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April 21, 2021

Pastor uses podcast to reach out to the world

SALISBURY — Pastor Mark Conforti of First Methodist Church has started a podcast, the culmination of crazy wild luck and meticulous planning.

“The podcast platform is here to stay,” Conforti says. “And as I’ve listened to them, they’ve given me the idea to develop something I’ve not found before: a brief inspirational, uplifting moment.”

A sermon is for his congregation, he says, but there are things he leaves out of sermons. The best are conversational and informal, like two people talking about a common interest. He’s hoping to leverage the technology and find people where they are in their lives.

Conforti is a fan of several podcasts, himself, with four or five on his list. His all-time favorite, he says, is “Industry Standard” by Barry Katz.

“Industry Standard” is described as a one-of-a-kind insider’s look at Hollywood through the eyes of comedy manager and producer Barry Katz, showcasing guests’ journeys from humble beginnings to the highest levels in their field. Most encounter some sort of adversity, work through it and overcome it.

The result is an informative and uplifting podcast. Katz held a contest for his listeners last fall, drawing one name for a free trip to New York City to observe a podcast being recorded. Conforti won.

“I actually went,” he says. “And he was incredibly generous with his time.”

After the podcast, Katz invited Conforti to the renowned Comedy Cellar, where he sat at the “comedians only” table. Conforti laughs as he describes meeting the comedians there, who had no idea they were meeting a pastor.

“Are you from the East Coast or West?” they asked.

Conforti thought a moment and replied, “East.”

“Where do you perform?” they asked.

He thought again. “I do 20 minutes for a crowd every Sunday,” he said.

Katz chatted with him for two hours at the infamous Café Reggio in Greenwich Village. The next day, Conforti observed Katz while he recorded an episode of “Industry Standard.”

Conforti hadn’t considered developing a podcast of his own at that time. His “aha moment” came, he says, in January, when the Katz experience and his own understanding of the opportunities of technology came together. He decided to create everything for the podcast himself — the purpose, the introductory music, the cover art, the program format and, of course, the content.

The name of the podcast is “Object Lesson.”

Conforti is concerned that when people check boxes for what religion they prefer, the “none” category is growing every year. The purpose of “Object Lesson” is to reach out to those who may not attend church with a brief moment of inspiration.

Each episode focuses on a simple item seen every day. To date, he has produced episodes about a cardboard box, a scarf, a paper clip and birthday candles. The topics are simple. The message is simple. Everybody’s so busy, he says, with aging parents or kids and teams and lessons – all demanding time, that families are splintered like never before. His podcast offers just a few minutes of thought and inspiration.

He says his calling in life is to help people develop meaning in their lives.

“My hope,” he says, “is that it will be something people can listen to as they go about their day, driving the car, walking the dog or in transit. Next time they pick up a paperclip, perhaps they’ll remember how it relates to life.”

Despite not being a musician, Conforti decided to create his own musical theme for the podcast. It’s a simple and quirky tune, with just three notes or so juxtaposed into a melody. He wandered into the church sanctuary and experimented with what he could play with one finger. Once he hit on a combination he liked, he continued to work until it sounded right to him.

Conforti went back and forth with possible names for the podcast. Originally, he came up with “Meta Phor What?” He heartily laughs as he describes the meaning of his concocted name. “Meta — meaning overarching, right? And metaphor — the message I’m giving is a metaphor for real life. And ‘for what?’ — Get it?”

The circle of advisers he’s developed — his wife, Katz and personal friends — didn’t get it. Initially, Katz wasn’t sold on “Object Lesson” as a name, but when Conforti told him his other option, Katz said to stick with “Object Lesson.”

For the cover art, Katz suggested a cardboard box with all sorts of random things spilling out of it. Conforti and his wife, Mary Allen, tried and tried to take that picture but ultimately came up with Conforti simply holding a cardboard box. In the photo, the box is central to the composition. Conforti is on the edge of the shot, with only part of his face showing.

His explanation is simple: “It’s not about me.”

Each episode is only five minutes or less. Although he’s sometimes tempted, Conforti disciplines himself to stick to one topic and one simple metaphor. He says this discipline has carried over to his sermon-writing, as well.

Conforti is really serious about producing the podcast in his spare time. He has primary responsibilities, he says, to tend to his congregation, and he doesn’t want anyone to think the project is interfering with that. So he produces it on Fridays, which is usually his day off.

During the week, as he has ideas, he dictates them into his phone. The five-minute recording takes about two to two and a half hours to produce. He gathers the notes he’s recorded all week, develops the thoughts fully, then records and edits. He repeats the last two steps until he’s satisfied and ready to upload.

In February, he produced pilot episodes and sent them to friends — and Katz — for feedback. He purchased a quality microphone to connect to his computer, took the photo and researched successful podcasts. He learned the recording and editing software.

In March, he started recording and publishing “Object Lesson” on iTunes, Spotify and Google Play. He’s anxious for others to rate it and give reviews. He welcomes suggestions for new episodes.

Conforti was as surprised as anyone when he won the contest sponsored by Barry Katz. In return, though, he’s gained a podcast to reach out to the world, and he’s come to see Katz as a coach, mentor and friend.

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