Know Your Why Part 2: What Next?

By Natalie Briscoe

My last blog was written on March 14th, on the one-year anniversary of our shelter-in-place orders here in Austin, Texas. Today I am writing on April 14th, and it seems like the entire world has changed in one short month. As more and more individuals become vaccinated and the CDC guidance continues to change almost daily, many of us are experiencing something we haven’t felt in a while: hope. We feel hopeful that the pandemic restrictions on gatherings and travel will subside soon enough for us to “get back to normal.”

And yet, what does “normal” look like to you? In reality, we will never return to normal. Our lives have been permanently altered by the pandemic. We will never go back to the way things were.

In the last blog, I noted that reopening is a process, not an event. Here are some parts of that process that can help you determine what “normal” will be in a post-pandemic reality.

First, please take time to review UUA President Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray's message about “navigating the in-between time” as we begin to think about what reopening means to each of our communities.

Second, ask your leadership to answer the guiding questions from our COVID Response Team and our Safer Congregations Team to prepare for some in-person gathering.

Third, incorporate this additional guidance from our COVID Response Team and our Safe Congregations Team about reopening as vaccines become more available. This guidance has new recommendations from President Frederick-Gray, including planning for multi-platform operations (also known as hybrid), developing a board policy that guides the congregation in its reopening (including examples of such policies), and being more stringent than schools and businesses surrounding the congregation.

To that end, here are some scenarios to help you imagine a multi-platform or hybrid future.

Here is a video from President Frederick-Gray about the ethics and theology in our decisions to assist you in having difficult conversations in your congregations: Addressing Pandemics in Your Community.

Finally, as you examine your practices pre- and post- pandemic, I invite you to wonder about the ways in which those practices benefitted or hindered your ability to live your congregation’s mission. Some questions you may ask yourselves are:

What is the deepest why for being a Unitarian Universalist Congregation at this time?

What is your unique contribution to the community in which you sit, and how is your unique expression of Unitarian Universalism important to our Association in a post-pandemic reality?

What practices did we begin in direct response to the pandemic, that were also crisis-specific and do not need to continue post-pandemic? How will we know when it is time to stop these practices?

What practices did we begin in response to the pandemic that augmented and shaped our congregation into a better community? Which of these practices would we like to keep in a post-pandemic reality?

What practices did we stop or pause during the pandemic? Do we miss those practices? What can we let go of? What is necessary to resume, and how will we know it is time to resume them?

What have we learned about our culture during this time away from each other? What cultural practices, beliefs, implicit curricula, and explicit curricula are critical to teaching us about who we are as a congregation? What of these does not serve us or stands in our way of building the beloved community?

How have we changed as a congregation? As individuals? What core values sustained us during this time?

What promises do we need to make to each other about the way we will be together in a post-pandemic reality? How can we make empathy and grace the default emotions of our community?

If you would like any help in discerning the answers to these questions in your congregation, please feel free to contact your regional staff. We are so happy to partner with you in this important work. You are not alone, and together, we can co-create a Unitarian Universalism that heals, shelters, loves, and grieves.