May 26th, 2021
Dear UUCM Church Family,
We are pleased to share with you our updated Building & Grounds Usage Policy for the next several months, and are excited to welcome you back into our beloved church building! In addition to the patio, we are opening Stetson, Holyoke, and the Sanctuary for small groups, committees, and other small gatherings with masking, social distancing, and other precautions still in place. While things are of course changing rapidly on the ground, we anticipate this being our policy for the summer months, with our plan being to reevaluate in August as we anticipate reopening the church for Sunday worship at the beginning of September. Please click or see below for the full policy, recommended by the Reopening Task Force, and approved by the Board of Trustees at their May 20th meeting.
Even as we are excited to be able to gather in person again, we ask that you remain mindful of being inclusive, and of not excluding those might not feel safe returning to in person. If your small group, committee, or other gathering includes someone who does not feel safe to returning to meeting in person, we hope you will consider continuing to meet on Zoom or finding another functional accommodation that allows those folks to participate in a meaningful way. We are all yearning for a return to normal, and, we hope we can continue to live into our Unitarian Universalist value of inclusivity as we do so, understanding that the “new normal” might look different than the “old normal.”
A member of the congregation recently asked why we’re being so conservative in our approach, when so many of us now feel free to go to public restaurants and eat in a shared space without masks. We feel a cautious approach is called for since we are evaluating the needs and safety of the entire community and not just the needs of us as individuals. We see a difference between you deciding for yourself, as a fully vaccinated person, that you feel safe going to a public space such as a restaurant and not wearing a mask for an extended period, compared to the church needing to decide what’s safe for our members of our community to gather. We have to consider the safety of everyone who might wish to attend, including unvaccinated people, which right now includes every single one of our children under age twelve. Our community also includes vaccinated parents who, even if they are not at much personal risk, desire not to bring an a asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic infection home and potentially infect their unvaccinated children. This again brings us back to our Unitarian Universalist values, and wanting to make sure we are operating from a place of inclusivity and safety for all members of our community (see our official UUCM Reopening Guiding Principles for reference).
Looking ahead, Sunday worship will continue this summer as usual. Rev. Seth’s last Sunday in the pulpit will be on June 20th, and he will facilitate our viewing of the General Assembly service on June 27th. Starting in July, we will continue meeting on Zoom on Sunday mornings, either for our usual summer lay-led services, or to view pre-recorded services from other UU congregations. We are targeting Sunday, September 12th, which would be our typical “first Sunday after Labor Day beginning of the church year kick-off,” as our hoped for return to multi-platform (combined in person and virtual) worship. That will be dependent on both our readiness to offer a simultaneous virtual service while we are in person, as well as the CovidActNow numbers for Essex County having been green for at least 30 days, as per our official Sunday reopening metrics (see our UUCM Sunday Morning Worship Metrics for more details).
In these changing, evolving, and still difficult times, we remain committed to trying to make the best decisions possible for our community based on research and data. We are aware how important it is to be together, and of the many facets of our community life, including singing together, that so many of us desire to return to as quickly as possible. We are committed to bringing us back to what is so important to us, balancing speed of return with making sure to include and keep safe all members of our community.
One final note – as we return to our building, please stay safe! Only you know what the right choice is for you about the safety of you and your loved ones. Also, please help others stay safe by following our Stay at Home Guidelines if you are feeling unwell or have been exposed to COVID-19.
If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact the Reopening Task Force at firstname.lastname@example.org or the Board of Trustees at email@example.com. We look forward to seeing you in church!
Sunday Worship Reopening Proposal
Mailed June 3, 2021
Dear UUCM Members and Friends,
The Reopening Task Force has been asked to create a plan, really multiple different plans for different aspects of church life, about how we can return to in person usage of our building. Our two core Board-approved Guiding Principles for reopening are safety and inclusion. Specifically in terms of inclusion, our Guiding Principles state:
“UUCM is committed to full inclusion. We will assure there is a way for everyone to be included in worship services and other church-wide events when we begin in person services again. We will only go forward with church-wide in person events when people who cannot attend in person can participate in them online in a meaningful way.”
We have already suggested, and the Board of Trustees has already approved, a policy for reopening our building for small group gatherings for the next several months. With that policy implemented, we have turned our full attention to figuring out when and how we can reopen our sanctuary on Sunday mornings for worship.
While offering virtual services via Zoom during the pandemic has made clear the limitations of an all-virtual Sunday worship service experience, it has also become clear that offering a virtual worship experience makes our Sunday services accessible to those who cannot regularly attend in person. It is also clear that just because we reopen the sanctuary to in person attendance that that does not mean that everyone who could physically return will actually feel safe coming back. There are people in our congregation who are not able to be vaccinated for medical reasons, there are people who remain at risk despite being vaccinated because of underlying medical conditions, and all of our children under age twelve remain unvaccinated and at risk because they are not eligible for vaccination yet.
The Reopening Task Force has thus been working on a plan for reopening on Sunday morning that focuses on the implementation of a multi-platform worship service (sometimes called a “hybrid service”). “Multi-platform” means that you are creating an experience where people can attend and participate on more than one platform – in our case, we are hoping to offer both in person and virtual options. Multi-platform also means that all attendees regardless of the platform they choose can participate in the service. Participation means both passively in terms of receiving what is shared, and also actively, in terms of participating in singing, rituals, and even leading parts of the service (such as reading a reading) as much as affordable technology allows. For example, if the minister asked a member to read a reading during the service, they should be able to share that reading with the congregation whether they are attending in person or virtually. A multi-platform offering means no one should be excluded from being able to participate in this or other ways because they have chosen to attend virtually instead of in person, and vice-versa.
To accomplish our goal of "meaningful virtual inclusion," the Reopening Task Force is proposing offering a multi-platform service via two key technological enhancements.
The first proposed technological enhancement is to add a camera to the sanctuary and purchase produced livestreams of each Sunday service from a company called LocalLive (view a sample LocalLive production of a church service). We have researched our options, including purchasing livestreaming equipment ourselves, paying for a livestreaming service, and recruiting volunteers for each Sunday to run the system. Given the logistical challenges around training and coordinating volunteers every Sunday to run the video production, the Task Force and the Board have agreed that purchasing produced live streaming events from LocalLive, where a remote live person is zooming the camera into different areas of focus during the service, is the best option for our congregational setting.
Offering a live stream of our services on Sunday mornings via LocalLive fulfills the passive part of inclusion – it will offer an opportunity for people attending virtual to receive the sharings of the service. However, if we were to only offer a livestream and nothing else, the Reopening Task Force feels we would be falling short of the “meaningful inclusion” in our guiding principles, and we as a congregation wouldn’t be offering multi-platform worship, whereby people attending virtually can participate. Given our reopening guideline of inclusion, and given our Unitarian Universalist values of equity and inclusion, we feel we need to do better than just offering passive receiving. We believe that to actually live into the inclusive community we claim to be, we also need to allow virtual attendees to participate.
To facilitate active participation of those attending virtually, the second proposed key technological enhancement is the installation of two television screens in our sanctuary on either side of the pulpit. The installation of these screens, while not our first aesthetic choice, allows for virtual attendees to actually participate. Instead of just offering a video stream for virtual attendees to passively consume, our plan is to show the live video stream of the service in the Zoom space we’ve currently been using for Sunday mornings, and to show that Zoom meeting on the screens. The screens will also allow us to continue to offer the multi-media enhancements that so many have appreciated in our virtual services as we add in-person worship back to our current offering and move to multi-platform.
Having two screens in our sanctuary provides the following benefits:
It creates a true multi-platform experience, whereby those attending virtually can still participate in the service in different ways. If a virtual attendee were asked to share a Stewardship testimonial or reading a reading in the service, they would be spotlighted on Zoom, and every attendee, both virtual and in person, would be able to see and hear them speak.
Virtual participants will not be invisible and cut off from those who are attending in person. When the screens are not actively displaying hymn lyrics or other media during the service, in person attendees will be able to see virtual attendees, and know who is attending. Being able to see each other will enhance the connections in our community.
One of the benefits of virtual services has been an increased use of multi-media offerings in the service. Having the “permanent” ability to show multi-media offerings without needing to roll a projector into the middle of the aisle and lower the screen means there will be more of them. Virtual service favorites like the story with images and the meditation photos will be able to be easily and regularly continued.
Screens will allow us to offer closed captioning of the service in person, which will make in person attendance more accessible both for those hard of hearing, and for those with auditory processing disabilities.
In addition to allowing virtual attendees to participate, screens in our sanctuary would mean that the virtual experience could remain largely similar to what it is now, and that the in-person experience would be enhanced to include displayed hymn lyrics while singing hymns, visuals of stories during story time, images for reflection during the meditation and offertory, and the ability to incorporate musical offerings from a broader array of musicians. When the screens are not actively showing an element of the service, in-person attendees would be able to see and connect with virtual attendees if they choose.
We are aware that for some of you, the idea of installing screens in our beautiful traditional sanctuary is not your preference, and that for others of you, “not your preference” is an understatement. Economically, however, screens make the most sense. We researched the possibility of installing a permanent projector so as to make use of the drop-down screen, and given the significant amount of light in the sanctuary, just purchasing a projector powerful enough to be easily seen despite the large amounts of light would cost more than the entire budget we’ve proposed for the reopening, without even considering the cost of permanent installation of the projector. Additionally, even if money were no object, having the screen down for the entire service does not seem practical given its placement directly behind the pulpit. We’re also mindful that at less than $2,000 in total cost, we wouldn’t be making a huge financial investment in installing the screens, and so if the congregation decided to go a different direction in future years, it could easily take the screens down without incurring any significant losses. For these reasons, we make this recommendation of installing two screens, despite knowing that it will be aesthetically displeasing to some, because we feel it’s important to offer safe and inclusive participation in our Sunday worship service for everyone via a multi-platform experience.
There are also considerations beyond technology of course. Given our current information, we would still be asking everyone to mask and follow social distancing guidelines. If we are able to open in September (keeping in mind that our Worship Reopening Metrics require that the status for Essex County have been green for 30 days before we can reopen), the circumstances may have changed significantly by then, and it’s possible masking and/or social distancing may no longer be necessary. While the Reopening Task Force will not be actively meeting over the summer, our work of preparation will continue, and we will reconvene in August to evaluate where we are and what modifications need to be made to our plans.
Finally, we are mindful that our work as a task force does not end with a return to Sunday morning services. There are many other aspects of church life that will need to be addressed, including how to include virtual attendees in coffee hour, Religious Education for our children and youth, inclusion of virtual attendees in in person committee meetings, how to approach special events like the September Lobster Dinner and the Red Bow Fair, and more. And of course, as we have noted already, we will also continually need to make adjustments to all of this along the way as circumstances change, as new ways of engaging in community emerge, and as we continue to move into and create our collective “new normal.”
Reopening Town Hall Meeting & Congregational Vote
We imagine, despite the significant amount of information that we've shared, that some of you might still have questions and concerns. We invite everyone interested to attend a virtual Reopening Town Hall meeting to be held this Tuesday, June 8th at 7pm on Zoom (Zoom link) so that we can further discuss this proposal as a community. If you’d prefer to speak with someone on the Reopening Task Force directly, please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. While the Board has approved this proposal, the congregation must still vote on its funding, so your participation in helping UUCM move forward into the “new normal” future we’re creating is needed! Please plan on attending the congregational meeting scheduled for Sunday, June 13th after the service so that you can vote.
UUCM Reopening Guiding Principles
UUCM Worship Reopening Metrics
Sample LocalLive Worship Service
Zoom Link for Tuesday, June 8th Reopening Task Force Town Hall
Mailed September 2, 2021
UUCM Reopening Update
Dear UUCM Church Family,
I hope you all have had a good summer, whatever that looks like for you, whether that’s vacation and trips to the beach, regular work with greater ability to spend time connecting with friends and family outdoors, staying at home yourself or with kids, or something else. My summer time off was renewing and restoring, and I am excited to be back with you all as we prepare for the beginning of the 2021-2022 church year. It’s going to be a big year for you all, with the Search Committee in full swing with the goal of bringing to the congregation a final candidate to be your next settled minister! While they are hard at work and will need our help and support in some tasks, we still have all the rest of church life to take care of, of course, with plenty of tasks for the rest of us. I also imagine one of the topmost things on many of your minds is the question – when will we get to return to in person services on Sunday mornings?
The answer lies in our first board-approved reopening metric, which state that for us to reopen on Sunday mornings, the “Covid Act Now metrics for Essex County http://bit.ly/EssexCovidActNow must be at the lowest level of risk (shown as green on the interactive maps on the Website), the category described as 'on track to contain Covid,' for 30 days in a row.” As you’ll see if you click on the link, not only do we not have thirty days of green, the current assessment is “orange” or high risk. The Board of Trustees has been advised of this reality.
Beyond just following the metric, the Reopening Task Force also talked over whether this standard still made sense to us. While the members of the Task Force want us to be in person and seeing each other in community as much as anyone else, after a thorough discussion, we agreed the metric seems appropriate for right now, and did not recommend any changes to the board. Especially given the highly contagious nature of the Delta variant, and the possibility of asymptomatic infected vaccinated people infecting vaccinated folks in church, who might then infect unvaccinated family members at home, the risks to the health of various members of our community just aren’t worth it. We may reach a point where revisiting this metric makes sense, but with the Delta variant running rampant and infections, hospitalizations, and death rates so high, the Reopening Task Force was unanimous that now does not seem like the right time.
I imagine that this news of our delayed reopening will be hard and frustrating for many of you to hear. It's been a hard and frustrating year and a half to live through. Speaking for myself, the Delta variant has made this upcoming year feel way harder. It seemed like there was light at the end of the tunnel with all the vaccinations happening and the infection and hospitalization numbers trending downward for so long; now it seems like the rug has been pulled out from under us in so many ways. For my family, we had just started to take the kids out and do things with them, such as going to the Boston Children's Museum and the aquarium. Now we're having to re-think all of that and put the brakes on. To put it plainly: the pandemic sucks a lot, in all sorts of ways. One of the blessings of community is that we don’t have to go through it alone though, and so we will continue to find a path forward, together.
One positive step forward that will happen in September is a shift to broadcasting Sunday services from the sanctuary. Assuming everything stays on track, we are planning to start streaming to Zoom from the sanctuary on Sunday mornings starting on September 12th, with live music, in addition to visuals of our beautiful church home. Broadcasting from the sanctuary is made possible by the work we’ve done to prepare the sanctuary for multi-platform services (combined in person and virtual) once it is safe for us to gather in person. Whenever it is safe to begin gathering again in person, we will be ready to do so.
Speaking of preparation work in the sanctuary, I’d like to offer kudos to the Reopening Task Force, who worked hard all summer in my absence to get the sanctuary ready to be used in different ways. Roxanne Campbell, Bill Smalley, Holly Aloha Jaynes, Mark Wilhelm, Paul Travis, and Karen Gahagan did yeoperson’s (gender neutral of yeoman’s) work this summer researching, purchasing, and testing various technology and other practical solutions, with some assistance from Hugh Stewart and others. Please do take a moment to thank and appreciate them for all the hard work they’ve done these past six months (and will continue to do in the ensuing months) to help our congregation safely navigate these difficult times.
A reminder as we begin the church year – while we won’t immediately be gathering together for in person services, the church building and grounds are available for small groups to meet. Ten masked individuals can gather in Stetson or Holyoke, fifteen masked folks can gather in the Sanctuary, and fifteen masked-while-moving/unmasked-while-sitting people can gather on the patio. For further details of the current Building & Grounds Usage Policy, click here, or use the link below. Remember to contact our Teresa, our office administrator, if you’d like to reserve one of these spaces to meet.
If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com, the Reopening Task Force at firstname.lastname@example.org, or the Board of Trustees at email@example.com. I look forward to seeing you on Zoom and eventually in church!
peace, love, and blessings,
UUCM Reopening Guiding Principles
UUCM Worship Reopening Metrics
Building & Grounds Usage Policy – May 2021
UUCM Stay at Home Guidelines
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