“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.