I write today with guidance from the UUA about planning for safe operations in alignment with our UU values. The significant disruptions to life in our congregations and communities over the past year has been traumatic. There is, understandably, a deep yearning to gather again in person. Unfortunately, we are in an “in-between” transition time that continues to be risky. Our first concern continues to be safeguarding the well-being of our people and the public.
Last May, the UUA recommended that congregations plan for a year of virtual operations. Moving into the coming year, the UUA recommends that congregations plan for multi-platform operations—a flexible combination of in-person and online engagement based on the needs and risks in your community.
Key Principles for Planning
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.
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.
In the midst of so much loss and tragedy, it has been the life-saving practices of centering care, inclusion, collaboration and compassion that have held and guided us so well. Finding ways to share ministry, to partner across congregations and lean on each other has been a gift this year and one we can continue to draw on as we move forward. These are the values and tools that will continue to guide us.
As always, your UUA regional staff are thought partners with you. Please reach out to them with any questions or learnings.