Dear Congregation Leaders,
I am so grateful for your ministry. Each day brings more difficult news of the impacts of coronavirus on our communities, our health systems, our economy, and our congregations. I am heartbroken to share with you that a few Unitarian Universalists have died from COVID-19 and a number of congregations are experiencing multiple cases of the virus among their members. We at the UUA also have staff members in quarantine. Together, we are all learning how to best support and care for one another.
This pandemic is a powerful reminder of our fundamental interdependence – that we are all connected and mutually dependent on each other for our well-being. As Unitarian Universalists, we know this truth – but in response to this pandemic, it is ever more important that we live the practices of interdependence and community care. We are bound to one another - locally and globally - and each person’s health and wholeness rests in keeping the web of community strong.
Alongside all of you, we at the UUA recognize the need to focus on relationship, connection, and support. As aspects of grief grow in this pandemic, remember you are not alone but held in love by your fellow Unitarian Universalists and by your larger Association. Here is a brief video message you can share with your people and in online worship:
Practicing Community Care in Our Congregations
We know there are and will continue to be significant emotional and economic hardships. This is a global public health emergency and we all will need more support in different ways. Working from home with kids and partners and roommates; figuring out the technical aspects of moving our spiritual and community work online; worrying over loved ones who may be sick; navigating the uncertainty of this time – this is exceedingly hard. It’s important to ask what is most essential and have permission to let other things go. Centering community care means recognizing these realities and embracing practices that will hold us in these most difficult moments.
I am moved by the stories of congregations and leaders hosting weekly check-ins for members and supporting online small groups that meet regularly to provide ongoing connection and support.
It’s also important to make your “virtual front door” open and welcoming. Religious community is an antidote to isolation and a place where people come in times of transition. Keep your website and social media channels up-to-date with information. Given the needs for connection are likely to be greater, consider inviting visitors and inquirers to virtual small groups where they can be held in community care. This will be life saving for many.
As much as we are able—and ability will vary—it matters that we respond to this moment with greater generosity, being more generous with our time, attention, resources and compassion. It is disappointing to see responses to this pandemic that are rooted in fear, racism, scarcity, and individualism. To center community care in our response means living out of the knowledge of our interdependence, that we are only as strong as our neighbors.
For those who are able, strong financial support for your congregation right now and for pastoral discretionary and local community mutual aid funds will make a real and measurable difference in people’s lives – your own included! Our mission has never been more important – to be sources of pastoral care, spiritual resiliency, and prophetic imagination.
Congregations are also employers. When we act out of the values of justice, equity and compassion, we prioritize community care for our staff members. The UUA has continued to pay hourly and part time workers their expected wages to ensure stability and care for our employees. We are updating an online resource to support this important aspect of congregational life.
Congregations as Employers During the COVID-19 Pandemic
To support congregations in this time, the UUA is getting professional guidance on the recent and upcoming federal relief packages. We will soon have information available that details the impacts and benefits of these programs from congregations. We also provide resources for core religious activities like online worship, pastoral care, religious education, and stewardship. We will continue to update our online collection of COVID-19 resources:
Planning For and Addressing Pandemics in Your Community
Practicing Community Care for All
As Unitarian Universalists, we know that salvation is not individual. A theology of interdependence and mutuality reminds us that as we care for ourselves, we must also ensure the health and well-being of the most vulnerable.
This pandemic brings into sharp relief the systemic issues undermining the overall health of our country and planet. Millions of people were already grappling with the housing crisis, poverty, food insecurity, inadequate health care, mass incarceration and immigrant detention, and the climate crisis. We were already ill as a society when this pandemic hit. And it means the impacts are that much worse.
I am inspired by Unitarian Universalists who are responding to this moment by organizing food banks for undocumented folks, opening their congregations as day care centers for the children of medical staff, and organizing virtually to help people be released from jails and detention centers.
The overall injustice and vulnerability of our economic and social system is so clear. It matters that our leaders hear from us as religious people—a moral conscience for our country. The federal decisions made in this moment need to center care for all people and a stronger social fabric that really can hold us all.
Here are some ideas for actions you can take:
- Think about sharing space in new ways: This UU World story features a congregation that allocated space for a day care facility for the children of medical workers.
- Write to your representatives and demand a COVID-19 plan that protects all people: This form from People’s Action will help you advocate for change during this crisis.
There really is no script for this time. And yet, our fundamental values as Unitarian Universalists – to affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all people, to promote justice, equity and compassion in human relations, and to honor and care for the interdependent web of which we are a part – these haven’t changed. They are guides for us at this time.
Every one of our congregations is filled with generous, talented, resourceful and resilient people. And these gifts are so needed right now. This is an opportunity to be creative, to come together in leader-full ways to tend to the deep spiritual and pastoral needs of this time.
You are all doing such amazing ministry! Remember you are not alone. The work you are doing is important. Your congregation makes a difference. We are ALL in this together and love will guide us.
Yours in love,