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CERSI Creates Alternatives for Event

By Amy Kent

Central East Region Summer Institute Logo

Each year hundreds of UUs look forward to Central East Region’s Summer Institute (CERSI) especially the hugs, ice cream with families, long conversations with friends, pop up jam sessions and interesting classes. However, like everything else in the Summer of 2020, Summer Institute had to cancel due to COVID-19. Cancel? After 40 years of this wonderful intentional community, cancel? The Planning Committee and other leaders who work on SI all year long went through the stages of grief like a lot of people who have had to cancel plans. Once we got to acceptance, we wanted to re-imagine CERSI. Not duplicate it, but have something that same week that would connect old friends, allow us to make new friends, and have a little bit of that SI Magic. Could that be done? We hope so.

The planning team has completely refocused their energy on bringing some of the SI Magic to returning campers and giving a sample of what SI is all about to first timers. This new realty of Zoom and video conferencing gives us new tools to connect, but we can't rely on that when it comes to planning events. We need to make use of other resources such as email, social media, and recordings. Anyone with a smart phone has a multimedia studio in their hand. The hope is to make online events as interactive as possible.

Assistant Chair, Susan Roscigno said:

For many folks, summer means SI. It's a reunion of sorts - a chance to catch up with people you see once a year, to spend unstructured hours with those you might see at church every Sunday but never get to just hang with, to meet new folks with whom you know you'll have something in common even if it's just the fact that you are both UUs. SI is, for many, also a ritual - something you do year after year, in which the doing itself has deep meaning in addition to the meaning inherent in the individual SI experiences. Each SI - including this virtual one - has been intentionally crafted to offer these same types of connections. rituals, and deep meaning.

I hope that CERSI 2020 offers the community: a break from the rest of the world; a safe place to play, connect, and worship; a place to think and feel deeply; a place to grow intellectually, spiritually, and socially; a place to continue old friendships and build new ones; a place to feel the much-needed SI magic.

The planning committee held listening sessions with past SI attendees to capture what were the most important pieces of the week to try to re-create in this virtual version. That input has guided them in their planning. They hope that what they are creating will whet the appetite of those who are new and help returning campers capture that SI Magic for just a few days.

Summer Institute Committee Chair, Cal Frye had this reflection:

For me personally, SI is a gathering of friends from all over, many folks I don't really have a chance to see elsewhere. In this year of physical distancing, we all are finding ways to continue to meet with our friends, if not in person, at least online. I hop that "Summer In-situ" will help us keep the flavor of SI until we can meet again in the way we really would like.

There is so much of Summer Institute we can't hope to bring by digital means. We hope we can find a "tasting menu" of sorts; some worship, some chance for thought, some gathering and laughter, enough to be an appetizer for the full meal that will be SI 2021 in our new home of California, PA.

Registration for the Virtual version of Summer Institute will open on June 1. Visit the CERSI website at for details.

CER Summer Institute 40 year poster

Poster showing the past Summer Institute posters from its 40 year history.

About the Author

Amy Kent

Amy lives in the City of Champions, Pittsburgh, PA with her daughter and dog. She has been a member of the UU Church of the South Hills (Sunnyhill) for twenty years. Amy most recently was working in workforce development – helping people with barriers receive free training that would lead to jobs...

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