Reopeinng Communications

Mailed November 29th

 

Dear UUCM Church Family,

We write with updates about what's happening with reopening!  The Board of Trustee's most recent policy decisions are in the first section below.  Second is the reminder to register to attend a December Sunday worship service in person.  If you're just interested in registering to attend a Sunday service in December, click here to register (note that it gets cold with the windows open for air circulation, so dress warmly!).

Policy Updates

At its most recent meeting on Thursday, November 18th, the Board of Trustees had two reopening recommendations to consider:

1) the Reopening Task Force recommended to the board that the max capacities for Holyoke, Stetson, the sanctuary, and the patio be increased by 5 people

2) the Reopening Task Force recommended against approving a request from Me & Thee to be allowed to have 100 attendees, with strict precautions, at once per month events starting in February, feeling that it was not safe yet to allow such large gatherings

The board approved the first recommendation unanimously - the max capacity for the events held in the respective spaces are now Holyoke: 15, Stetson: 15, sanctuary: 20, patio: 20. Click here to view the entirety of the UUCM Building & Grounds Usage Policy with this updated information.

The second recommendation, against approving Me & Thee's request, was much more complicated. For the first time, the Reopening Task Force was not unanimous in passing on a recommendation on to the board - some of us felt Me & Thee's request should be approved, and some wanted to approve it but didn't feel it was safe enough yet. After much research and two full meetings worth of discussion, a majority of the Reopening Task Force voted against recommending approving the request. The diversity of perspectives that showed up in the Reopening Task Force's conversation were also reflected in the Board's discussion, with a variety of thoughts shared and differing opinions apparent. After considering the Reopening Task Force's reasoning and recommendation against approval, the Board ultimately decided, in a non-unanimous vote, to approve Me & Thee's request.

It seems appropriate and hopefully helpful to be transparent about the process, so that everyone in the congregation who was not directly involved can get some sense of the time, effort, and thoughtfulness that goes into all of these reopening discussions, recommendations, and decisions. We, the Reopening Task Force and the Board of Trustees, do our best to consider the science and the facts, as well as our subjective interpretations of them.  We view it as a sign of our democratic principles successfully in operation that even though we don't always all agree, that we are able to reach recommendations and decisions that we can all abide by.

Sign Up to Attend a Sunday Service In-Person!

We now have 15 slots available each week for you to attend our Sunday services in person, with three Sunday services available in December.  To sign up to attend a service in person on December 5th, 12th, or 19th, please click here:

UUCM Sunday Morning Worship In-person Registration

We want everyone who wants to attend to be able to do so once before someone gets to go twice, so please only sign up for one Sunday morning at this point. Once everyone who wants to has had a chance to sign up to attend once, we'll open up the slots for second-time attendees. Everyone attending in person must be vaccinated, and please remember that masks must still be worn in the building at all times..

An important reminder if you're attending in person: our only outside air circulation comes from having windows open, so it gets cold in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings!  If you attend in person, please make sure to dress warmly, wear a coat, and maybe even a few layers.

We look forward to seeing you all at services, both in person and virtually, during this holiday season!

Your Reopening Task Force,

Bill Smalley
Holly Aloha Jaynes
Karen Gahagan
Mark Wilhelm
Paul Travis
Roxanne Campbell
Rev. Seth Carrier-Ladd


Useful links:

UUCM Sunday Morning Worship In-person Registration

UUCM Reopening Guiding Principles

UUCM Worship Reopening Metrics

Building & Grounds Usage Policy - November 2021

UUCM Stay at Home Guidelines

UUCM Reopening Update
November (2) 2021

To register to attend an upcoming service in person, on Nov.14th or for one of services in December, please click here:

UUCM Sunday Morning Worship In-person Registration

Dear UUCM Church Family,

Greetings from your Reopening Task Force. We know how hard this pandemic experience has been. This prolonged uncertainty has been difficult for all of us to live with, as has the prolonged disconnect from our church community we all value so much. We are thus writing to share some updates with you that will hopefully offer at least some relief. First, the UUCM Building & Grounds Usage Policy has been updated to include access for two people at a time to use the kitchen. Second and more impactfully, while a full reopening on Sunday mornings is not yet safe, we will start moving in that direction with a “soft” reopening of allowing ten members or friends of the congregation to attend worship services in person starting on Sunday, November 14th, with vaccination and registration required to attend.

Soft Reopening

Per Board policy, the church’s current metric for fully reopening to unrestricted in person attendance on Sunday mornings remains CovidActNow’s dashboard for Essex County being in the green or safe zone for 30 days. Currently CovidActNow’s status for Essex County is orange or high risk. The Reopening Task Force and the Board are also aware that despite the pandemic continuing and the numbers remaining “not great” that many institutions are choosing to reopen, either in a limited fashion or fully. Given the strong desire expressed by many members of the congregation to reopen on Sunday mornings and the reality of there being some level of safety in doing so in a limited fashion, the Reopening Task Force recommended to the Board that UUCM commence a “soft reopening” with ten people in attendance in person, in addition to the usual five-six staff/volunteers present to run the service. The Board approved this request at its October meeting, adding to our proposal a vaccination requirement.

To register to attend an upcoming service in person, on Nov.14th or for one of services in December, please click here:

UUCM Sunday Morning Worship In-person Registration

We want everyone who wants to attend to be able to do so once before someone gets to go twice, so please only sign up for one Sunday morning at this point. Everyone attending in person must be vaccinated, and please remember also that masks must still be worn in the building at all times and that eating inside the building is still not permitted.

Rationale

Our approach so far has been consistent with our Unitarian Universalist sibling congregations on the North Shore, the majority of whom remain all virtual on Sunday mornings.  We are also aware that some members and friends may feel we are being unduly conservative, given that many of the non-UU religious institutions in Marblehead have reopened with varying degrees of restrictions. Given the wide range of opinions about what we should do, including among members of the Reopening Task Force, we thought we’d share the reasoning that went into our recommendation to the Board.

It is important to remember that every church is operating in its own unique set of circumstances. Some of the factors that congregations are considering as they make their reopening decisions include:

  • Sanctuary size/congregation size ratio – impacts how much social-distancing can occur and how many people can safely be in the space

  • Ventilation levels – impacts how much fresh air is circulated into the space

  • Transmission levels – even for vaccinated folks with asymptomatic infections, the Delta variant is highly transmissible, and while masks greatly reduce the spread of the virus, they do not eliminate transmission

  • Staff risk levels – some staff who help lead Sunday services live alone or with other vaccinated people; some live with unvaccinated people, most often children who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated; some staff members have underlying medical conditions which increase their risk levels even though they’re vaccinated

Some churches have enough positives among the risk factors that they feel safe enough to reopen on Sundays - large worship spaces, modern high quality ventilation systems, etc. We’re also aware that churches with similar risk profiles may make different decisions, as people and communities evaluate the same risk factors differently.

At UUCM, our sanctuary is very small and poorly ventilated, making our space much less safe. The impending cold also does not help – the only ventilation we’ve had so far this fall is from opening windows and ceiling fan, and the open windows will probably not be sustainable as it gets colder. While we are exploring the cost and feasibility of modifying our heating system to add circulation of outside air, currently the heating system only recirculates the air inside the sanctuary, so if we have to keep the windows closed due to the cold, we are stuck with zero fresh air circulation. We also have an essential staff member (Rev. Seth) with unvaccinated kids at home at high risk.

Given the small size of our sanctuary, the poor ventilation, the high transmissibility of the Delta variant, the helpful but not 100% effective nature of masks, and Rev. Seth’s family risk factors, we agreed after much discussion to recommend to the Board a soft reopening of ten attendees plus the five-to-six staff/volunteers needed to run the service, especially since Rev. Seth has been unmasking while speaking to help provide clear audio for the Zoom services.

Moving Forward

As we collectively navigate the pandemic, circumstances can change quickly, even in just a couple of months. Two and a half months ago, at the end of June, based on the numbers heading sharply downward, we were predicting that we'd be ready by September to fully reopen in person. Then the Delta variant hit. It looks like the numbers are heading back down now, but we just can’t predict what will happen. We will continue to evaluate current circumstances as they evolve and do our best to respond appropriately. We know that we do not all agree about what constitutes “safe” – this is true for the decisions individuals are making in their personal lives, as well as our decisions about church. We, the Reopening Task Force and the Board of Trustees, will continue to do the best we can to consider the perspectives and manage the needs of the entire community.

We’d also like to remind us collectively that in person Sunday Services is not the only way that our congregation has spent time together in the past. We urge you to consider what events and programs you might be willing to help organize over the coming months that can be held in the spaces in the church that are open for public use. Holyoke and Stetson are open for groups up to 10 people, and the sanctuary for up to 15. It’s true that the safety restrictions, such as gathering size limitations, the masking requirement, and eating inside not being an option, may be annoying or force us to get creative. We are capable and resilient people though and a capable and resilient community – we can manage all of that. The only thing stopping us from organizing smaller gatherings to help bring us together again is ourselves.

We look forward to seeing more of you – more of each other – in the coming weeks and months both on Sunday mornings and as we find other ways to be together in community.

Your Reopening Task Force,

Bill Smalley
Holly Aloha Jaynes
Karen Gahagan
Mark Wilhelm
Paul Travis
Roxanne Campbell
Rev. Seth Carrier-Ladd


Useful links:

UUCM Reopening Guiding Principles

UUCM Worship Reopening Metrics

Building & Grounds Usage Policy - October 2021

UUCM Stay at Home Guidelines

UUCM Reopening Update
November 2021

Dear UUCM Church Family,

Greetings from your Reopening Task Force. We know how hard this pandemic experience has been. This prolonged uncertainty has been difficult for all of us to live with, as has the prolonged disconnect from our church community we all value so much. We are thus writing to share some updates with you that will hopefully offer at least some relief. First, the UUCM Building & Grounds Usage Policy has been updated to include access for two people at a time to use the kitchen. Second and more impactfully, while a full reopening on Sunday mornings is not yet safe, we will start moving in that direction with a “soft” reopening of allowing ten members or friends of the congregation to attend worship services in person starting on Sunday, November 14th, with vaccination and registration required to attend.

Soft Reopening

Per Board policy, the church’s current metric for fully reopening to unrestricted in person attendance on Sunday mornings remains CovidActNow’s dashboard for Essex County being in the green or safe zone for 30 days. Currently CovidActNow’s status for Essex County is orange or high risk. The Reopening Task Force and the Board are also aware that despite the pandemic continuing and the numbers remaining “not great” that many institutions are choosing to reopen, either in a limited fashion or fully. Given the strong desire expressed by many members of the congregation to reopen on Sunday mornings and the reality of there being some level of safety in doing so in a limited fashion, the Reopening Task Force recommended to the Board that UUCM commence a “soft reopening” with ten people in attendance in person, in addition to the usual five-six staff/volunteers present to run the service. The Board approved this request at its October meeting, adding to our proposal a vaccination requirement.

To register to attend an upcoming service in person, on Nov.14th or for one of services in December, please click here:

UUCM Sunday Morning Worship In-person Registration

We want everyone who wants to attend to be able to do so once before someone gets to go twice, so please only sign up for one Sunday morning at this point. Everyone attending in person must be vaccinated, and please remember also that masks must still be worn in the building at all times and that eating inside the building is still not permitted.

Rationale

Our approach so far has been consistent with our Unitarian Universalist sibling congregations on the North Shore, the majority of whom remain all virtual on Sunday mornings.  We are also aware that some members and friends may feel we are being unduly conservative, given that many of the non-UU religious institutions in Marblehead have reopened with varying degrees of restrictions. Given the wide range of opinions about what we should do, including among members of the Reopening Task Force, we thought we’d share the reasoning that went into our recommendation to the Board.

It is important to remember that every church is operating in its own unique set of circumstances. Some of the factors that congregations are considering as they make their reopening decisions include:

  • Sanctuary size/congregation size ratio – impacts how much social-distancing can occur and how many people can safely be in the space

  • Ventilation levels – impacts how much fresh air is circulated into the space

  • Transmission levels – even for vaccinated folks with asymptomatic infections, the Delta variant is highly transmissible, and while masks greatly reduce the spread of the virus, they do not eliminate transmission

  • Staff risk levels – some staff who help lead Sunday services live alone or with other vaccinated people; some live with unvaccinated people, most often children who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated; some staff members have underlying medical conditions which increase their risk levels even though they’re vaccinated

Some churches have enough positives among the risk factors that they feel safe enough to reopen on Sundays - large worship spaces, modern high quality ventilation systems, etc. We’re also aware that churches with similar risk profiles may make different decisions, as people and communities evaluate the same risk factors differently.

At UUCM, our sanctuary is very small and poorly ventilated, making our space much less safe. The impending cold also does not help – the only ventilation we’ve had so far this fall is from opening windows and ceiling fan, and the open windows will probably not be sustainable as it gets colder. While we are exploring the cost and feasibility of modifying our heating system to add circulation of outside air, currently the heating system only recirculates the air inside the sanctuary, so if we have to keep the windows closed due to the cold, we are stuck with zero fresh air circulation. We also have an essential staff member (Rev. Seth) with unvaccinated kids at home at high risk.

Given the small size of our sanctuary, the poor ventilation, the high transmissibility of the Delta variant, the helpful but not 100% effective nature of masks, and Rev. Seth’s family risk factors, we agreed after much discussion to recommend to the Board a soft reopening of ten attendees plus the five-to-six staff/volunteers needed to run the service, especially since Rev. Seth has been unmasking while speaking to help provide clear audio for the Zoom services.

Moving Forward

As we collectively navigate the pandemic, circumstances can change quickly, even in just a couple of months. Two and a half months ago, at the end of June, based on the numbers heading sharply downward, we were predicting that we'd be ready by September to fully reopen in person. Then the Delta variant hit. It looks like the numbers are heading back down now, but we just can’t predict what will happen. We will continue to evaluate current circumstances as they evolve and do our best to respond appropriately. We know that we do not all agree about what constitutes “safe” – this is true for the decisions individuals are making in their personal lives, as well as our decisions about church. We, the Reopening Task Force and the Board of Trustees, will continue to do the best we can to consider the perspectives and manage the needs of the entire community.

We’d also like to remind us collectively that in person Sunday Services is not the only way that our congregation has spent time together in the past. We urge you to consider what events and programs you might be willing to help organize over the coming months that can be held in the spaces in the church that are open for public use. Holyoke and Stetson are open for groups up to 10 people, and the sanctuary for up to 15. It’s true that the safety restrictions, such as gathering size limitations, the masking requirement, and eating inside not being an option, may be annoying or force us to get creative. We are capable and resilient people though and a capable and resilient community – we can manage all of that. The only thing stopping us from organizing smaller gatherings to help bring us together again is ourselves.

We look forward to seeing more of you – more of each other – in the coming weeks and months both on Sunday mornings and as we find other ways to be together in community.

Your Reopening Task Force,

Bill Smalley
Holly Aloha Jaynes
Karen Gahagan
Mark Wilhelm
Paul Travis
Roxanne Campbell
Rev. Seth Carrier-Ladd


Useful links:

UUCM Reopening Guiding Principles

UUCM Worship Reopening Metrics

Building & Grounds Usage Policy - October 2021

UUCM Stay at Home Guidelines

Sunday Worship Reopening Proposal

Mailed June 3, 2021

chalice table.jpg

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. 

Multi-Platform Worship

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.

Technological Enhancements

To accomplish our goal of "meaningful virtual inclusion," the Reopening Task Force is proposing offering a multi-platform service via two key technological enhancements.

Livestreaming

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.

Screens

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.

Other Considerations

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 reopening@uumarblehead.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.


Useful links:

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
September 2021
chalice table.jpg

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 seth@uumarblehead.org, the Reopening Task Force at reopening@uumarblehead.org, or the Board of Trustees at bot@uumarblehead.org. I look forward to seeing you on Zoom and eventually in church!

peace, love, and blessings,
Rev. Seth


Useful links:

UUCM Reopening Guiding Principles

UUCM Worship Reopening Metrics

Building & Grounds Usage Policy – May 2021

UUCM Stay at Home Guidelines

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 reopening@uumarblehead.org or the Board of Trustees at bot@uumarblehead.org. We look forward to seeing you in church!