The Foundations of our Covid Gathering Policy

Dear Westside Members and Friends,

We are finding ourselves faced with such an unusual set of circumstances and no easy answers. Like many of you, our board members feel the wear and tear on our tolerance and stamina as this pandemic wages its storms on us. Like many of you, we are grasping for ways to feed ourselves with human connection. And like many of you, we are trying to find a path for how to strengthen and nourish the bonds of our community.

What we do have as a vital resource, is our collective wisdom as a congregation. And we need this wisdom more than ever to navigate a safe and connected way forward through constantly changing dynamics.

Recently, the board, Rev. Christopher, and our newly formed Covid Advisory Team have been researching, talking with other congregations, discussing, and discerning how to navigate challenging decisions around use of our building and around potential in-person gatherings in other locations. Honestly, we feel incredible sadness. In our small group board ministry, we share our own feelings of frustration, loneliness, how much we miss being nourished by being together, and our fears around everything happening in our world right now. We also feel bolstered by each other, and inspired to find more and more ways to invite us all back into meaningful community connection.

Our best thinking at this time with the pandemic where it is now, has been that we need to continue to connect in the ways that are safest for everyone. And we know that means remaining online for our large group worship and small group ministries and meetings.

The most pressing challenge we’re seeing as we try our best to offer guidelines that will keep us safe, is how to balance a path that centers equity and accessibility for all with our very real needs and desires to find ways to come together in person.  We know that some of us in the community are more vulnerable to the impact of Covid 19, in our health, and also in our economic circumstances, and the circumstances of our living situations now. We’re all in this together. Our board has been focused on caring for one another as inclusively as possible.

Recently, we shared our best policy thinking at the time about keeping our interactions online as a community. We are grateful for the people who have reached out, both in gratitude and concern about the guidelines to continue our church activities without in-person gathering. We want to open this discussion to our collective wisdom, and to begin we are providing more background into the foundation of this decision. Below are some key points in our thinking:

  • First, safety for everyone. It is not possible to eliminate risk except for not meeting in-person. Otherwise, we are just mitigating it, and that’s not a sure thing. The possibility of a super spreader experience is very real. If one person shows up with no symptoms, but a high viral load that they’re not aware of, it puts the whole small group they’re meeting with at risk. We don’t want to have that experience weighing on our heads and hearts and becoming part of our congregation’s life and history. Also if a person is infected, then they may infect others who are more vulnerable, both in their lives and in the wider community. 
  • Equity is our value, and we have a commitment to act in the best way possible to help end this pandemic that is having a disproportionate effect on essential and low-income workers, vulnerable populations, and BIPOC communities. The best way to help prevent hurting the most vulnerable folx in our congregation and in the broader community, is to minimize risk by keeping our congregational life activities in online spaces for now. We need to show up living what we believe — we wear masks to protect ourselves, but also to protect the people around us. We need to do the best we can to protect the people around us.
  • Inclusion is vital. If the way our church community cultivates connection in this difficult time is not radically inclusive, it will cause harm and alienation. To foster connection that is truly inclusive, our ways of connecting have to be consistently inclusive of everyone, including those with conditions that make them at higher risk or who are caring for those at higher risk. To attempt to do this piecemeal on an event-by-event basis would create levels of uncertainty, confusion, and high potential for hurt.

We are all struggling in some ways with the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, and some of us are in situations where our struggles are quite deep. There are resources in our community and in the state to help us through this. We can help and support each other through it – be in touch with other congregants, with Rev. Christopher, with our pastoral care team, with the board.

As a leadership team, we are trying to find and cultivate ways of connecting that will help foster authentic and inclusive connection to sustain us all through this incredibly challenging time. You are invited to brainstorm and share your ideas. Your perspective, your commitment, and your energy are needed and valued as we work to cultivate safe and nourishing community together.

Thank you to the folx who joined us in discussion after service last Sunday. Please watch the Westside Week for more opportunities to offer your input to our collective wisdom!

In community,

Vanessa Shaughnessy, Board President

Jade Lowry, Past President

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