Multi-Platform Resources: A Guidebook

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Nurturing a faith community that is intentionally inclusive starts with developing a deep understanding of your people's unique needs, and then finds a way to address those needs with your programs and technology.

These resources include frameworks, starting points, tips and tools to help your congregation serve its mission in today's environment of virtual and in-person connection.

A Word About Language

“Hybrid” is a commonly used term for a mix of online and in-person components. It is considered problematic from a cultural perspective. In addition, it connotes combining the characteristics of two things (consider hybrid fruit and cars), which isn’t always quite what we mean. New terminology is emerging and we expect that it will continue to evolve. Lately we are using “multi-platform” to describe a combination of in-person and online options.

This guide is a work in progress, so please check back for new resources!

Words of Wisdom

  • Take Your Time: When COVID-19 struck in March of 2020, congregations quickly adapted their activities to be 100% online. We don't need to be in a hurry this time!
  • Listen Deeply to One Another: There will be no one-size-fits-all answer to how to be inclusive in programming going forward. The work on justice, diversity, equity and inclusion we've been doing will serve us well as we center voices at the margins to make sure we don't exclude anyone from congregational life.
  • Online is not “less than.” Online programming is likely to continue to be primary for quite some time. Online and in-person are equally real; each has its blessings.
  • Be realistic. Don't feel compelled to do everything as a "both/and." Find a reasonable path forward, based on your resources and the capacity of your staff and volunteers.

Multiplatform Where To Start

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Is your congregation overwhelmed? Confused about how to move forward towards some in- person ministry? Facing too many options? This post is for you.

We will all be learning together through this transition, and you don’t need to know your congregation’s long term plan now. All you need to do now is decide on your next steps. What you learn by taking your next steps will help you plan the steps after that. As always, reach out to your region’s Congregational Life staff for support.

The sections below outline our recommended next steps for Community Building, Worship, Children and Youth, and Building. Within each are sections that briefly describe where your congregation might be right now along with a few possible next steps for your congregation to take. Please choose one at a time rather than all at once!

Overall we suggest you focus first on community building, then children and youth, then worship on Sunday mornings. If people are reconnecting as a community, they will be able to wait longer for a more normal Sunday morning. Families with children and youth have had particular difficulty with online worship, but younger children and youth are still not vaccinated or fully vaccinated. Your building preparation is important to do ahead of time to be ready for use of the building for seasons when outdoor activities are not possible at your location.

Community Building: What Events to Plan?

If You Haven’t Gathered in Person at All and Have Outdoor Space

  • Create guidance for how small groups can gather in person outdoors at your congregation and encourage small groups to be able to gather
  • Prep groups leaders on both outdoor safety guidelines and readiness to support people in social awkwardness
  • Plan for when and how small groups of those age groups able to be fully vaccinated can gather inside at your congregation.
  • Plan ways fully vaccinated adults can help the larger community and bond with each other at the same time: volunteer with the food bank, mutual aid network, host playground playdate for families.

If You Haven’t Gathered in Person and Do Not Have Outdoor Space

  • Plan a series of small outdoor events with a lot of variety: evening bonfire in a backyard, afternoon hike, kids meet up on a playground, sing along in a park, trash pick up day. Have a leader of each group prepped on both outdoor safety guidelines and readiness to support people in social awkwardness
  • Plan for when and how small groups of those age groups able to be fully vaccinated can gather inside at your congregation.
  • Plan ways fully vaccinated adults can help the larger community and bond with each other at the same time: volunteer with the food bank, mutual aid network, host playground playdate for families.

If Your Congregation Has Been Gathering in Small Groups

  • Set up the next stage of reintegration and healing to help people re-form relationships, community and process the last year through small groups. Be sure there are in person small groups and online small groups to join.
    • One possibility: form new small group ministry, especially time limited groups (e.g. meeting 6 times) to focus on these connections and create an arc of topics that helps people process, reconnect, and explore what this time means for them spiritually and emotionally.

Children and Youth: How to Support?

Begin by talking with parents and guardians about their families’ safety and readiness for in person programming. This will likely be different for those 16+ who may already be fully vaccinated, those 12-15 who could be fully vaccinated by July, and those under 12 who are not yet eligible.

If Your High School Youth Group Has Not Been Gathering in Person

  • Begin with a few socially distanced outdoor community building activities like bonfires, hikes, lawn yoga, and sidewalk chalk art following outdoor safety guidelines.
  • Provide ways for parents to connect during the event
  • You may want to do monthly outdoor activities while continuing weekly online connection to facilitate deeper check-in with the youth as this may be more accessible for more families.

If Your Middle School Youth Have Not Been Gathering

  •  Begin with a few socially distanced outdoor community building activities similar to high school youth but with a strong focus on games and play and following outdoor safety guidelines.
  • Provide ways for parents to connect during the event
  • You may want to do monthly outdoor activities while continuing weekly online connection to facilitate deeper connection. Online games work particularly well with middle school youth.

If You Have Not Gathered Families or Younger Children in Person

  • Create social meet ups where children can engage in safe outdoor play and parents can connect.
  • Ask those who cannot attend in person if they would appreciate a way to connect online with families who are similarly impacted.

Worship: What Next?

Once metrics (e.g. case numbers, test positivity, vaccination rates) reach a safe enough threshold for your congregation to allow small numbers of people to worship together inside or to have socially distanced outdoor worship:

If You’re Doing an Online Worship Service From People’s Homes

  • Start streaming some portion of the service from the sanctuary to begin gaining skills. As you test this you'll get a better sense of what technology upgrades you'll need.
  • Help people reconnect with the sanctuary for instance: host a ritual for people to visit the sanctuary in a socially distanced way. Could include time to spend silently in the sanctuary or include rituals like placing flowers or rocks on an altar.
  • Host an outdoor worship service to allow technology volunteers to experiment with what is possible while allowing people to attend in person. Set expectations low.
  • Host a short outdoor low tech family focused worship service.

If You’re Already Live Streaming Worship From the Sanctuary and Your Building Is Ready

  • Start with a live studio audience with an rsvp for a small group to attend worship in person, knowing the worship is still primarily focused on the online experience.
    • Initial invites could go to those who will be volunteers in multi-platform worship (ushers, technology volunteers, etc)
  • Help people reconnect with the sanctuary for instance: host a ritual for people to visit the sanctuary in a socially distanced way. Could include time to spend silently in the sanctuary or include rituals like placing flowers or rocks on an altar.

If You’re Already Live Streaming Worship From the Sanctuary and Your Building Will Not Be Ready Soon

  • Move your live streaming operation outdoors once a month to allow some of your congregation to attend in person. Help them recognize that the quality of the worship service will still be focused on those online, but they will get to be together.

If You Are Comfortable With Zoom Worship but Do Not Expect to Be Able to Live-Stream Worship Soon

  • Continue online worship for near future.
  • Begin offering monthly outdoor low-tech worship at a time other than Sunday morning.

Building: Getting Ready

If You’ve Done Little to Assess the Readiness of Your Building

  • Evaluate your building’s ventilation including airflow and filtering.
  • Evaluate your bathrooms’ ventilation. Without excellent ventilation and toilet lids, consider reduced capacity by limiting the number of people using each bathroom at a time.
  • Evaluate how many people can be seated in your sanctuary at a variety of distances - 6’ is preferred, but if you don’t use the space until you have a high percentage of people vaccinated your COVID Response team may set a lower standard.
  • Create traffic flow patterns that allow people to spread out such as one way through certain hallways.
  • Within these traffic flow patterns plan where to set up a check in table and where it makes sense to put hand sanitizer,

More Resources

Our Trusted Resources page has links to help you with the above building assessment and readiness.

More guiding questions on your building and readiness to open

When you’re ready to plan further ahead, consider these potential ways forward and these additional possibilities.

Multiplatform Principles

Dear Friends,

Two pairs of hands hold a map and a compass, as if to get bearings mid-journey.

I write today with guidance from the UUA about planning for safe operations in alignment with our UU values. The significant disruptions to life in our congregations and communities over the past year has been traumatic. There is, understandably, a deep yearning to gather again in person. Unfortunately, we are in an “in-between” transition time that continues to be risky. Our first concern continues to be safeguarding the well-being of our people and the public.

Last May, the UUA recommended that congregations plan for a year of virtual operations. Moving into the coming year, the UUA recommends that congregations plan for multi-platform operations—a flexible combination of in-person and online engagement based on the needs and risks in your community.

Key Principles for Planning

As a faith community, we root our decisions in the values of inclusion and consent. It’s important that everyone who gathers in person has the ability to consent to do so, so that no one is forced to choose between their congregation and the safety of themselves or their loved ones. This includes congregational staff and volunteers. When making decisions, the people responsible for congregational programs need to have a central role and those impacted by decisions must have input. As religious leaders, our role is to help facilitate conversation and decision-making in an atmosphere of mutual respect, acknowledging that members and staff have a variety of needs and perspectives.

Follow the science. Congregations should follow the latest CDC guidelines and local public health regulations to determine the best ways to move forward as the pandemic recedes. Our public health advisors have all stressed the dangers of this time and the need to remain vigilant. Vaccine distribution remains uneven and inequitable (nationally and globally), new and more contagious variants are spreading and children are not yet eligible for vaccination. Many unanswered questions remain, such as how effective the vaccines are in response to emerging variants, whether vaccinated people can spread the virus, and how long vaccine protection lasts. I can’t stress strongly enough the need to proceed with caution in our planning.

Go slow and be flexible. Now is the time to plan and consult with the people responsible and engaged in your programs. Take time to create a shared understanding of the risks. Given the ongoing risks, worship and other large gatherings should not be the first thing we return to in person. Our public health officials have also said that as we begin to have some in-person offerings, we have to be prepared to shift back to all virtual if conditions change. Create this expectation, flexibility and resiliency from the beginning.

Be humane and realistic with expectations of ourselves and others. Remember, the goal is not perfection. The most important values in this time are care and compassion. We’ve experienced a year of traumatic disruption and loss. Be realistic as leaders and convey realistic expectations to your congregations. There are well-founded concerns that multi-platform ministry will require additional work without additional staff and volunteer capacity. It’s important to have honest conversations about our capabilities and expectations. And keep in mind that significant changes might be overwhelming even if dearly wanted.

In the midst of so much loss and tragedy, it has been the life-saving practices of centering care, inclusion, collaboration and compassion that have held and guided us so well. Finding ways to share ministry, to partner across congregations and lean on each other has been a gift this year and one we can continue to draw on as we move forward. These are the values and tools that will continue to guide us.

As always, your UUA regional staff are thought partners with you. Please reach out to them with any questions or learnings.

Yours,

Susan

Resources

More Multi-Platform Scenarios

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“In a liminal season, the only way forward is through the uncertainty and chaos. The leader's challenge is not to eliminate the ambiguity and chaos, but to embrace emergence—and stand with people during their confusion.” Susan Beaumont

Congregations are beginning to test ways of gathering in a multi-platform ways and the ideas below are some of the ideas being explored or tested by UU congregations. You can find more such scenarios here. We offer these scenarios to help all of us expand our imaginations and for each congregation to find the next right step.

Multi-platform does not necessarily mean at the same time or in the same way. Many imagine this including online and in person participants sharing worship at the same time. But it could be quite different with different options at different times to meet a variety of needs.

Our caution is that it is unlikely any congregation will stumble upon the perfect long term solution. Instead, each congregation will be learning together, experimenting together as we learn to live into the current reality, our local conditions change, and we move through the inner landscapes of more in-person engagement. The difficulty in planning is threefold: we haven’t done this before, we do not know the future course of the pandemic, and no one can be sure what they will want or feel comfortable doing in the future.

The imaginary congregations described below have assessed their mission, their community’s needs, their assets and building, and their cultural orientation to technology and change. They’re fully aware of the timing and equity of vaccination in their area, metrics for safe in person gathering, outdoor protocols, that vaccines are not yet available for children under 12, and that it's possible they'll need to return to an all-remote model.

Blessed Family UU Congregation: Families and Children First

The pandemic has been hard on many, especially our families with children. We know our children need in person connection and that our online worship service doesn’t meet their needs. Yet, most of our children are not yet eligible to be vaccinated. Therefore, we are going to keep our online worship service and gather families and children in person on Sunday mornings. We will use our outdoor space as well as sanctuary and fellowship hall as these have better ventilation and have more space for social distancing than our classrooms. Our programming will focus on trauma informed re-connecting as a community (YouTube 11:54). To help our adults reconnect, we will create many small gatherings through the week for in person connections for adults.

Circle Connections UU Community: Small Group Ministry All the Way

We recognize small group ministry as a vital worship tradition of Unitarian Universalism. It is also a worship form that meets our needs to reconnect as a community. We’ve found our online worship services have already evolved to have shorter sermons and more sharing. As we re-engage in person our primary means of worshipping will be in small groups. This will happen in zoom break out rooms and in spaces scattered around our campus all with adequate social distancing. We will have one circle in the fellowship hall and one in the sanctuary to make use of the sound systems for those with hearing needs. Youth, too, will have small group worship. Children will have a short circle worship followed by masked supervised play on our outdoor play ground similar to recess at school. We will have an online family small group ministry for those who cannot attend safely in person.

UU Church of the Emerald Forest: Outdoor Family Worship

As we return to our online and in person worship in our sanctuary, we recognize that this excludes families with children. We intend to allow limited attendance and stream our service for those who cannot attend in person. We will follow this service with a shorter, family centered, outdoor service followed by outdoor family socializing in the nearby park.

Sacred Side-Dish UU Fellowship: Picnic Worship!

Our sanctuary is small and will only accommodate a small portion of our congregation. As well it will take us until the fall to be ready for the complexity of streaming worship from the sanctuary while including in person participants. We have added wifi capacity to our outdoor space and are welcoming small groups of people to gather on the lawn to stream the service to their own devices. We hope that this allows our congregation to begin to reconnect even as we are not ready for in person worship.

Double-Your-Fun UU Society: Time for Two Services!

It was already time for our congregation to move to two services. We will do a small, socially distanced in person service followed by an online service. This will begin to help us build the rhythm and schedule for two services moving forward. The topic of the online and in person services may be different. We may do a service first in person with minimal technology and only instrumental music and give the tech folks a week to prepare the slide shows and videos for the online service the week after.

SeeSaw Community Church: Every Other Week

We aren’t ready or equipped to really do quality in person and online worship at the same time. Our plan is to do one week of really quality online worship and the next week do quality in person worship. We hope to livestream the in person worship with at least one camera, but we know it will take us longer to fully involve online participants in our in person worship. Having most of the congregation building empty every other week will create space to invite back groups of children and families for socially distanced in person programming.

Spirit Screen UU Fellowship: Connection over Quality

We know we can’t do in-person and online worship well simultaneously! Instead, we will start by hosting outdoor worship where we focus on providing a good experience for the online attendees. The in person attendees might not have the best quality worship experience, but they’ll get to be in person. When it gets hot in the summer, we will move worship inside with limited attendance, but keep our focus on the quality of experience for the online attendees. Only after vaccination is available for all ages will we move towards a worship experience which focuses on the experience of the in person attendees, while still providing an online connection.

Covid Family Ministry

a parent and child both with long hair wear masks and stand outside near wide steps while two dogs play nearby

May 2021 update: While the Pfizer vaccination is now available to those 12-15, the rest of this post continues to apply to these younger youth until fully vaccinated and to the families of younger children.


I am writing this in early April 2021, over a year into a pandemic, where I, like so many of us, are longing to return to normal. We miss coffee hour, hugs, and singing. We miss seeing each others' smiles and watching the children playing.

As more and more adults are vaccinated, some of our members are asking when we can return to in-person congregational life. Congregational leaders are asking the UUA for guidance, including guidance on when and how to have programming for children and youth.

As a parent, I understand this longing to be in person all too well! Our family is lucky in so many ways, but working while parenting and Zoom-schooling our kindergartener and first-grader is exhausting. Many families are not just exhausted, they are struggling. They don’t have the support of their employers, they have been directly impacted by COVID, family members have died, or their children and youth are struggling with anxiety or depression because of social isolation.

We are social mammals and we need to be together. Our teens need each other. Our children need each other. And we are still in a pandemic where vaccinations are not available for the youngest among us.

As a parent, I have been following the science around schools, COVID, and children closely. I wish we were able to give you clear, science-based practices and a timeline so you could get to planning. But because of the complexities of the unknowns of the new variants, the wait for vaccines for children and youth, and the wide ranging needs of different families, we can’t give you the information so many congregations are asking for.

Below you’ll find detailed explanations so you can understand the “whys” and communicate them to your members. At the end you’ll find planning tips that you can be doing now.

Science, Schools, and Variants

The CDC has recently released detailed science based guidance for schools. Congregations want to be able to use this guidance to plan in person programming and parents want to know why, if school is safe, church can’t be safe and why we aren’t already “re-opening” our buildings and programs for children and youth.

New COVID Variants

We are seeing the emergence of new, more transmissible variants. We need more data from studies conducted while these variants are circulating. Because some emerging data are casting doubts about current guidelines, we will need to be cautious, even in typical school settings.

Worryingly, some variants are more transmissible and cause more severe disease. In several states we are seeing more outbreaks among children and teenagers, more cases of long-haul COVID in children and teens, and more severe illness in younger adults. We don’t know the long term impacts of COVID for children or adults. What we do know is that as long as the virus is circulating, we’ll continue to see new variants.

Extracurricular Activities Increase Risk

Schools are under tremendous pressure to be open. They deliver essential services requiring communities to balance the risk of open schools with the need for the services schools provide. Each family is making their own decision about how to weigh the risks to their family of their children being in school physically.

We’ve learned from contact tracing that extra-curricular activities (e.g. sports teams) are contributing to clusters of new cases among children and youth. Physically reopening our own programs could create similar risks of transmission. By keeping our church programs online, we won’t be contributing to additional transmission that could shut down local schools.

In the weeks and months to come, we’ll get new data on COVID variants among children and youth so you will be better able to plan programs for your congregation that are as safe as possible. And yet, we think it’s wise to plan to be flexible. We do not know what new variants may emerge and how those will impact people including those already vaccinated. Our congregations should be planning to be flexible and be able to return to a remote-only congregational life if needed.

Adequate Staffing

Current CDC guidelines (e.g. ventilation, cleaning, hand-washing, distancing) require staffing on par with those in a school. Congregations do not have that level of paid staffing and our volunteers (especially parents) are already tired.

Vaccination and Inclusion

Right now many parents of children and youth are not yet vaccinated. Individuals with higher risk conditions may have been vaccinated, but COVID is a risk to all. Focusing only on comparatively lower death rates for younger adults ignores the risks of long haul COVID: long term heart and lung damage, and other long term health impacts. With the new variants circulating, we are already seeing an increase in hospitalization rates for those in their 30s and 40s.

We also need to remember that not all adults will be able to be vaccinated. Some parents have allergies, immune conditions and blood diseases that mean they cannot be vaccinated. So until their children can be vaccinated, these parents continue to be at risk.

Children with High Risk Conditions

While children overall have a much lower risk of severe disease from COVID, some children (e.g. those with cancer, bone marrow transplants, type 1 diabetes, immune deficiencies, etc.) are at much higher risk. Imagine being the parent of a child with severe asthma, a chronic lung condition or multiple health issues that land the child in the hospital. Many children have multiple conditions that multiply the risk. Also consider our children who can’t wear masks due to sensory issues, who can’t refrain from touching or mouthing surfaces, and or who have high anxiety to get a fuller picture of the families who may be excluded from in-person gatherings now.

Families with children or parents at high risk for complications from COVID have been especially isolated. One of my children has a good friend who we haven’t seen in person for more than a year. They can’t even have a playdate at the park in masks, even when cases are low. These families who have been more isolated throughout the pandemic may include the families of some of your staff. We risk excluding them even more if we rush to return to in person without considering what inclusivity looks like for all of us.

Make Sunday Morning Radically Inclusive

Many congregations are focusing on a return to in-person Sunday morning with an online component as a way to be inclusive. For some areas of the country case numbers and rates of adult vaccination make this look like a near-term prospect.

What feels inclusive for many of your adults may not be fully inclusive of parents, children, and youth. Most congregations are finding it hard to include and involve children and youth in online worship. So, if online worship is the only opportunity to include those who cannot attend in person, it may serve to further exclude.

Take Your Time, Talk It Through

This is an important time to evaluate the deepest needs in your congregation. Remember we are social mammals. We need connection. We are all going to be a little socially awkward. Being together in person is going to bring up anxiety in many of us. Masks, social distancing, and hand-washing remind us that the threat of the virus remains, even once we are all vaccinated.

We need to plan intentionally to create the spaces that help us all slowly re-engage in ways that don’t ignore what we have experienced during the pandemic: the trauma, the disconnection, the deaths, the grief, the distancing, the fears, the conflicts in our relationships over safety, the lingering COVID symptoms, etc.

Focusing on Sunday morning may not be the place to focus our in person energy first. Doing a more usual Sunday morning worship and religious education both in person and online is going to take tremendous effort, time, and learning by your staff and volunteers. In many ways religious education online and in person will be twice the work. Asking this of staff will make it harder for them to focus on other important aspects of ministry such as rebuilding our church family connections.

There’s No One Simple Solution

We don’t have choices that are going to include everyone in one single program or event. And no one single event or program will mark our ‘return’ - we know that returning to in-person gatherings will be a transition, not an event. It is likely to be a series of small changes, ways of meeting a variety of needs in person, online, and outside. One small group may meet the needs of isolated elders, another teens whose mental health is increasingly fragile. Eventually, some families may connect on a playground while others continue to be served by activity drop offs or online children’s chapel.

Intentionally Engage Tensions

All of our congregations exhibited great creativity and resilience in pivoting last year, and we have learned so much collectively since then. This creativity and resilience is a skill that will serve our congregations in every situation we encounter going forward, including this one.

And, this is a time of growing tensions as many are more comfortable being in person and yet others are still not safe. Many communities have increasing conflicts around reopening schools between different groups of parents. Congregations are not immune from this kind of conflict.

We leaders are also impacted, also exhausted, also prone to have disproportionate emotional reactions. Counteract this by moving deliberately, recognizing the complexity, and finding ways to tend the well-being of all.

What We Can Do to Get Ready

Spring is the time of year congregations traditionally begin planning for Fall. Planning this year won’t look like it usually does, but there is planning you can do. Here are some places to start:

Reach Out to Vulnerable Families

Reach out to parents and guardians to learn who will be the most hesitant to return to in-person community. Find out what their needs are and how to include their families. This in and of itself is a form of outreach, care and inclusion.

Reach out to all your families and find out what their deepest needs are, today. We have children and youth whose mental health has been severely impacted. We have families who lack childcare, have lost jobs, and have not had enough to eat. Understanding these traumas and needs is critical. Some families need some basic attended to before they would benefit from a return to in person church . Find out what they need most.

Build Your Team

The planning for the next year is complex and will need to involve multiple layers of leadership in your congregation. Your team needs to be more than your Minister and Board. It needs to include your Religious Educator, other staff, and key lay leaders of programs across the congregation. Lay led congregations need to include worship leaders and RE volunteers. Include input from members who might have medical risks, who have young children, and others whose experiences might not be represented. Being able to work together to understand the impacts of any decision across the communities within your congregation will help you avoid unintentional exclusion. Resist the pressure to rush back to “normal” and model patience, persistence, and inclusion.

Map the Considerations

Work with your leadership to create a map of all the considerations, including volunteers, building needs, staffing, technology, etc. One way to do this is through “Picture Forming” using a circle process to fully explore considerations before planning. Be sure to include leaders from all areas of your congregation so you’re fully aware of what you need to consider as you plan.

Here is an example: Planning for pre-COVID Sunday morning programming for children and youth took several months of work by your Religious Educator and RE leadership. Planning includes not just programming, but recruiting and vetting RE teachers, training the RE teachers, running registration for families, and more. If the leaders making decisions don’t understand this, they might be inclined to return to in-person worship at a speed that will make planning for the children and youth impossible.

Prioritize with Intention

Not only have our congregations created temporary innovations, we have discovered powerful new ways of doing ministry that we’ll want to continue. No congregation can do everything and so taking time to prioritize will help you put your energy where it will best serve your congregation’s mission. This may include not re-starting everything your congregation was doing before the pandemic.

Intentionally plan content. We need our experiences affirmed. We need to reconnect. We need space for creativity, grounding, movement. We need to reassure each other that our emotions are ok. We need to accompany each other through the rocky ground of reconnecting in a time of so much uncertainty. This will take intention and planning. This is particularly important with children and youth as many of their schools have jumped back into “normal” while ignoring the traumatic impact of the pandemic.

Ask your staff what the trade offs are. As you prioritize, ask your staff what they’ll need to stop doing to start anything new.

Tend to Your Building, Outdoor Space, and Safety Procedures

If you haven’t worked on your building’s physical and procedural safety from a COVID safety standpoint including your bathrooms and ventilation, use this list of questions to start this work. Even with widespread vaccination many of these things will be needed for some time to come.

If you have outdoor space, this may be a good time to think about how to create ways to use that space better. Many schools have created outdoor classrooms and you may be able to create similar spaces for programs for your community. Even if these aren’t used soon, having this as an option not only creates COVID safer options but can also just be wonderful ways to be together in the future.

Staff Expectations

Staff Work Is Changing Again

Two wooden people try to put together 3-D wooden puzzle

In the spring of 2020, as congregations were forced to adapt suddenly to the realities of the pandemic, many congregational staff found their jobs changing – sometimes significantly. Changes for many staff included working from a home office and learning new technologies. Most staff needed to find new ways of doing their jobs and some were thrust into completely new areas of responsibility.

For some staff, the adjustments were relatively easy. Other staff did a tremendous amount of work, yet they enjoyed the chance to expand their skills and meet the needs of the congregation in new ways. Still others had a very challenging time as new responsibilities didn’t match their interests or skill set – and/or they weren’t given the time or resources to get up to speed. And, sadly, some staff had hours reduced or positions eliminated.

While online programs and activities will continue, congregations are now exploring possibilities for adding in-person activities back into the mix. Once again, we find ourselves on the cusp of a change in “how we do church.”

What does this Multi-Platform era mean for staff? We offer some questions and considerations to help you live into our values of equity and compassion so that staff can do their best work in these challenging times.

What Staff Need

Staff Need Time

  • If you, as a leader or supervisor, request an undertaking or assign a responsibility to a staff member, do you have an idea of how long it might take? Are you asking the staff member how much time they expect it to take? A note to the technologically timid among us: someone on your staff may be a whiz with tech (relatively speaking, at least!), but that doesn’t mean they don’t need time to learn and execute technical tasks.
  • As needs and responsibilities shift for a staff member, are priorities and workload discussed? When new responsibilities are added, are you increasing the staff member’s hours and/or removing something else from their plate?
  • Are you accounting for the staff time needed for research, decision-making, and training?
  • Are staff encouraged to take time for self-care? Are they taking regular days off as well as vacation time?

Staff Need Appropriate Compensation

  • If staff are expected to work “above their pay grade” on a sustained basis, are you reviewing their pay rate?
  • What about their hours? Especially for exempt staff, who may put in time above and beyond their nominal hours, their pay isn’t truly just if it doesn’t reflect the amount of time they are working.
  • Have you researched what it would cost to hire a new staff member (or potentially a contractor) to do what you are hoping can be done by your staff?

Staff Need Resources

  • Do staff members have what they need to do new tasks well – supplies, technology, books, training?
  • Are your staff well-connected with their professional organizations so that they can learn from – and share with – their counterparts in other congregations?

Staff Need Agency

  • Does each staff member have the opportunity to review their workload and priorities with their supervisor?
  • Are staff reliably included in conversations about potential changes that might affect their work or their programs?
  • Does a staff member’s level of authority match their level of accountability? Are you taking special care to avoid holding staff responsible for “fixing” things that are likely beyond their control and/or not up to any single individual? (Congregational staff report feeling overwhelmed by the weight of the expectation that they will, for instance, restore pre-pandemic levels of attendance or giving.)
  • What is the impact of your decisions and policies on those who are more marginalized in the system? Continually check for biases and assumptions.

Staff Need Relationships

  • Are you fostering a culture of teamwork among your staff so that they can support each other both in practice and in spirit?
  • Knowing that conflicts will arise, is there sufficient trust, honesty, and vulnerability in staff relationships to manage differences well?
  • Are staff encouraged to pursue networking opportunities through their professional organizations or elsewhere?

Staff Need Appreciation

  • Thank your staff in your newsletter, in meetings, from the pulpit, in supervision. The most heartfelt expressions of gratitude are specific. What difference did a particular staff member make? How did the staff team make a Sunday morning extra special?
  • Practical acknowledgments of staff efforts might include extra time off, gift certificates, or (when safe) a staff lunch.

Leadership Challenges

Common Circumstances

While we'll avoid going deep into problem-solving mode here, we want to assure you that you are not alone if you see your congregation in one of these scenarios:

  1. We have a staff member who had been performing well in the job they were hired to do. But our needs and realities have changed and this person doesn’t seem as well suited for their new responsibilities.
  2. We have a staff member who was already having trouble with some aspects of their job before the pandemic. All of the changes of the past year have exposed the depth of the problem.
  3. Our resources are limited. Everyone is stretched thin. We know we aren’t paying as much as we should be and now we seem to need even more from our staff (and volunteers).

These are difficult situations. They may have been a long time in the making (preceding the pandemic) and there are no easy answers. Take a breath. You do not need to solve it all yourself or fix it all today.

Words of Wisdom

Adapted from our main Multi-Platform Resources page:

  • Take Your Time: When COVID-19 struck in March of 2020, congregations quickly adapted their activities to be 100% online. We don't need to be in a hurry this time! Congregational life will continue to evolve, which means staffing (and volunteer) needs and responsibilities will keep changing. Flexibility is key.
  • Listen Deeply to One Another: There will be no one-size-fits-all answer to how to be inclusive in programming going forward. The work on justice, diversity, equity and inclusion we've been doing will serve us well as we center voices at the margins to make sure we don't exclude anyone from congregational life. One aspect of listening deeply is making sure that staff are included in decisions that impact them.
  • Online is not “less than.” Online programming is likely to continue to be primary for quite some time. Online and in-person are equally real; each has its blessings. What a gift technology has been to us during the pandemic! Just as online activities started out as an enhancement to in-person congregational life, what if we now consider in-person activities an enhancement to online life? Staff and other leaders can talk about gradually adding back a few onsite activities to complement your ongoing virtual programming.
  • Be realistic. Don't feel compelled to do everything as a "both/and." Find a reasonable path forward, based on your resources and the capacity of your staff and volunteers. If there's too much to do, you don't need to do it all. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it's that we can expand our notion of what "church" looks like. Revisit your must-do's. Can they happen differently or less often? Can the work be shared in a creative way, perhaps with another congregation?

Some of these LeaderLab Resource Library pages may be of help to you in considering alternatives and solutions grounded in our values:

For help with specific personnel situations, you are encouraged to contact your regional staff.

Especially for Supervisors

Self-Care and Staff-Care: Support for Supervisors was originally published in April 2020. Its messages continue to be highly relevant, with sections on responding faithfully to anxiety, understanding staff concerns, addressing performance problems, and more.

Reading: No Good Opening Words

Rev. Kimberley Debus reflects:

I wrote these words because I couldn't find anything that worked...because no one's done this in living memory. Please feel free to use with attribution.

Path through tall trees in foggy light

There Are No Good Opening Words

There are no good opening words,

Written long ago

Or even recently

That capture this moment.

We are

In uncharted territory

Taking up a task

Our past selves and our ancestors

Can only imagine

But here we are –

We are the people this moment needs

And so let us take up our work

In covenant

In faith

In pursuit of healing and holding.

Let our work today

Be fruitful

And helpful

Despite our fears and uncertainties

Despite our anxieties and frustrations

And let us chart this new course

That says

We were, we are, and we can be again.

Multi-Platform Considerations

Younger woman warmly greeting elder woman

Many congregations have been hoping to do a form of “hybrid,” "dual-platform," or "multi-platform" worship as a way of getting back together in person once we near the end of the pandemic. We are called to be inclusive. We will need to balance many different needs. We will have members and friends who will want to go back to “in person” worship just like it used to be. We will have members and friends who won’t feel safe yet to meet “in person.” We will have members and friends who love being able to worship online, especially those who weren’t able to attend in person before the pandemic. And we want to keep including the people who have joined us online, but are distant enough they won’t be able to gather with us in person.

But each congregation will do this in different ways, especially at the beginning. Here are some key questions for you to ponder together as you choose your own path forward:

Who Makes What Decision?

Discerning When

Some congregations have assembled a re-opening task force for re-opening in person congregational life. These teams often bring together the expertise of medical professionals and those who understand your building and its needs. This group may not be the group to have the conversations about what to do first when it is safe enough to gather. Their focus should stay on “when”. The UUA offers this guidance for these teams.

Discerning How

Some congregations have a group of technical volunteers and staff who have been working on the “how” of how to find the right technology for your needs. This is really important.

Discerning What

For the conversation about “what” you will offer in "what" format, you may need another group. In a small congregation it might be your Board. In others it may be a Program Council. It may be staff led. Or it could be a third group which gathers leaders with wisdom on the congregation’s mission, culture, and programs.

Consent is Key

Make sure you offer options so that your community is not asked to participate in ways that are unsafe for their individual health concerns. Ask for and respond to concerns about your plans.

"The purpose of the church is to heal the consequences of lovelessness and injustice in the hearts and souls of our members so they might heal the community and together heal the world." – Rev. Nancy Bowen

What Is Your Mission, Your Calling?

Start with your mission. Why does your congregation exist? To nurture the spiritual lives of your members? To bring love and justice to the world?

Take the time to notice what your congregation has learned about your mission during this pandemic.

What and Whose Needs Are Present?

Given your mission, what does your congregation need most? Small groups? In person worship? To focus on your new food pantry? Something else?

Maybe online worship is working well for most adults, but your families with children really need more support. Or adults who live alone are having a particularly hard time with social isolation. Maybe the physical needs for food and shelter in your congregation and neighborhood are going unmet.

What Are Your Assets?

What are the strengths and limitations of your volunteers? Your building? The technology you already have?

Include people's time, energy, and emotional resilience. The pandemic has taken a toll and it will take us time to recover.

The ideas, illustrations, and other content on this page are offered as possibilities, not policy guidance. Decisions about when and how to gather should be consistent with your own safety policies and protocol. UUA Recommendations can be found in our Safer Congregations resources.

What’s Your Congregation’s Orientation to Technology and Change?

Early Adopter

You have a high level of technical competence in your staff and volunteers and your congregation is eager to experiment. It’s okay if it doesn’t work as expected or you turn out to need different equipment later.

Middle Adopter

You’ll move into a multi-platform world with deliberation allowing other congregations to experiment first.

Late Adopter

Online worship is going well, small groups can continue to meet and move to in person, either outside or inside depending on local weather and covid metrics, and you will wait to engage in multi-platform gatherings once there is really clear technical information, guidance, and instructions from those congregations who go first.

Please help your congregation recognize the goal will never be technical perfection. There will be experiments that don’t work, glitches beyond your control, and flubs. Help your congregation expect and even welcome imperfection. Not only will this help your congregation make this transition, it will help you recruit and sustain volunteers, get better at change, even strengthen the spiritual muscles needed in our work to dismantle white supremacy culture. Expecting and accepting imperfection is a great spiritual practice!

What Other Organizations or Communities Will Your Decisions Impact?

If your building houses a pre-school or a social service like a meal program this needs to be a part of your planning.

Consider what’s going on in the neighborhood and town where your congregation is physically located. It may be that there are needs beyond the needs of your congregation to connect and gather and that these needs should be part of your planning.

How Can You Be Flexible?

We don't know the future. Even after cases decline to a safer level, cases may rise again, possibly because of genetic mutations that make current vaccines less effective. Our whole congregation, or parts of our congregation, may need to move back to all remote. Both build this possibility into your planning and communicate the potential to your congregation so they aren't surprised.

Multi Platform Budget Staff

Group of people with laptops, sitting at table talking

Many of us are eagerly awaiting the day when we can be together in person. But it won’t be like “flipping a switch.” In the months ahead, some activities will be easier and safer to do in person than others and, for a variety of reasons, you’ll be continuing some online options even after onsite gatherings are possible.

As congregations plan for the post-pandemic era, we offer some guidance for budgeting and staffing.

Program and Event Options

Before plunging into specifics, you'll want to consider key questions about mission, decision-making, orientation to technology, and more. See Multi-Platform: Choose Your Own Adventure.

Once you are ready to begin making specific program-related decisions, keep in mind that your choices are more than simply "online or in-person." Your budget and staffing will reflect the particulars, such as outdoor programming needs and/or simultaneous online and in-person worship support teams (e.g., greeters/hosts).

Budgeting

An environment of uncertainty makes it challenging to plan. In putting together your budget, you will need to make reasonable assumptions and estimate costs. Keep in mind your mission and how to center the needs of the most vulnerable members of your community.

Two strategies that congregations have used over the past year:

  1. Budget for less than a year at a time. (For example, budget for July through December in the spring, January through June in the fall).
  2. For the time being, create two, or even three, versions of the budget.

Income

In looking at the income side of your budget:

  • What assumptions can help you estimate pledge income?
  • Are you in conversation with pre-pandemic renters? Do they plan to return? Based on your safety policies and theirs, when do you estimate a return? Are new possibilities for rental income emerging?
  • What other sources of income do you rely upon? How can you estimate them? Are there new sources to explore?

Expenses

As you begin to budget for a time when regathering is possible, you probably have some relatively fixed expenses that you can plan for well. Perhaps you've even identified some savings. The tricky part, of course, is budgeting for new and variable expenses – in particular, items tied to your programmatic decisions.

Ideas, illustrations, and other content are offered as possibilities, not policy guidance. Decisions about when and how to gather should be consistent with your own safety policies and protocol. UUA Recommendations can be found on our Guidance on Gathering.

What new items might you need to budget for? Here are a few categories and examples to consider:

  • Technology: additional video equipment, livestreaming subscriptions
  • Structural improvements: ventilation upgrades, plexiglass partitions
  • Outdoor infrastructure: chairs and tables, canopy tent, sound system
  • Safety and hygiene: signage, sanitizing supplies, enough RE supplies for separate workstations (to allow for increased spacing between children, whether outdoors or indoors with good ventilation)
  • Personnel: The work of staff (and volunteers) changed significantly during the pandemic. As congregations begin to reopen for in-person activities while maintaining an online presence, needs and responsibilities will have to be rethought yet again. (Even many non-staff expense items, such as those above, will require staff time to research and put into use.) Let us now turn more specifically to staffing.

See Multi-Platform Options: Large Group Gatherings and Multi-Platform Options: Small Group Gatherings for technology and inclusion considerations.

Staffing

We all know about "other duties as assigned." Yes, we expect staff to be adaptable, especially in an emergency situation. Given the high value we put on growth and learning in Unitarian Universalism, it is no surprise that many congregational staff are not only willing but eager to develop their skills and contribute to their congregations in new ways over time.

But when responsibilities are added, the staff member and their supervisor should have a conversation about workload, priorities, and training needs. Is this a temporary assignment or likely to be long-term? Does the staff member have the tools to do what is being asked of them? What other tasks can be dropped to free up time? Are the new responsibilities generally in line with their regular work scope and purpose – or is this adding a whole new dimension to their role?

Operating in this era of change and uncertainty makes strong supervisory relationships and authentic team conversations more important than ever. See Congregational Staff Teams for curated resources on collaborative leadership, supervision, and more.

Hours

In evaluating staff time and job scopes, be sure to take into account the following:

  • Research and decision-making: As you plan for new ways of doing things, account for the time needed by staff to research options, to make decisions, and to implement new approaches.
  • Training and cross-training: Are staff being asked to take on new responsibilities? Be sure to budget appropriately for training (time and funding), as well as the time needed for staff to get up to speed. Build in backup plans, so that more than one person knows how to do "the thing."
  • Reduced bandwidth: We've been saying it since the pandemic began and it's worth saying again now. As we move into another new normal, everything will feel harder and take longer than usual.
  • Time off: For emotional and/or technical reasons, the beginning of the multi-platform era may be a difficult time for ministers and staff to pull away. Regular days off, as well as vacation time, are essential to staff well-being.

Pay Rate

Sometimes it's not just a matter of making sure a staff member has enough paid hours (and training). What if they are being asked to work "above their pay grade" on a sustained basis? We encourage you to come up with a reasonable and equitable process for reviewing both hours and pay rates, perhaps in concert with annual performance reviews.

Staffing Changes

Your current staff may be able to shift gears or expand hours to meet new needs, but that's not always realistic. If you have a short-term technical need, contracting out may be a good option. (Learn about the legal distinction between employees and independent contractors.)

If you are thinking about creating a new staff position or making significant changes to a current staff position, keep in mind that we expect to be in a fluid situation for some time. Look at staffing strategies that allow for change as needs evolve. These might include temporary positions, intentional cross-training, and Sharing Staff. Check out our Hiring Staff resources, including a position description template and Staffing for Diversity. But please know that most of our resources were not developed with short-term variability and longer-term flexibility as primary considerations.

These are complicated times, adaptive times. We are all in learning mode. Valuing Your Staff During the COVID-19 Pandemic speaks to expanding your congregation's capacity, self-care for staff, and living our values – all as important as ever.

Multi-Platform Options

Rev. John Crestwell at the GA 2012 Sunday Worship Service.

Before your congregational leadership makes technical decisions about equipment, staff, budget and volunteer needs for large-group multi-platform programming, it may be helpful to think about the different needs of both the online and in-person participant.

(This resource is “in beta.” We hope it helps you think about the array of multi-platform options and their nuances. We will add specifics as we learn more.)

What to Consider for Large Groups

Worship, Concerts, Theater, Poetry Readings, Etc

Technology for the Online Participant Experience

  • Excellent internet bandwidth
  • Good lighting
    • People on camera need to be seen. Darker skin tones need different lighting than lighter skin tones. Help everyone on camera look their best!
    • Avoid lit windows or bright lights in the background. You may need to add ambient light behind the speaker to give depth to the space.
  • Good cameras
    • If your budget allows, invest in high-resolution video cameras.
  • Use a microphone for all speakers. Lapel mics are inexpensive and effective.
    • If you are outside, you will want to have a foam or fur cover on the microphone to reduce wind noise.
  • Use a captioning service to improve accessibility.
  • Offer a way to give online during the offering (text-to-give or a link to a donation page.)
  • Have a well-trained technology team.

Hospitality for the Online Participant Experience

  • Have online ushers/greeters paying attention to what is happening online (monitoring the chat window, etc.)
  • Provide an order of service or slide deck to guide participants through the elements of the service.
  • Offer opportunities to interact via the chat function, in breakout rooms, or in other creative ways.
  • When doing something interactive, be sure to include online participants by reading aloud their contributions to the discussion in real time.

Considerations for the In-Person Participant Experience

  • Follow safety protocols.
  • Amplify and use a microphone for all speakers. Lapel mics are inexpensive and effective.
  • Offer listening assistance, such as headphones or a hearing loop.
  • Keep the cameras and lighting from being too distracting.
  • Install a screen or two in the sanctuary and share the same visuals that are seen online.
    • You may want to install screens in other part of the church building (fellowship hall, nursery) for overflow.
  • Provide large-print orders of service and hymnals as needed.

Multi-Platform Small Group

Chilren in front of a laptop having fun

Small group gatherings--including meetings and breakout rooms--need to be radically inclusive when people are meeting in person and online at the same time. Here are some considerations.

(This resource is “in beta.” We hope it helps you think about the array of multi-platform options and their nuances. We will add specifics as we learn more.)

What to Consider for Small Groups

Covenant Groups, Religious Education, Committee/Team Meetings, Etc

Four or Fewer in-Person With Online Participants

  • Excellent internet bandwidth

  • Laptop on a table where camera can “see” everyone in room

  • Good lighting

Online Participants

  • No background noise

  • Avoid cross-talking (causes garbled sound)
  • Intentional inclusion of online participants (e.g. using circle processes)

In-person Participants

  • Laptop with screen large enough to see online participants

5-12 in-Person With Online Participants

  • Excellent internet bandwidth

  • Laptop with a conference-style webcam

  • Conference microphone/speaker

  • Good lighting

Online Participants

  • No background noise

  • Avoid cross-talking (causes garbled sound)
  • Intentional inclusion of online participants (e.g. using circle processes)

In-person Participants

  • Laptop with Large TV or screen/projector, appropriate to room size

  • Conference microphone/speaker

Outdoor Meeting: 4 or Fewer In-Person with Online Participants

  • Excellent internet bandwidth

  • Phone or tablet with unlimited data

  • Tripod/stand where phone/tablet camera can “see” everyone present

  • Bluetooth speaker/microphone with foam/fur mic cover to reduce wind noise

Online Participants:

  • No background noise

  • Avoid cross-talking (causes garbled sound)
  • Intentional inclusion of online participants (e.g. using circle processes)

In-person Participants:

  • Phone or tablet with unlimited data on a tripod/stand where sunlight doesn’t impact screen

  • Bluetooth speaker/microphone

Touch Consent

Two people in masks bumping elbows in greeting

Along with following guidelines about gathering in person from the CDC and local and state health agencies, our congregations will need to navigate programming decisions based on the needs of the people who might be attending. We have recommended that no in-person OWL programming happen until all participants, facilitators, and the vulnerable people in their social pods can be safe.

Once we can meet in person, our communities will need to help members and friends be more mindful about interpersonal interactions, especially around touch. The Our Whole Lives curriculum can give us us some guidance!

Consent

Considering the OWL framework of consent can be helpful, but it's not as simple as "Would you like a handshake/hug?"

We now need to communicate clearly and directly:

"I'd love to offer you a hug. My risk exposure in the past two weeks has been X. Please tell me yours so we can make a risk-aware decision."

It's similar to making decisions about risk-aware sexual contact but perhaps more challenging because people may think, "It's just a hand shake" or "It's just a hug" or "I only went to one crowded party..."

Also, they may know their personal risk exposure, but they may be unaware that someone in their family may have brought the virus home.

Rethinking Touch

We will need to rethink congregational touch as a form of comfort, community, and blessing.

For example, as a lay preacher, I will no longer invite people to hold hands during Benediction. I won't participate in post-service Greet the Speaker hand shaking lines.

If I were a minister conducting Dedications, I would not carry newborns among the pews for community blessing. As a congregant, I would skip the Circle Dance group unless masks are required and everyone takes hand sanitizer breaks. And so on...

Maybe it would help to adopt a touch-free way of indicating care and compassion. Here are a few examples, but you might come up with more:

  • Invite people to stand apart and open their arms wide to each other, visualizing that their hearts are open to each other (which is also a form of energy exchange).
  • Hold the hands in prayer position over the heart with a slight bow to honor the spirit within (commonly known as “Namaste”).
  • Offer a nod while giving yourself a hug to signal a virtual hug.

Multi-Platform Scenarios

meeple trying to decide which of 3 red arrows to follow

In today's context, each congregation will move back toward in-person congregational life while continuing to include online participation in different ways.

In the spirit of radical hospitality, congregations will eventually want to be able to offer hybrid, or multi-platform, programming. This includes not only in-person worship with online participation, but also in-person smaller gatherings. Your congregation will want to prioritize what is most important to you and your community, and take into account your people's needs and your available capacity and resources.

The following fictional scenarios are designed to help you think through your own decision-making process. They include:

  • a sample step toward accomodating programming that includes in-person and online participation
  • why each fictional congregation is making that programming a priority for a multi-platform format

These congregations have assessed their mission, their community’s needs, their assets and building, and their cultural orientation to technology and change. They’re fully aware of the timing and equity of vaccination in their area, metrics for safe in person gathering, outdoor protocols, that vaccines are not yet available for children, and that it's possible they'll need to return to an all-remote model.

Unitarian Universalist (UU) Church of the Open Heart: Connection First

Online worship is going fine and our building is old and small, so safe ventilation is a challenge. What’s most important to us is connection, especially connection among children and youth, who will not be vaccinated before fall 2021. Therefore we are prioritizing small groups including outdoor groups, outdoor family connections, and outdoor youth programs. We imagine adult small groups will happen inside before multi-platform worship while some small groups continue online. Once children are vaccinated, we plan to have an all ages hybrid worship followed by small group faith formation for all ages.

UU Church of the Helping Hands: Taking Care of Our Neighbors

Our congregation is very spread out physically, so small “neighborhood” gatherings are our first plan to connect—socially distanced—when weather allows and it's safe to gather outside. We remember our building being used in the past for programs to help those in need of food and overnight shelter. We are reaching out to local social service agencies to start a new program. We believe this is a higher priority than in-person worship.

It is important to provide radical hospitality for online participants!

Connections UU Fellowship: Small Gatherings First

Our congregation had both online and in-person outdoor small groups when weather allowed. We are thinking ahead to small group interactions when in-person gatherings are possible and the weather is bad. So, once sufficient time has passed that all people over 65 locally have had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated our retirement group would like to begin meeting again. We are asking them to test out how to include online participants so we will be ready to include all in similar gatherings in the future such as faith formation. We know that connection is critical after a year where everyone has been physically isolated, and we want to prioritize connection and re-connection now.

UU Society of the Room-Where-It-Happens: Worship Watch Party

As a small congregation, Sunday morning has been our main connection. Online worship has been vital to sustaining us, and those older members who live alone are particularly eager for an in-person experience. As children will not be able to be vaccinated before fall of 2021 and we have staff, including our minister, who have children, we will continue to do online worship for some time. At some point, as metrics and vaccination access allow, we will let a small group of people gather and use a projector and the sanctuary sound system to access worship together.

While this may feel like it excludes some, we recognize the very high impact the isolation has had on those who live alone. Our older members, once vaccination is available for them all, need in person connection. Having only part of our congregation present in-person will keep our building at a safer lower density of people. This will also make our technology evolution easier for now. We will continue our inclusive online coffee hour and breakout spaces. One thing we’re excited about is continuing to have speakers from far away lead our worship! Once everyone, including children, is vaccinated, we will read up on how others have done hybrid worship and move towards a more multi-platform experience with the minister in person.

Harmony UU Congregation: Music First

Music is very important to us spiritually and emotionally. In-person indoor worship is going to feel sad without being able to sing together. Therefore, we are prioritizing COVID-safe outdoor music as a spiritual practice and connection including socially distanced concerts and researching how to sing safely at a distance outside. We are happy to wait for a hybrid online/in-person worship experience.

The ideas, illustrations, and other content on this page are offered as possibilities, not policy guidance. Decisions about when and how to gather should be consistent with your own safety policies and protocol. UUA Recommendations can be found in our Safer Congregations resources.

UU Church of the Open Door: Inter-congregational Hospitality

We are a group of small congregations brought closer together by the pandemic. The larger small congregation has been hosting worship and inviting the neighboring smaller congregations to share with them. As we look forward, the conversation is turning to keeping that set up, allowing the smaller congregations to join online but still actively participate by sharing in leading worship elements. The larger congregation will be a mix of online and in-person as members are able. The tiny congregations may join online from home or host watch parties at their buildings. Each congregation will continue the outreach they're currently doing for children and youth including a new shared online youth group!

UU Church Cooperatives: Sharing the Load

For our cluster, going “on the road” to visit each others’ worship services and then gather for coffee hour with our own congregation afterwards is working very well. Not only has this spread out the load of leading worship in ways that are really helping avoid pandemic burnout, but we’re finding each other’s worship offerings inspiring and nurturing. As we look towards gathering in-person, we want to keep sharing worship in this way. Eventually, we’d like to have each congregation lead worship from their sanctuary once a month streamed both to participants online and the other cluster sanctuaries. We know this will take time and we’re happy to keep worshipping online and gathering in small groups in other ways, when it's safe, while we get ready.

UU Church of the Flowing (Live) Stream: Expanding the In-Sanctuary Experience

As a larger congregation, we already stream worship from our sanctuary with a small team except when cases rise. This involves a small in-person staff team to run the cameras and sound system. We will begin hybrid worship when metrics allow by having some people attend what we are already doing in person. However, out of concern for everyone’s health, this won’t happen until all adults can be vaccinated so all staff can all be fully vaccinated. We will work to be sure the in-person and online experiences are both inclusive and welcoming by recruiting online hosts to interact in the online chat and run online coffee hour break out rooms. We plan to offer outdoor children and youth programming. We may need to return to an all online experience as winter approaches as children may not be vaccinated by then and indoor RE may not yet be safe enough to be inclusive for all our families.

IT UU Society: Hybrid, Multi-platform, Here We Come!

We have tech volunteers and technology competent staff who are eager to set up the technology to really do an event that’s both in person and online in an inclusive exciting way. We’re gathering with multiple stakeholders in our congregation to re-shape how worship happens so that we aren’t just doing the same worship style we did in person or just doing what we’ve been doing online. Our worship will be a new experience that is planned around both the in-person and online experience. We’re also investing money in upgrading our sanctuary’s technology which will take some time. We are hoping to be in a place to begin experimenting with our new model by the time it’s safe to gather in person in our county. We are doing a similar re-visioning of how we connect with families, children, and youth and will begin outdoor gatherings when it's safe enough although we do not plan to do this during worship the way we previously offered RE for children and youth. This may be the moment where our worship evolves to be a truly multigenerational experience and we are able to offer age-based faith formation.

All Ages Dual Platform

As we look ahead to the future, congregations are planning for

Family on laptop and chalice with candles - Says Conversations with Leaders

when they will be in person again and how to build in inclusion for all ages. Many congregations will include ways to participate online to include those adults who cannot attend in person, but what about children and youth? Especially as younger youth and children can’t be vaccinated yet and it’s not clear when that will happen.

This recording below shares some framing from Congregational Life staff across the country to help your congregation begin or continue discernment about all ages inclusion as you move through this process. Below the video you'll find insights and aha moments from congregational leaders who participated in the All Ages Dual-Platform Future conversations in April 2021. (You might want to also review Dual Platform Future conversation from March 2021)

Conversation Highlights from Participants

Framing Question

“Who is most on your heart as you think about a return to in-person programming?”

  • Families who could be left behind as we reopen
  • Those not participating online due to technology or financial barriers
  • Those allergic to the vaccines, those aren’t going to get vaccinated
  • Immune compromised parents whose children aren’t vaccinated
  • People not coming to Zoom services; often marginalized young adult 20-30’s.
  • Many families with younger children not attending online
  • Children who really want to be together in person
  • Those who because of distance, or driving, or COVID, won’t be able to return
  • Families with multiple traumas; divorce, death, cancer, etc.
  • Shy youth, youth with mental health struggles, youth we haven’t seen
  • Families attending from far away who may not be able to come in person
  • Youth who didn’t get to finish Our Whole Lives
  • Children are impacted: can seem ok one moment andhave big feelings the next
  • Exhausted parents and caregivers
  • Far flung members new and old
  • Aging members with dementia may have a hard time returning
  • Families who are just done with screens
  • Youth, especially youth of color, in a time of racial violence and reckoning
  • Children with health risks who can’t be vaccinated yet

Framing Question

"What do we need to consider in our planning (mission, needs, volunteer capacity, budget, messaging, etc.)?"

  • Opening too soon without being intentional will fracture community
  • We need to include all the voices
  • People want in person worship, but don’t realize how much extra effort management of COVID and hybrid technology will be
  • Vast majority of volunteers stepped back in the last year
  • How to reconnect those families who have not be attending
  • Not everyone will choose to be vaccinated
  • When we don’t know who is vaccinated, how can we create a safe space for those who can’t be vaccinated yet?
  • Building capacity for COVID procedures like contact tracing, limiting bathroom use, etc.
  • Classroom space that can’t be made COVID safe (too small, no ventilation)
  • How to find volunteers who aren’t the exhausted parents?
  • Urban congregation doesn’t have outdoor space
  • Need leap in technology to offer live streaming for in-person worship services
  • Covenant and right relations are important as we lean into the discomfort of the conversations we need to have
  • Youth often come for events with food, need to be able to do that safely?
  • How to budget with our limited financial resources for needed technology and staff
  • Updates to the building that consider not just technology, but how we might gather differently in person
  • Expand and maintain interpretation and captions for deaf and hard of hearing participants
  • Returning will increase staff work load

Framing Question

"What are some insights you have as you plan in-person ministry once it is safe?"

  • Starting the message now that things will be very different: expectations may not be met.
  • Focus on community and connection critical
  • A “buffet” of small group in person offerings
  • Help congregation accept we will be experimenting for awhile
  • Start with something fun
  • Thinking outside the box/screen
  • We will need to re-learn social norms: we were used to hugging.
  • Deliberate ceremony to celebrate our community and recognize loss, reunion, both online and in person
  • Help people let go of the way church used to be
  • Hold plans lightly
  • Bring families back first, keep worship online to allow more space for children
  • Figure out how trauma will influence how we come back together.
  • Move events off Sundays
  • Collaborate with other congregations
  • Outdoor small service for families at another time
  • Go slow and be flexible
  • “Return to in person worship” sounds like “return to the way things were” need new language because it will be different
  • Find ways to play with all ages
  • Flexibility and ability to roll with change.
  • We have a chance to rebuild everything we do.
  • Conversation. Conversation, conversation.
  • Imagining new ways of connection and community.

Dual Platform Conflict

This video is a portion of the Conversations with Leaders: Dual Platform Future for All Ages webinar that was offered in April.

In this video, Patricia Infante, CER Staff in Lifespan Faith Development talks about conflict and how change and conflict are connected in our congregations.

In summary:
As our congregations look at changes, we will find that conflict and anxiety will emerge. We may find conflicts among families, our staff, between staff and leadership. We may find that people will have differing needs. Congregations will also find that during this time we have created accessibility for those who haven't had access in the past and how do we prioritize and maintain that accessibility while going back to in person activities.

During these next months leaders need to remember that there is no one right way and we need to lean into our covenants or other documents that we use to guide right relations. Healthy and transparent communications will be essential.

Dual Platform Inclusion

This video is a portion of the Conversations with Leaders: Dual Platform Future for All Ages webinar that was offered in April.

In this video, Nancy Combs-Morgan, Mid-America Congregational Life Staff talks about inclusive congregations and how that needs to be the focus as we plan for the future.

In summary:
Inclusion should not be an afterthought but part of all planning. Many congregations have already created virtual inclusive all age, accessible events and this needs to continue going forward. The congregation is the curriculum, and being in beloved community is important.

Congregations should ask themselves, what is the center of your congregation? What is your big why? What is your mission?

Dual Platform RE

This video is a portion of the Conversations with Leaders: Dual Platform Future for All Ages webinar that was offered in April.

In this video, Annie Scott, Pacific Western Staff talks about the role of religious educators in planning for moving forward.

In summary:
Religious educators should be part of this process because they are the direct connection to families, children, youth and parents and often represent those needs at the table. How church looks in the future is changing and will be an emerging process going forward and religious educators need to be part of the conversation. Finally, we need to plan in a way that protects the most vulnerable of our populations. When the pandemic started, that was our older populations. Now it's our children as the variants appear to affect them more than the original virus.

Dual Platform Trauma

This video is a portion of the Conversations with Leaders: Dual Platform Future for All Ages webinar that was offered in April.

In this video, Wren Bellavance-Grace, New England Congregational Life Staff, talks about trauma and how it impacts our congregations and returning to religious education programs.

In summary:
Wren talks about how the pandemic has been a traumatic event for everyone, but hasn't affected everyone the same way. This will be important to consider as we slowly go back to in person activities.

In terms of religious education classes, at first congregations should focus on relearning how to be in community, since we haven't been together for a long time. Community and connection should be centered. When we do add curricula to our classes, focus on the basics, the principles, the chalice, our covenants. Finally, find your gifts and congregation's gifts to share.

As we move out of the pandemic, congregations should start talking out their vision of the future and start those conversations about how to do faith formation going forward.

CER Dual Platform

Conversations with leaders: Dual Platform Future, March 11, 7-9 pm and March 13, 10-noon

As we look ahead to the future, congregations are planning for when they will be in person again and how to continue to include online participants. Whether we call this hybrid, multi-platform, or dual-platform, congregations across the size spectrum are expecting to live into this inclusion.

Each congregation will chart their own path to best meet the emotional and spiritual needs of their members. This recording shares some framing to help your congregation discern your direction and guidance on how to move through this planning process. Below you'll find insights and aha moments from congregational leaders in the Central East District who participated in the March 2021 webinars. (Also review the similar but different All-Ages Dual Platform Future)

Conversation Highlights from Participants

Framing Question

“Who is most on your heart as you think about a return to in-person programming?”

  • Those who have not been participating online due to technology or financial barriers
  • Those who have health issues or live far away have been able to participate because we are online
  • Those with grief from losing a beloved
  • Those longing for social and physical connection
  • Those who yearn to sing and make music together
  • Families who are overwhelmed with online school
  • People who don't do well with uncertainty
  • Many of us in lay leadership who are bone-tired
  • Our Audio/Visual Volunteers
  • Staff who are bone-tired
  • New people who may have a distorted understanding of commitment and covenant

Framing Question

"What do we need to consider in our planning (mission, needs, volunteer capacity, budget, messaging, etc.)?"

  • We don't want to overwhelm ourselves
  • We need to be clear about who will make what decisions about reopening
  • How an overwhelmed board can make reopening decisions (look to UUA for guidance)
  • How to reconnect those who have not be attending
  • Need leap in techology to offer livestreaming for in-person worship services
  • Covenant and right relations are important as we lean into the discomfort of the conversations we need to have
  • How to budget with our limited financial resources for needed technology, etc.
  • Updates to the building that consider not just technology, but how we might gather differently in person
  • Figuring out ventilation issues in our building
  • People are already burnt out -- how do we not overburden them
  • Safety of members
  • Opportunities for deeper connection
  • Ramping up our communication strategy to find more ways and opportunities to share what is happening and why
  • How can this be an opportunity to let go of old habits and become the Beloved Community we dream about
  • We want people to be able to come back with enthusiasm and joy

Framing Question

"What are some insights you have as you plan in-person ministry once it is safe?"

  • We need to offer both in-person and online options to meet multiple needs, but don't need to do everything at once
  • We need to be trauma-informed in our planning, as Rev. Sunshine mentioned, including in ourselves
  • Go slow, and be transparent
  • Boundaries, policies, etc. need to be clear and firm
  • Need to have covenants about how we interact when we gather
  • Find ways to meet outside when the weather allows (especially children and youth). Summer might serve as a transition time.
  • Frame the conversation as "How do we return to community?"
  • Flexibility and kindness to one another are key
  • There is more than one right way
  • Let go of perfection
  • Don't try to do everything
  • Don't try to do it alone -- make sure there is a good team of congregational leaders working together in the same direction
  • Make time for leaders to go on "retreat" for out-of-box thinking
  • Technology can no longer be an afterthought. We need staff or committed volunteers.
  • Need to plan for disorientation and other trauma-informed responses
  • We need to pay more attention to in-person accessibility (hearing loops, door width, immuno-compromised people)
  • Children are last in line to be vaccinated
  • All ministry will be feel weird and will be developmental ministry for the next 3-5 years until we get to a new normal
  • What is scientifically safe and what feels safe will not always align
  • This is a chance to create worship anew. Sharing the pulpit with other congregations can lighten the load.
  • There is a chance to recreate family ministry. Maybe we spend a year experimenting
  • Need to expand our ability to communicate well and in many different ways
  • Small groups are going to be more important than ever to keep people connected
  • Don't make assumptions about needs. We need to listen deeply, especially to the voices that are often not heard
  • Many people are watching the worship recording during the week -- how might that inform our planning?

Multi-Platform Framing

"The great rethink that COVID-19 is requiring of us is going to change the church forever, for bells are ringing that cannot be unrung. One of those bells is the realization on the part of faith communities that they have a much bigger toolbox than they realized for carrying out the 'it' that is church."

by Sarah Birmingham Drummond

from We Shall Be Changed: Questions for the Post Pandemic Church, Mark Eddington, Ed.

Three qualities of church that will be important in our next phase of how to be together are:

  • attention to mission
  • nimbleness
  • inclusion

Trauma Responses to COVID

It's important to understand that our faith communities have gone through a traumatic experience, and that is having an impact on our physical and mental functioning.

Things to Consider

  • Some of our people may have past trauma that is being triggered
  • It takes a lot more energy to do "normal" tasks
  • People's sense of time can be distorted
  • People have a harder time taking in information, so we need to communicate more often (think 4 times as often) and in as many different ways as possible
  • People are going to want to go back to the "old normal"
  • When we are back meeting in person and it isn't the "same," people will experience a kind of unraveling
  •  People will be feeling tired, depressed and exhausted, including the leaders
  • It will take five to ten years for congregations to heal
  • Avoid a sense of urgency and take your time

Multi-Platform Leadership

It is important for leaders to communicate with clarity, timeliness, and compassion, about the changes that are coming.

Roles of leadership during times of change include:

  • nimbleness
  • flexibility
  • adaptability
  • inclusivity
  • communicate clearly and honestly

Multi-Platform Discernment

Where are the greatest needs right now in your community, both among your membership and your surrounding community?

You congregation will have different areas of discerment that will likely be decided by different groups:

  • When will it be safe enough to allow in-person programs, and what standards will need to be followed?
  • What is the first thing we will do in person, based on safety and the needs of our particular population(s)?
  • What kind of technology and other practical considerations do we need to make that happen?