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Preparing for the Pandemic Before It Comes to Your Congregation

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The COVID-19 Pandemic is progressing at different rates in different parts of the country and world.

Clergy are learning from local disaster response experts and are sharing what they are learning. Clear guidance is emerging on how to prepare for the pandemic when it hits your community.

  • We need to prepare for congregants getting sick.
  • We need to prepare for key lay leaders getting sick.
  • We need to prepare for our staff and clergy getting sick. 

Here are some advised steps to take now to be ready:

Embrace Humility

Remind yourself that no one person can take care of a community. 

  • If you’re the minister, now is a critical time to fully share the ministry.
  • If yours is a lay-led congregation, invest in equipping your most trusted leaders with pastoral skills.
  • Remember that helping others helps people feel less powerless in the face of trauma and increases resilience.

Embrace Redundancy

In nature, healthy ecosystems have more than one element filling a need (or niche) in the system. (e.g. In nature, if you only get water from one source, you are at risk. If you have many sources for water--rain, snow runoff, springs, dew--you are less at risk.) Congregations are no different. 

  • Clearly identify the key central contact person in leadership (often the minister or president/moderator) for the congregation during this crisis. Then identify at least two backup leaders in case the key person becomes ill or unavailable suddenly.
  • Create similar "two deep" back-ups for every critical area of congregational life. This includes worship, pastoral care, governance, and finance.

    Consider this both by role and task:  In some cases a back-up can take on all of the task for a role. In other cases, (such as for a paid staff role) the tasks will need to be divided and shared.
  • Share all important information with those in back-up roles. You may wish to have a cental location for all information (e.g. a notebook in the office, shared files in the cloud, etc.) so that information is available if they need it. Be sure to protect sensitive information such as passwords, account numbers and other sensitive information.

Reinforce Internal Social Connections

  • Develop a list of who is especially vulnerable in your congregation. Pay special attention to those who are elderly, immuno-suppressed, depressed, anxious, living alone, etc. 
  • Put together a team of trusted, non-anxious lay people to check in with every member, regular attendee and "friend."  
    • Ask how they're doing and what challenges they face
    • Ask what gifts, passions or resources they might be willing to share: Therapist willing to talk on the phone? Someone just willing to make calls? Experience in disaster planning? Knows how to apply for federal or state disaster aid? Can facilitate connections between families or between children and elders? 
    • If needed, let the minister or caring network know if the person needs a pastoral care call
  • Develop support circles willing to call each other--perhaps daily if someone lives alone—to make sure no one falls through the cracks. (Some congregations are organizing these circles by neighborhood.) This frees the caring network and/or minister are free for more in-depth support and for other work like worship.

    These circles should have a liaison to report back to the pastoral care team, again with two back-ups if the liaison becomes ill. Circles should consider sharing emergency contact information with each other. 
  • If you haven't already, develop a pastoral care network.

Build Online Community

It is essential that we move caring circles and small group ministry on-line as quickly as possible so people can practice going deep with each other in virtual space.  The reality is sobering and heart breaking.

We may need to say final good-byes to each other through Facetime, Zoom or phone. We must practice now so that we are ready to hold each other when we need it most.

For now, it is our work to practice singing to one another virtually and looking into one another’s eyes deeply through a screen.  While it is not perfect, it is possible. 

Reinforce External Social Connections

Reach out to local disaster response networks. See if someone in your congregation can be a connector to those efforts so you know if your volunteers or building is needed.

Some areas are already asking which buildings are accessible and could be used as temporary hospitals, testing sites, food distribution sites, etc.

Resources

About the Author

UUA Congregational Life Staff Group

The regional Congregational Life staff are congregations' local connection to the UUA. All of the program Congregational Life staff have expertise in most aspects of congregational life and each also has a few program areas of expertise. See the...

For more information contact conglife@uua.org.