Returning to In-Person Service

As more and more people get vaccinated, the time is coming when we will be on the other side of this pandemic. Things will never “return to normal,” but we will discover and create a “new normal.” Part of that new normal will be a return to worshipping together in our sanctuary. Many can’t wait to get back to worshipping together. Others are cautious and even a bit anxious about how and when it will occur. It’s been a long, stressful year with many deaths from this virus. Caution is warranted, but planning for the future is absolutely necessary.

We’ve learned a lot over the last year and we have discovered some benefits to worshipping on-line. It allows greater access to some who would otherwise be unable to attend in-person, on-site. It allows shared worship services with other congregations. On-line, we can use music, art, and resources created by people we could never interact with or afford to support. As we move back to in-person services, we want to keep some of these benefits. And so, the UUC Board decided unanimously and enthusiastically that a hybrid or multi-platform model of worship was most desired moving forward.

As we move forward to the new normal, we are guided by our Unitarian Universalist principles, scientific findings, and the goal of maximum inclusivity. We took worship on-line so when we returned to in person, all of us would be there. We plan for hybrid services so that all of us can be there.

The UUC Board created a task force and charged them to address, in very short order, when and how UUC could and should return to hybrid services. That team, which named themselves the “Together In Person” team, prepared a report and presented it to the Board in April. The report recommended we follow the guidelines set by the state of Connecticut for when and how we should return to using our sanctuary. They prepared maps of our sanctuary to allow for safe physical distancing. They created protocols for reserving space on Sunday morning, entering, participating in the service, and leaving the sanctuary. They created a list of equipment we would need to conduct hybrid services. The Board has accepted the report and has spent the last few weeks reading it and considering the recommendations. They intend to discuss it further at the May Board meeting.

Darlene, our Director of Religious Education, and a number of Board members, have attended several UUA workshops on the topic of returning to in-person worship service and preparing for hybrid services. Our guest in the pulpit this Sunday (May 9th) is the Rev. Kimberley Debus, a Community Minister of the Arts and Worship, who has also been tapped by the UUA to create and facilitate seminars for congregations seeking to move into hybrid services.

On Sunday, May 2nd, with the help of Norris (who is part of our Worship team and a member of the Together In Person team) I conducted worship from the UUC sanctuary. We did this to get a better idea of what would be required for a true hybrid worship service in that space. The good news is the service went quite well and to the folks tuning in on Zoom, it all looked great. Norris and I thought it went better than expected, too. Personally, it was a joy to actually lead worship from the UUC sanctuary for my first time after serving as your Interim Minister since August.  We learned a lot from that service.

On Sunday, May 16th, we are going to take another step towards full-time hybrid services at UUC. We will be holding that service as a hybrid service from the front lawn of UUC. It will be a multi-generational service with fun activities, music, and spiritual message. And I expect we’ll learn even more from that experience as well. Hope to see you there– either in person or on-line.

While there is a deep longing to return to services in-person as quickly as possible, the CDC, our Unitarian Universalist Association, and the Unitarian Universalist Ministers’ Association are all recommending caution in doing so. There are many questions and issues that each congregation has to answer and address before they can safely and successfully initiate hybrid services.

• Youth and Families
How do we create hybrid programming that will allow and encourage safe participation of our families? Rev. Evin Carvill Ziemer addresses these issues in this article.

• Equipment, Staffing, and Expenses
What do we need to deliver consistent hybrid services of quality?
Jan Gardner, from our UUA Office of Church Finances, discusses those questions here.

• When Is It Safe?
How many people need to be vaccinated? What about the surrounding community?
What about virus variants? How do we decide? Many congregations have addressed these issues already and our UUA has collected some of the best examples in this web post.

These and many other issues are explored and discussed by our UUA in articles posted here:

Personally, now that I’ve been fully vaccinated and have held one worship service in the UUC sanctuary, I’m looking forward to the next steps. I believe UUC can create safe, engaging hybrid worship services that will allow the UUC community to connect in ways we haven’t even imagined possible, until now. But it is going to take some intense planning and some investment in both equipment and staff or volunteers. I will be presenting my recommendations to the Board this month. It is my hope that they will consider all of the progress we’ve made so far, the recommendations of the TIP Team, the needs expressed by our UUC families, and the best practices and work already done by many of our UUA congregations.

We are all in this together. And together, we can build a better future.


Rev. Craig