Planning for the New Year

By Beth Casebolt

Visual chart showing Guidance for Gathering post COVID

We are fast coming up on the start of a new church year and I suspect the surge of Delta cases across the country is causing many of us to rethink our plans for in person services and programs. We've heard from many of you about how disheartened you are by the turn of events, and from others about how members of the congregation are actually angry that they can't get together in person right now. We've also heard from congregational staff about the desire to offer multi-platform options, but the lack of volunteers to make those dreams a reality.

In light of this we'd like to remind everyone that the UUA has some excellent resources about planning for congregations around re-opening, multi-platform and how to follow the science of your area that have been actively updated as information has changed. Unfortunately as was true at the beginning of the pandemic, the variation across the country and even across our region is so great that we cannot provide one blanket recommendation for all congregations at this time. We can provide you with questions to ask as you look at the data. If you need technical help with your multi-platform plans, we recommend you check out the Tech UU Response to COVID-19 Facebook Group.

In her April 15, 2021 letter to UU congregations, our president Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray articulated these principles for our decision making:

  • 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.
  • Finally, 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.

We know this isn't want many people hoped for as when they started planning the new church year back in the spring. But we do hope that you will take these recommendations to heart and alter the plans to fit the reality of your area so that your congregation can be a safe haven for everyone of any age.

About the Author

Beth Casebolt

Beth Casebolt is the Operations Manager and Communications Consultant for the Central East Region. Prior to regionalization she served as the District Administrator for the Ohio-Meadville District, a position she held since November 2007. She is very interested in social media and website design.

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