The Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), today urged Unitarian Universalist congregations to plan on continuing their virtual-only programming for the next twelve months.
The UUA recommended that its 1,000-plus member congregations suspend in-person gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic back on March 12. Now, in her May 14 letter to congregational leaders, Frederick-Gray extends that counsel through the next congregational year. “Based on advice from experts, we continue to recommend that congregations not gather in person,” she writes. “We also recommend that congregations begin planning for virtual operations for the next year (through May 2021).”
“[O]ur ministries are essential services,” she writes, praising congregations that have found ways to increase their services and generosity to their larger communities while serving the “social, spiritual, emotional, and material needs of their members.”
Frederick-Gray argues that planning for online-only gatherings for the next year safeguards a majority of members, ministers, and employees of UU congregations, who are in high-risk categories for the worst effects of the disease. “Our care for the well-being and safety of our members and staff must be a priority in this pandemic,” she writes.
“Additionally, religious gatherings are considered highly contagious events,” Frederick-Gray continues. “The acts of singing, the familiarity of people across households, the multigenerational community of children, youth, adults, and seniors—the things that make our congregations so special—also create more risk for spreading the virus.”
And the pandemic is especially harmful to vulnerable and disadvantaged populations: “As COVID-19 disproportionately impacts people with disabilities, Black people, Indigenous communities, Latinx people, the elderly, and essential workers, a majority of whom are women and women of color, religious communities have a moral responsibility to do all we can to reduce risks for those already at such high risk.”
Along with Frederick-Gray’s letter, the UUA released a document to help congregations plan for in-person gatherings when the pandemic subsides. That document, developed by the UUA’s Safe Congregations team, identifies core UU values that should inform decisions and outlines questions congregational leaders should ask. “Our highest values and commitments call us to refrain from in-person gathering until the COVID-19 pandemic is controlled,” the guidelines say. “We invite you to think of your congregation as primarily digitally connected, with small in-person nodes that can grow as the pandemic subsides.”
The UUA’s staff continue to work largely from their homes, although some employees have limited access to the UUA’s Boston offices. The UUA is preparing to hold its 2020 General Assembly entirely online June 24–28. And the UUA is inviting donations to its COVID-19 Pandemic Response Fund, which provides grants to community organizations and to religious professionals experiencing severe need.
Meanwhile, the UUA’s Side with Love advocacy program is encouraging UUs who do not need the additional funds from the federal government’s stimulus payments to donate those funds to projects and organizations led by Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and working class people and people with disabilities as part of the #ShareMyCheck campaign.
An abridged version of this article appears in the Fall 2020 issue of UU World (page 53).