Our Transition Back

Dear TOLUUC Community,

The recent CDC updates, which loosen recommendations regarding wearing a mask and socially distancing for fully vaccinated people, have naturally led to increased attention to when our congregation can meet in person. We are all hungry to gather once more as a community. However, masks and social distancing are still recommended for at risk populations and children are not yet eligible to be vaccinated. Additionally, the vaccine is highly effective and safe, but masks and other mitigation efforts are still important tools to decrease the risk of contracting COVID. We must also remain in solidarity with one another and exercise patience and understanding when working with diverse views regarding re-opening and personal risk. It is important now more than ever to “journey as a family.”

Given the recent recommendations from the CDC and the feedback we have received from congregants, we are ready to take the first small step to getting back to seeing one another in person for church activities. Initially, we will be primarily meeting outside. Worship services will not resume in the sanctuary until we tackle the many challenges involved with resuming in-person indoor worship such as presenting the service on multiple platforms, ventilation in the sanctuary, religious education, and the comfort level and vaccination status of the congregation.  What follows is not a complete re-opening plan, but we felt it was important to get this first step out to the congregation without delay. Beginning immediately, church members and friends can “officially” meet following these recommendations:

Off of church grounds for church related activities

  • Masks and social distancing of at least 3 feet should be the norm when gathering. However, if all in attendance are comfortable discussing their vaccination status and are fully vaccinated, masks and social distancing would be at the discretion of the group.
  • Smaller groups (10 or less) are safer and less anxiety provoking than larger groups.
  • Meeting outside when possible is a better option than meeting indoors.
  • Masks should still be worn regardless of vaccination status when visiting with medically at risk or unvaccinated individuals.

On church grounds, outside, for church related activities

  • Rev. Jenn will be resuming in-person pastoral care appointments but asks that the meeting be limited to one or two people. The meeting will be outside and masks and social distancing will be observed.
  • Groups meeting outside for activities other than pastoral care should be limited to 10 or less households.
  • Masks and social distancing of at least 3 feet should be the norm when gathering. However, if all in attendance are comfortable discussing their vaccination status and are fully vaccinated, masks and social distancing would be at the discretion of the group when outside. Anyone entering the building will still need to wear a mask.
  • Before meeting outside on church grounds, a representative from the group should coordinate with church staff if the bathrooms will need to be accessible or if there is a possibility of other groups being present at the same time.
  • Groups wishing to sing together, such as the choir, must be fully vaccinated and will coordinate with Cassandra, our music director for further direction.

Staff members in the church building

  • Masks and social distancing of at least 3 feet should be the norm when gathering. However, if all in attendance are comfortable discussing their vaccination status and are fully vaccinated, masks and social distancing would be at the discretion of the staff members present at the time.

Congregants in the church building

  • Congregants attending to church-related matters that require a physical presence in the building may enter the building, but should expect to adhere to the following guidelines to ensure the comfort and safety of church staff:
    • Group size 5 or less
      • Attendees should be fully vaccinated
      • Masks should be worn and social distancing of at least 3 feet respected when in common areas
      • Congregants should reach out Rev.Jenn (who has agreed to help with coordination) to schedule a time to be in the building and to review safety measures regarding decreasing the risks for all who plan to participate.

When considering how to transition back to in-person offerings, we consider a variety of factors. These include the evidence based guidelines regarding risk of illness and death from COVID for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, level of vaccination and vaccine availability, our UU principles of inclusion and interdependence, as well as the mental toll the pandemic has inflicted. 

The metrics we are using to craft the guidelines for our community are from the web site covidactnow.org. Covid Act Now is an independent, 501(c)3 nonprofit founded by Max Henderson and Igor Kofman that provides local-level disease intelligence and data analysis on COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. The site aggregates data from reliable sources and then translates it into risk levels so that accurate information can be made available to all. We have been watching the following metrics which provided the framework for re-opening plans:

  • Positivity Rate (The number of positive tests divided by the number of total tests in the county multiplied by 100)
  • Vaccination Rates in the county population as well as rates within our congregation
  • Infection Rate and daily new COVID cases in McHenry County (number of new cases persons infected with the virus)

Our faith reminds us that when we envision our new normal, we must also remember the principles of equity, inclusion and the interdependence of each of us in the web of life. This is stated eloquently in the UUA Guidance on Gathering In-Person When COVID-19 Subsides, Update 5/12/21 :

“As a community that values inclusion and collective care, we don’t want to create in-person situations that inadvertently exclude those at higher risk, or create situations that force those at higher risk to publicly identify themselves. Our decision-making must center the needs of the most vulnerable.”

Finally, we must also consider the anxiety, grief, and disruption of our lives the pandemic represents for many in our community. Although things are looking very hopeful that the worst is behind us, we must remain compassionate to those who are not able to be vaccinated, lack access to medical care, are hesitant to gather in person, unmask, or resume normal activities. We must also be realistic when considering the resources we have to be fully functional with a hybrid model.

As always, the board welcomes your feedback and expects your questions and input regarding the transition back to in-person gathering. We will be reaching out with a survey which will help shape future plans. We have also set aside time to discuss the plans with the congregation at the annual meeting and will follow up with more information as conditions change.

In faith,

Leah Mikkelson

President, TOLUUC Board of Trustees

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