Online worship, meetings through June 2021

Following is the letter sent to the First U congregation by Prudential Committee President Michael Cappelli announcing the PruComm’s decision to extend the date for First U virtual worship and meetings to June 2021.

November 18, 2020

Dear First Unitarian Community:

This week’s news of highly effective Covid-19 vaccines is encouraging. However, we realize that it will likely be several months until vaccines are widely distributed, and members of our First U community have been fully vaccinated and safe. Meanwhile, rates of new cases in Rhode Island and the US are at record levels and rising. Hospitalizations and deaths are not far behind. Given all this, the Prudential Committee and Bridging Team have continued to look ahead and have had lengthy, thoughtful conversations about First U’s worship services in the coming months.

At its most recent meeting, the Prudential Committee voted to accept the Bridging Team’s recommendation that our worship services continue to remain virtual through the end of the current church year. However, and it is a big however, if conditions change and it becomes safe to open our doors for in-person worship in the Meeting House sooner, we will revisit and revise. The Bridging Team will continue to meet regularly to review and assess current conditions in the Rhode Island region and make new recommendations as needed.

Our church leadership and staff recognize that our Congregation misses being together, worshiping together in the Meeting House, greeting our friends, seeing familiar faces, singing together, and hearing live music. Our children and youth miss being together in their familiar groups. It’s a difficult time for everyone. But we know that we will be together again as soon as it is safe to do so.

We have arranged a special all-congregation conversation to answer any questions you may have and hear your thoughts. You are invited and encouraged to attend a special Zoom coffee hour this Sunday, November 22, at 11:30am, immediately following our livestreamed Thanksgiving worship service. Members of the Prudential Committee and Bridging Team will join us.

Meanwhile, the Bridging Team has put together some questions and answers that they have heard from members of our congregation. You can find them below.

I look forward to seeing you at our Zoom conversation on Sunday.

Yours truly,

Michael Cappelli
President, Prudential Committee
First Unitarian Church of Providence

Virtual Worship Extended to June: Questions and Answers

What conditions need to be met in order for in-person worship to resume?
Recommendation to reopen the Meeting House for in-person worship will follow the Rhode Island governor’s Covid-19 orders and guidance, which follow suggestions from the Department of Health, which tracks the incidence of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in Rhode Island.

Do we have benchmarks for returning to in-person worship?
The Bridging Team has not yet set metrics for reopening but follows the governor’s guidance closely. We continue to monitor current data. We will probably recommend reopening the Meeting House for in-person worship when the new case count in our area is low and staying low, when test positivity rate remains around .5-1%, and perhaps not until the percentage of Rhode Islanders fully vaccinated reaches a safe level. We are also tracking the UUA recommendations that currently recommend virtual operations through May 2021.

Why do we need to decide now the in-person worship plans through June?
First Unitarian is similar to a big ship; it cannot turn on a dime. Our staff, committees, groups, leadership, members, and friends need time to plan for a transition to in-person activities. At this point, we know that new case counts are higher today than they have ever been, and the trend is going up rapidly. It will take months for the case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths to decline and for conditions to be safe for our congregation to be together in person again. We are planning for the worst, hoping for the best, and ready to change direction as soon as the conditions allow.

Might the news of promising Covid-19 vaccines bring an end to the pandemic sooner than June?
Our doctors on the Bridging Team tell us that having a vaccine does not mean that we are suddenly safe. The recent vaccine headlines are hopeful, but we must be realistic and consider them in context. Dr. Anthony Fauci recently said that general vaccine availability will not likely happen until April. We still need FDA approval for each vaccine and a plan to distribute them to 331 million people in the US alone. With no cooperation between the outgoing and incoming administration, vaccine distribution could take even longer. It remains unclear how effective each vaccine might be and how many doses and boosters will be needed. Rhode Island is one of four states partnering with Pfizer on plans to distribute the vaccine efficiently. This may speed access to the Pfizer vaccine in Rhode Island.

Why aren’t we coming back in stages, rather than all at once?
To this point, the Bridging Team and Prudential Committee have focused their efforts on keeping our congregation and community safe as case numbers continue to rise. As soon as the numbers begin to level off, decline, and stabilize at an acceptable level, the Bridging Team will begin to focus on when and how to reopen for worship, religious education, and other First U activities. Recommendations will be guided by safety and our UU principles.

What will we be doing between now and June?
Unless conditions change, First U will continue virtual worship and online groups and meetings. Our Tech Team has worked hard to upgrade the quality of our livestreamed

Sunday worship services. Even after we reopen the Meeting House for in-person worship, our livestreamed worship services will continue for those who cannot attend in person. Our staff has put in many more hours than ever to pivot to virtual offerings and do their best to keep us all connected during this incredibly challenging time. Their work will continue.

What about First U’s social justice activities?
First U’s outreach to the community has not only continued but increased throughout this pandemic with new partnerships. In addition to running our own food pantry each month, we have partnered with AME Zion Church for their food pantry distribution. First U continues to open our Parish House doors to self-help and support groups in our community that have used our meeting rooms regularly for many years. These groups are considered essential community services and are covered under special regulations from the state. Many other First U social justice activities are continuing in modified and creative ways.

Might we lose members if we continue to offer virtual worship?
Despite the concerns of some, the number of views for First U virtual worship have climbed and continue to be higher than the numbers for typical past in-person worship services. We are especially gratified to hear from members who have been unable to attend worship services for a long time and are now feeling part of our beloved community again through the livestreamed services and other online offerings.

What are some resources the Bridging Team recommends for current, accurate information about coronavirus conditions and advice?

Online worship and programming to continue through 2020

At a special meeting on August 4th, the Prudential Committee voted to:

  • continue to offer virtual worship and programming through at least the end of calendar year 2020.
  • invest in initiatives to strengthen First Unitarian while our campus remains closed.

Following are the recommendations presented to the Prudential Committee by our Bridging Team, a group of 18 First U members and staff who are meeting weekly during the summer to study the complex health and safety issues involved in the decision of whether or not to reopen our campus and under what conditions.

To read all of the recommendations, click here.

Space begins to reopen for smaller groups

In late August, the Prudential Committee approved the Bridging Team’s recommendations to gradually begin to reopen our campus spaces to smaller community and church groups under very stringent guidelines that place the health and safety of everyone at the forefront.

To read all of the Prudential Committee’s announcement, click here.

Forms, Documents, Videos for Meeting Requests

Following are the forms and documents required for a smaller group to request and receive permission for an in-person meeting at First Unitarian. Click on each title to view or download.

Building Use Policy

Procedure for Use of Building

On-Site Meeting Request Form

Meeting Leader Information Packet and Responsibilities

Building Use Guidelines and Waiver for Visitors and Meeting Attendees

Meeting Attendee Contact List

Video: Orientation to Using Parish House for a Meeting

Video: Orientation to Using Meeting House for a Meeting

Reference Materials that Guided Bridging Team

 Following are the foundational documents and sources that guided the Bridging Team’s work and decisions. Click on each title to view or download.

Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalists

First Unitarian Church of Providence: Managing Risk During the Reopening

First Parish Church of Stow and Acton: Returning to Church Options by Rev. Cynthia Landrum in consultation with church staff

Updated Guidance for Gathering by UUA President Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray

UUA Guidelines on Gathering In-Person When COVID-19 Subsides

Phase 3 Guidelines for Religious and Faith-Based Communities, from the Rhode Island Department of Health

Considerations for Communities of Faith, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Association between mobility patterns and COVID-19 transmission in the USA: a mathematical modelling study, from The Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal