As congregations in the Pacific Western Region faces heightened stress due to a confluence of serious challenges—the coronavirus pandemic, raging wildfires and hazardous air quality, and a call to participate in the ongoing protests in support of Black lives—Unitarian Universalist ministers, religious educators, and lay leaders face a particularly challenging time meeting pastoral needs. While it’s been a difficult year, ministers say they are heartened by the ongoing care that members of congregations are providing to each other.
No one in the UU Congregation at Willamette Falls, Oregon, lost their homes to the wildfires that are still burning in Oregon, although around 55 congregants evacuated temporarily as the fires got close or because the air quality was so bad. Echoing the experience that other UU ministers in the Pacific Northwest describe, the Rev. Marcia Stanard, minister at the Willamette Falls congregation (196 members), said that her congregants checked on each other to make sure everyone was safe. “That my congregants called each other that way and took care of each other really made me happy,” says Stanard.
The staff and lay leaders of First Unitarian Portland (958 members) have contacted every congregant at least three times since the pandemic broke out last spring to check how they are doing.
Congregations in the region have also reached out to each other for mutual support.
This care for each other is central to Unitarian Universalism, note UUA leaders. “We witness the ways you are caring for each other in the midst of devastating climate fires, deadly smoke across the region, and oppressive violence at the hands of the state,” wrote the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, and Jessica York, director of Congregational Life, in a September 22 email to UUs in the Pacific Western Region. “We are so grateful for the ministry, the care, and the dedication that you all across the West are bringing to one another and to those beyond your congregations.”
They also expressed gratitude to the Pacific Western Region staff, who have reached out to congregations and assisted them with applying for grants from the UUA’s Disaster Relief Fund, which supports congregations, their members, and their community partners in the aftermath of catastrophic events. “At the UUA, we want you to know we are together with you in a network of care, courage, resilience, and faith,” they wrote.