The recent rise of a new strain of coronavirus weighs heavy on our hearts and minds. Many of you are thinking about how you can support the people in your congregations and communities who are most vulnerable. You may be worrying about anything from changing rituals to changing travel plans. You are not alone—The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) leadership is in this with you.
The UUA has been closely monitoring COVID-19, the newest in the family of coronaviruses. UUA leaders, including the staff of our UUA Health Plan and the medical advisors for the Plan, are following updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other sources tracking the developments related to the virus. We will continue to be in touch with you in the weeks and months ahead to share what we know and do our best to support your congregation in its own response.
I want to offer some suggestions for how your congregation can respond to the coronavirus:
- Follow the guidance from your local public health organizations. Public health organizations in different parts of the country have different advice based upon the spread of the virus. For example, some local public health organizations might advise canceling large in-person gatherings. We affirm that following the guidance of local public health officials is the best way to protect at-risk people in your community.
- Share accurate information using your congregation’s regular communication tools. Your church bulletin, emails, website, or social media are great ways to keep your congregation updated about your community’s response to coronavirus. You may want to reference this resource from the CDC about preventing coronavirus. Here’s a sample informational flyer from Edmonds Unitarian Universalist congregation in Washington that may give you some ideas for your own resource.
- Create ways for people to interact remotely, for everything from meetings to worship. Prepare as much as you can for people to request remote access to meetings via video conference. If you have the tools, consider streaming your Sunday services for those who may need to stay home. Be prepared for your staff to work from home.
- Create a culture that centers the concerns of the most vulnerable to coronavirus. Be sensitive to the concerns of people who don’t want to shake hands – try an elbow bump instead. Consider people’s feelings about hand-holding, communal cups, or any other ritual that requires potential risk of spreading coronavirus.
- Continue common practices that prevent transmitting colds or the flu. Wash or sanitize your hands frequently; stay home if you are sick; try to keep your hands away from your face; and clean surfaces that a lot of people touch. Stock up on hand sanitizer, put up hand-washing reminders in your restrooms, and invite people to wash their hands before coffee hour.
- Publicly recognize the fear and concern in your congregations. People in your congregation, especially those who are at risk for illness or over 60, may especially have concerns about their own risk, or the vulnerability of others in their families and personal networks. Leaders in your congregation should publicly acknowledge that you’re monitoring coronavirus in your community and make space for questions and suggestions from members about preparedness for the coronavirus.
The UUA is also closely monitoring the situation around each of its sponsored events in the coming weeks and months. We are using the suggestions in this email as a guide for how we approach these events, or any decision to cancel them. If an event needs to be canceled due to the coronavirus, we will communicate that information as soon as possible. If you have specific questions about a specific event, please contact your UUA regional team or the event organizers.
Encourage all UU leaders to use this situation as a teachable moment in your congregations. Even if the coronavirus’ impacts are greatest for older adults or people with pre-existing health concerns, it is still a health crisis for us all. Marginalized people are always the most vulnerable during any period of heightened fear and anxiety. Be mindful that your language does not label anyone as disposable. UUs must also speak up against the anti-Asian sentiment that has emerged when people talk about the coronavirus. Language that suggests Asian people are more likely to have the coronavirus is racist. Asian restaurants and Chinatowns are suffering because of coronavirus paranoia, and many people are eating at these establishments in solidarity with their Asian owners and employees.
I leave you with three pieces to help you reflect on community care:
- Coronavirus, climate change, and community care by Susan Raffo
- Wash Your Hands by Dori Midnight
- Just for Kids: A Comic Exploring the New Coronavirus by NPR
May striving for our collective wellness remind us that we are forever connected in body and in spirit.
Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, UUA President
[March 6, 2020]