The Reopening Team would like to share some changes we're making. But before getting to the practical changes in our COVID policies and procedures, we’d like to take a moment to share a little of what we learned from our recent survey and frame the work that we’re doing in the context of our UU Principles and Values. We’re overjoyed to report that 292 people responded to our survey and that the responders accurately represented the demographic makeup of our congregation and both of our campuses. It is fair to say that this is the largest response and most accurate representation of any survey at First UU in recent times. Thanks to church member Dr. Rebecca Fielding-Miller for the masterful work done in creating it and analyzing the data! Please watch the Window for an upcoming forum to discuss survey results. Read on for a few key takeaways.
A few key takeaways:
About half of our congregation at each campus identifies as “high-risk.” And the highest priority named out of all the options given was a desire to protect children and the immunocompromised, and a desire to practice an affirming welcome for all. It was notable that, despite a strong desire by many to move away from safety practices that can be inconvenient and bothersome, the vast majority of survey responders put the safety needs of others ahead of their own comfort and convenience.
Despite increasing pressure (especially felt by staff) to end all mask and distance protocols, the clear majority (roughly 3/4 of responders) said that they were willing or extremely willing to continue masking outdoors, and almost everyone (roughly 90%) reported a desire to wear masks indoors. It is worth noting that this surprised many of us. The anecdotal evidence could easily lead one to believe that “everyone is tired of wearing masks” or point to fears that “everyone will leave if we continue masking.” While these frustrations and fears are not to be dismissed (more on that in a moment), the data shows that most people are willing to wear a mask if it helps protect those people we say we want to protect.
Finally, the data shows that we are an extremely well-vaccinated congregation (only two responders report being unvaccinated) and we live in extremely well-vaccinated households. We have often been asked why we aren’t mandating vaccines or checking for vaccination status. The reality is that it would create quite a lot of additional work (not to mention time at the check-in table) to simply confirm what we already know.
So what does this have to do with our values and mission? We recognize that our church policies are looking less and less like what we experience in the rest of our worlds. Theaters, schools, other churches and even airplanes have loosened or eliminated protections that we continue to practice. We know that this can feel frustrating, uncomfortable and maybe even infuriating. We can’t help but note, however, that if we’re living our values, we should be different from “the outside world.” As a church, we are called to be a sanctuary in more than name only. And if we say that we want to protect the most vulnerable among us and dismantle systems that oppress those most marginalized, we should expect our community to be different than other communities and even, in some cases, be uncomfortable.
We also recognize, however, that it is often extremely challenging to balance factual realities with the desires of our hearts. And these desires themselves are not trivial. We need the emotional and spiritual nourishment we get from seeing each other face-to-face, and we crave the security and certainty of familiar things - even more so in times that are filled with fear, stress and uncertainty. And please believe us when we say that those voices that have asked loudly and clearly for a speedier return “to normal” have been heard, and that many of us feel the same yearnings. We have tried to keep everyone safe knowing that some would think it was too much, and others think it was not enough. This has not been easy for any of us and we greatly appreciate your empathy, patience and grace.
So with all that in mind, we have decided to make the following changes in our COVID response policies:
Effective immediately, masks will now be optional for outdoor activities on both our campuses. This means that we will no longer require masks for outdoor worship and other outdoor activities, but that individuals are (and always will be) welcome to continue masking.
Small groups, including musical ensembles, will soon be able to meet indoors with masks. Please note that some indoor spaces may take longer to become available than others because they have been used for other purposes during the pandemic and we’ll need time to get them ready for public use again. Also, the definition of what constitutes a “small group” will be different depending on the size of the space. For groups that prefer to continue meeting outdoors, those space will remain available for use.
Indoor Worship is slightly more complex. At Hillcrest, we will be working diligently to return to worship in the Meeting House by early July. We will, however, continue to offer outdoor spaces where people may choose to gather for worship. This timeline is based on the staff’s estimate of how much time it will take to both prepare the space for use and to transition all of the technology from the outdoor tech table to a more permanent indoor space. Like all other indoor activities, worship in the Meeting House will require masks. At South Bay, we will return to indoor worship with masks as soon as spaces are ready.
Finally, we have decided that the Reopening Team no longer needs to function as such. The responsibility to continue monitoring the situation and adapting policies and procedures in response will now rest solely with the Interim Committee (Exec), though individual members from the Reopening Team may continue to be called on from time to time for their expertise and input.
We appreciate all of you who continue to journey with us in community as we continue to navigate these unprecedented times. And we look forward to worshiping, celebrating and struggling and growing with you as we continue to make our mission evident and alive in the world.
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