By now you’ve almost certainly heard about the announcement from the Lincoln Lancaster County Department of Health that we are now in the ‘Green’ on the COVID risk dial. This is great news, both for our Lincoln community and our church. Since early April, we’ve been moving towards reopening our building, and this is a major step for us. When we wrote our reentry plan in March, the step that corresponded to “Green” on the risk dial assumed that everyone, including children, would have access to vaccines by the time we got to this step. Unfortunately that is not currently the case, so we need to modify our plan in some ways. Two that I want to highlight now are our continued mask requirement, and our plans for Religious Education.
We will continue to require everyone to wear masks while on the property at 6300 A Street. This deserves a little unpacking: the CDC suggested recently that folks who have received vaccines can safely go unmasked in many situations. While the CDC’s guidance is valuable for thinking about individual risk and choices, at the church, our focus must be on the community as a whole. We know that our community includes children, who are not able to get vaccinated yet, folks in vulnerable populations that need to continue wearing masks for now, and adults who simply have not been vaccinated yet. The Task Force on Reentry made the decision early on in their process that we would not require proof of vaccination for anyone attending church on a Sunday morning. Because of that, and because a fundamental piece of our faith is care for the most vulnerable among us, we will continue to require masks while on the property at 6300 A Street.
Religious Education is an area of congregational life where we aren’t going to return to normal just yet. Currently, no children under the age of 12 have been vaccinated, and no children under 16 have been fully vaccinated (there has not been enough time yet). Our current plan is to have both an in person and online option each Sunday over the summer: ingatherings at 6300 A Street, and continuing Zoom Sunday School for those not ready to gather in person. This requires volunteers, however, and right now we do not have enough volunteers to run the program as imagined. If this is an area you have thought about volunteering in, we need your participation and enthusiasm.
It is good to be at this place, together. I admit it has happened more quickly than I thought possible, and there are still many reasons to be concerned. But it will be good to gather in June, to see many of you in person for the first time in over a year, and to hear laughter in this building again. Thank you for everything you have done to bring us to this point, and please continue to wear masks, get vaccinated, and do everything you can to ensure that we sustain this success.
On April 20, the Lincoln Lancaster County Department of Health announced that the COVID-19 Risk Dial has been moved from mid yellow to low yellow. This is the first time the Dial has ever been in low yellow, and it is the lowest risk level achieved since the dial was launched nearly a year ago.
This means that our congregations stepwise plan for reentry, which we published early this month, will move forward. At a meeting of the Reentry task force on Wednesday night, we agreed that we are now at Step C on our plan.
Here’s what that means: we are going to start piloting in person services in May. On May 9, we will hold our first in person worship service since March 2020. It will be a different kind of worship service: we will limit in person attendance to 25% capacity, and have everyone masked and six feet from each other. Children are welcome, and we will have childcare for those under 5, but no separate Religious Education classes, and we will livestream the service on our Youtube channel for those unable to with us in person. In order to attend in person, we will ask you to register ahead of time, through our congregational database, Realm. More information on how to do that will be available soon.
On May 16, we will be fully online again in order to ensure as much participation in our annual meeting as possible, and then on Sunday May 23 we will have another service in person at 25% capacity.
During the month of May, small groups can start to meet in person in gallery with advance notice, while maintaining 6ft distance & masks.
As we were making this decision, at the end of April, I thought of May 14, 2020. That day, while I was in the middle of a D.Min class, the Unitarian Universalist Association released guidance asking us to prepare to keep our buildings closed through May 2021. At the time, it felt like an unimaginably long time- longer than the guidance from any other denomination, and a hard turn from expectations of returning in the fall. I remember recording an update that afternoon, unsure of how we would be able to maintain online presence for another twelve months.
That guidance turned out to be more prescient than anyone imagined. The pandemic continues to evolve, and the situation may worsen again. Each of us will choose, in the coming weeks and months, what our own risk tolerance is, and when the right time to return to in person event is. For now though, I look forward to seeing your (masked) faces in just a few short weeks.
Rev. Oscar Sinclair serves as the Settled Minister for The Unitarian Church of Lincoln, Nebraska.