue to be engaged in innovative, creative and unfamiliar ways during the COVID-19 shutdown?
- Zoom connected people physically distant from church. We started a Thursday morning Zoom prayer group and had people participating from Israel, Nigeria, and South Carolina.
- A granddaughter of a church member led an “Understanding Judaism” class from where she was living in Israel.
- The minister of music met individually with folks to record their choir parts and then assembled “Zoom choir” pieces. We did a virtual choir for christmas that featured a dancer and three musicians and we also created a film for Easter. The church hadn’t used video or liturgical dance in worship before COVID so this was a big change.
- We virtually featured a professor from Yale as a guest preacher, with discussion afterward.
- Race: Partnered with Rev. Dr. Shelly Best, Redeemer AME Zion, who grew up in Norfolk. We built a relationship between Norfolk Congregational and Redeemer and hosted a featured a book discussion of I Am Still Here. 10-12 members of each church participated together.
- We started a “Learning about racial injustice” group that was led by young people. They would bring a topic to the table and discuss.
- We also partnered with Salisbury School to do a history of slavery in CT program. This culminated in “Witness Stone” project memorializing James Mars, the last enslaved person in CT, who was a resident of Norfolk. His was the 50th witness stone in CT. May 21, 2021 was James Mars day, with a Commemoration attended by US and state reps; NAACP chapter president, Rev. Cleo Graham, from Faith UCC, where James Mars had served as deacon; and students from Salisbury School.
- We started a partnership with “Our Culture is Beautiful” organization based in Torrington. Collaborations featured African drumming and storytelling, as well as mobile library ministry.
- We also led rallies on the town green following the murder of Ahmed Arbury and participated in a prayer vigil at the state house. In Jan. of 2021, worship services featured a racial justice moment in which parishioners shared their new learnings.
What were the low points, failures or frustrations?
- Loss of community. Everything was harder as far as connecting.
- We experienced some pushback from church and community members around anti-racism work.
What were the high points and successes?
- We had many successful collaborations.
- We better defined who are we as a church, though we continue to wrestle with this question. Sunday morning no longer defines us and we've learned to get out of the box.
- Entering into new relationships. We did the work of creating new relationships with communities of color. There’s been more movement in the last 2 years than in the previous 10. It started with Easter 2020 “delivering Easter” around the community that broke the dam.
- We worked with Shelley Best around what to do instead of Black Lives Matter sign, which kept getting stolen off church property. Made “skin-tone” Adirondack chairs for church lawn with sign “God loves every skin color and so do we.” Chairs and painting were all donated by community members. It felt “spirit led” and created an “invitational space.”
What lessons, learnings or changes will your congregation carry into the future?
- Our relationship with Redeemer AME Zion is one we will continue to cultivate.
- Our partnership with “Our Cultures are Beautiful.”
Interview With Rev. Erick Olsen