Rev. Ofner-Seals is co-pastor at First Congregational Church in New London, a small, urban church in the downtown area of the shoreline city in southeastern Connecticut.
Rev. Goodwin will be preaching during an online service. He asked Rev. Ofner-Seals how the church was handling the long stint of remote services.
"It was awkward and clunky at first as we were trying to figure out the technology," she said. "We’ve gotten kind of used to it and I've actually had a few people say to me…'It's going to be hard to go back'."
During online worship, Rev. Ofner-Seals shares that worshippers can see each other's faces rather than "the back of peoples' heads." Some of New London's participants find the online worship convenient. She said the church will try to keep some of that more "intimate" worship when they eventually return to in-person services.
In discussing what Rev. Ofner-Seals was excited about, she mention the church's outreach program. In October 2017, New London First started the New London Urban Outreach Project. The project's goal is to make connections with those "our society has ignored and give them a place of honor at our table." The program offers meals to guests from the New London Homeless Shelter and provides volunteers with an opportunity to listen to and honor their stories. During the Covid-19 disruptions, the project has continued to find ways to help both local people in need and educate others. Early this year, they held a workshop on re-imagining outreach where participants talked about ways of re-thinking outreach, mission, advocacy, and even how to begin working toward justice. This fall, the project will begin in-person immersion programs for groups, where people can learn more about economic injustice, and meet people who have experienced or are currently experiencing homelessness to hear their stories. The immersion program concludes with a special meal where guests from the local homeless shelter join the workshop.
"It's really a wonderful way to break down stereotypes that a lot of people have about what it means to be experiencing homelessness," said Rev. Ofner-Seals.
The Outreach Project has led New London to shape a unique model of pastoring the church. Rev. Ofner-Seals is co-pastor with Rev. Catherine Zall. The two pastors share duties at the church, dividing a full-time position between them, and also work for the Urban Outreach project. Rev. Zall is the project's Director, and spends a majority of her time there. Rev. Ofner-Seals is the project's Volunteer Coordinator and Communications Manager. The partnership goes deeper than the two pastors. Many of the volunteers and staff are connected with New London First and some former guests have become part of the church.
Rev. Goodwin finished the interview by expressing his gratitude for the work of New London First and it's unique approach to community outreach.
"So much of what we're trying to do…is think about the expansion of who we are as a Conference," said Rev. Goodwin. "It's amazing to see so much of the vision casting from the conference level also mediated through the local church, because the conference doesn't exist without the local church."
Drew Page is the Media and Data Manager for the Southern New England Conference, and a member of the Conference's Communications Team. He writes and edits news, blogs, and devotionals, produces video, and spends a week each summer as a Dean at Silver...