Dear leaders and colleagues,
I send you all so much love and care as you are in the thick of planning and even re-evaluating plans for your multi-platform programs for the fall. Like many of you, I have been digging into the data, consulting with public health advisors, and welcoming my own grief that we are not further along in combating this virus.
I’ve also been inspired by the creative things Unitarian Universalists are doing to spiritually nourish your communities, minister to children and families, practice inclusion, and help people connect meaningfully and safely. Exciting plans for all-outdoor religious education programs, pop-up outdoor Sunday gatherings, outdoor rituals to mark ingathering, and multiple ways for people to connect in-person and online for worship, meditation and spiritual practice—are just a few. In the midst of all the difficult news in our world, our role as religious communities to nurture joy and resilience and tend to the spiritual well-being of our families and communities is vital.
I am so proud that as Unitarian Universalists, we have continually centered inclusion and collective care in our response to the pandemic. It matters that we keep practicing these values, especially as the pandemic changes.
One of the most important changes we have learned about the Delta variant is that even though vaccination reduces the chances of severe disease, vaccination does not prevent a person from getting infected or transmitting the virus to others. This means that even when we are vaccinated we can contribute to increased community spread. As the CDC says, our guidance is changing because the virus is changing.
While we don’t have a single, clear directive like we did when we recommended all congregations stop meeting in-person in the spring of 2020, we recognize that our UUA recommendations have been helpful to our congregations navigating difficult decisions in a precarious and changing context.
Upon consulting the public health professionals who have been advising us throughout the pandemic, for now, the UUA strongly recommends:
- For all indoor gatherings, regardless of size, vaccination status, or area transmission risk: Require good ventilation, well-fitted masks, physical distancing of at least 6 feet, reduced occupancy, no singing, and no food, nor drinks.
- Require well-fitted masks for all large outdoor events, for any outdoor event where unvaccinated children or other vulnerable people are included, and for outdoor gatherings of any size in counties where transmission is Very High or Severe (per the COVID Act Now data).
- As children below age 12 cannot yet be vaccinated, hold religious education activities and multi-age programs outdoors. If children are indoors, ensure excellent ventilation, masking, physical distancing, and reduced room occupancy.
- In areas where transmission risk is Very High or Severe (per the COVID Act Now data), suspend all large, in-person (indoor and outdoor) gatherings such as worship, concerts, or fundraisers.
- In areas where transmission risk is Low, Medium, or High (per the COVID Act Now data), small and mid-size gatherings, including limited-attendance worship, may be reasonably safe if indoor precautions for masking, ventilation, physical distancing and high vaccination rates are followed.
- Create an expectation that vaccinations are required for everyone who is eligible. Work to have the highest vaccination rate possible in your community. We support requiring vaccinations for staff, lay leaders, and anyone spending time with children.
With these updates, it is important for congregations to regularly assess the transmission risk for their local and surrounding areas as determined by trusted health authorities and the particular risk factors for staff and members of the community. Then, following our Four Principles to Guide Decisions for UU Gatherings (PNG), leaders can make faithful and careful decisions.
Even as we make these recommendations, we recognize the situation can change quickly. In some cases, these recommendations may not be restrictive enough, given the risks in your communities and particular circumstances. Factors such as vaccination rates, ability to meet outside, quality ventilation, physical space, congregation size, and the particular needs and risks of staff and members vary across congregations.
We are providing the best guidance we can for this moment and will update our recommendations as appropriate.
If you have questions about these recommendations or what they mean for your congregation or community, or if you need support navigating decision making in your congregation, contact your regional staff. They are here to support you.
I know that making decisions for a community in the midst of a global pandemic is unbelievably stressful. It can feel like both too much and not enough at the same time. However, the real heart of what we do is our creative, emergent, and life-saving ministry in whatever forms and places it happens. Finding creative ways to help people connect to this faith that roots us in love and an abiding belonging to each other, to this earth, and to the holy by whatever name we know it—this is the meaning of our work.
Dear ones, you are a gift, and your ministry and leadership are gifts to your community. May you feel held by your faith and the presence of joy and beauty that offer us hope and possibility always.
Yours in love,
P.S. Here is our LeaderLab page of Updated Gathering Guidance (Delta Variant), as well as information on Encouraging Vaccination and additional guidance for meeting your congregation's needs during a pandemic.