Greetings UUCLB Family,
It’s been a winter into spring with signs of hope and new life, for our congregation and our country. Vaccinations rolling out amongst our elders and other eligible members, including our staff, have been encouraging as we are all looking ahead to brighter days when we can resume some of our on campus programs and activities. Our beautiful installation formally recognized our relationship, which is blooming in spite of our harsh winter! Thank you for all of your wonderful support and participation. It was a truly beautiful day I will always remember.
We are in process with a lot of administrative work with the stewardship campaign, budgeting process, and conversation regarding re-opening.
With the guidance of public health experts and collaboration with other communities of faith, we are discerning what is best for our congregation in terms of re-opening.
With Italy, Germany and other European nations going into new lockdowns, it’s not looking like we are “out of the woods” and can expect more setbacks as the US removes restrictions and opens back up. We do not yet know how successful mass vaccinations will be in the Long Beach area and how effective they are at combating the virulent mutations of the virus we are seeing nationwide.
Therefore we want to be utterly cautious as we reopen, centered in our congregation and faith’s values of inclusion and care for the most vulnerable. We also want to take into consideration what our congregation’s strongest needs and values are. For example, if one of our deepest yearnings is to re-gather for fellowship, such as picnics with food, then we need to prioritize doing that safely.
What we want and need to avoid is a tendency to create programming and opportunities that distinguish between vaccinated and unvaccinated members and friends, and prioritize the early regathering of vaccinated community members. While we encourage all of our members to get vaccinated when it is “your turn,” we recognize that not everyone will choose to or be able to be vaccinated. We also recognize that while some people are eager to rejoin a physically in person community, many will choose to remain online.
We therefore will be following a multi-platform, or hybrid church model, from now on, which will have several different iterations of church inclusive and supportive of the many different needs of our community.
The Biden administration is saying currently that May will be the month that vaccinations will be more widely available to much of the population. Children’s vaccinations are just being tested for 16 and up, but children will most likely NOT be vaccinated widely until at least the fall. Plans for school re-openings and children’s activities are going forward despite controversies regarding the safety of indoor school for children and teachers.
Given the time that it takes to fully vaccinate with the two-shot vaccines, July is expected to be the month that “normal” gathering starts resuming. My prediction is that we will take the summer to experiment with some of the following iterations of worship and small gatherings, most likely not resuming in-person worship in Wylder hall for many additional months (perhaps as late as spring 2022.)
In my preliminary thinking, in conversation with other leaders and public health experts, August would be the time we fully experiment and plan for fall roll out of any changes to the online church scenario. September is the month we could start to experiment with larger church gatherings onsite outdoors and any organized plans for in person smaller group programming.
Below are some iterations that we will be considering– somewhat progressing from “safest” to “riskiest.”
With love, and faith, that we will be together again!
Options for being together from “safest” to “riskiest”:
- Hybrid video-live services as we have been doing, edited segments with live sermons and joys and sorrows. On campus gatherings will remain limited other than to fulfill essential campus activities including filming for worship, office and operations, garden and facilities, and drive-thru fellowship opportunities. Religious education programs and most meetings continue online.
- Live-streamed indoor worship with vaccinated participants only. This is contingent on purchasing and installing a robust technology set up, and having volunteers/ staff also vaccinated to participate in organizing, producing, filming, etc. Our zoom services and tech support is still needed. Our program staff (Naomi, Teresa, Francisco, and Lissa) are all on the way to being fully vaccinated by mid-April.
- Outdoor small gatherings (masked and distanced) of under 25 people, for small voluntary meetings and voluntary congregational events, with those who choose to fully have their group meet in person, regardless of vaccination status. Most committee meetings would stay fully online. If a small group, for example, has 4 people who want to meet virtually and 4 people who want to meet in person, the group would continue to meet online.
- Outdoor live-streamed worship with worship participants and congregation (unlimited), singing with masks on other than the worship participants. The congregation could worship fully outside under the structure, bringing their own chairs. We could have largely quieter, un-amplified, no band-type music. Children and families could be invited to participate fully. This will require quite a bit of planning/ testing/ trouble-shooting as well as training ushers to be mindful of distancing protocols and campus safety.
- Outdoor religious education and children’s program including music, gardening, play, nature exploration, small group spiritual practice and curriculum. Indoor Religious Education with masking, distancing, classroom learning.
- Indoor Worship (limited participation) with no congregational singing. Worship participants remain masked unless they are singing/ speaking/ performing.
- Outdoor coffee hour/ congregational fellowship/ picnics. Eating and drinking, without masks… unclear on the timeline when this will be safe enough to do for the full congregation.
Our Unitarian Universalist Association is a wonderful partner for congregations like ours in discerning our path forward. Please find some resources to inform our conversation online:
Gathering Guidance for Congregations
I look forward to discussing these ideas with the congregation.