How, When, Why: Gathering Again

How, When, Why: Gathering Again

The Unity Minneapolis Board of Trustees had hoped to return to in-person services on September 6, with an understanding that we would develop a robust program of processes and protocols to reopen our church building. We will not return to in-person services at this time.  Please review our recent town hall meeting, as well as, the 4-Stage Readiness Plan for In-Person Gatherings that has been approved by our Board of Trustees. 


A Message from Rev. Pat Williamson

I am amazed at how we continue to be a loving supporting presence in the community and in the world even though we have not been able to gather. I see the acts of kindness and I see how we continue to be “the church” whether we gather or not. Thank you. You are Unity Minneapolis in expression each and every day.

And yet I know that we all remember the experience of gathering in unity. We remember the warm hellos, handshakes, Namaste, or hugs. As we settle into a routine of being a virtually connected community, we continue to consider how we will move forward.

We can choose to embrace the tension of the unknown or mourn that we cannot worship shoulder to shoulder in the sanctuary. We can choose to feel excitement and appreciation at how we connect with the Divine during live streamed Sunday Celebration Services. At this time, we can choose to accept our frustrations and feelings about not being able to come together, knowing that safe gathering guidance is an act of radical love and inclusion.

As the Unity Minneapolis Board of Trustees and staff have met over the past four months, we have embraced a wide range of feelings and beliefs related to this challenging and often frightening time. And we want our members, friends, community groups, and community partners who come together in our building to understand that we are making every effort to consider the common good. Your health and safety are the upmost importance to us.

Guidance by Dr. Michael Osterholm, University of MN Director for Infectious Disease Research, was used in our decisions for gathering again. He is a graduate of Luther College and understands decisions regarding church congregations as a Lutheran himself. In a May 11, 2020 article Dr. Osterholm said:

“Churches should embrace virtual worship and be prepared to gather that way for the long haul. COVID-19 is transmitted through aerosols breathed in, so anytime multiple people are gathered in a single space, everyone present is at risk—particularly because symptoms of coronavirus typically don’t show up until several days after someone is infected. Virtual worship is as perfect as you can get right now for what we need. Additionally, all congregations should continue to suspend in-person worship beyond Gov. Walz’s order because COVID-19 will still be spreading—and any indoor gathering, no matter how many precautions we take, will still present a significant exposure risk.”

Guidance by Dr. Michael Osterholm

As you read this plan remember that we work with facts and know the Truth. We can be guided by facts and at the same time know wholeness. Our spiritual community will move from one stage to the other as conditions allow us to do so. Our board will review and discuss this plan and your safety each and every month.

May we remember that “during these challenging times, we are all in a caravan heading for the same Oasis, and we all need to give and receive love in a spirit of generosity and good friendship.” Know I love you and hold you in my prayers.

Blessings,
Rev. Pat


We are grateful for your important feedback!
232 replies were received to our Congregational Survey.
Review our survey results HERE.


4 Stage Readiness Plan for In-Person Gatherings at Unity Minneapolis

Stage 1

Unity Minneapolis will operate in this stage under the following conditions:

  1. There has not been a consistent two-week reduction in the number of reported state-wide COVID-19 cases.
    • These guidelines may be updated at the discretion of Unity leadership based on changing conditions.
    • The church building is closed to the public. If necessary, during the week contact less delivery/drop-offs may be arranged by appointment with church staff. On Sunday morning, only Sunday service participants allowed in the church building.
    • Staff work from home with minimal visits to the building. All staff meetings are virtual only. If it is necessary for staff to be in the office, cloth masks will be worn outside of offices and physical distancing protocols will be followed (remain at least 6 feet apart). Frequent hand washing and hand sanitizing will be followed. High-touch surfaces will continue to be cleaned/sanitized regularly.
    • Maintain communication with local/state authorities, including Centers for Disease Control and Minnesota Department of Health, to determine and implement data-driven, medically recommended virus and disease mitigation strategies in our community.
    • Maintain regular communication with congregants and members via mail, email, phone, social media, website; be transparent about how decisions are being made and the resources guiding decisions.
    • Executive Director communicates with Church Mutual Insurance Company regarding any decisions about building use and resuming in-person activities during the pandemic.
    • Sunday service continues to be live streamed from Unity Minneapolis sanctuary. Ministers, YFM Director, musicians, ASL interpreter, sound technician and livestream team will be the only ones in the sanctuary. Cloth masks to be worn by everyone entering the building, and physical distancing protocols followed (remain at least 6 feet apart).
    • Unity Minneapolis ministers manage pastoral needs by phone, virtually, or other electronic means.
    • Board of Trustees, committee and team meetings, adult education classes and workshops, and other small church groups meet virtually.
    • No outside community group meetings (12-Step Programs, etc.) allowed in the building.
    • Weddings, Celebration of Life Services, Christenings, and/or other special services of the church may be available via Zoom.
    • Unity Minneapolis Garden Team members will wear cloth masks and follow physical distancing protocols (remain at least 6 feet apart) while maintaining the gardens.
    • If anyone who visits the building tests positive for COVID-19, notify local health officials and communicate with staff about potential exposure. Follow guidelines to care for the person and all who might have come into contact with that person.

Board of Trustees and staff will continue to discuss alternate plans for Sunday services and ministry activities that do not involve in-person gatherings in the church building.

Stage 2

Unity Minneapolis will operate in this stage under the following conditions:

  1. There has been a consistent two-week reduction in the number of reported state-wide COVID-19 cases
  2. Indoor gatherings of 10 individuals are allowed by the MN Department of Health
  3. Schools, daycares, and other child-related gathering spaces allow in-person gatherings/operations with restrictions
  4. Available and accessible testing and contact tracing capabilities are reported by state and local health officials
  5. Healthcare facilities report adequate access to personal protective equipment (PPE)

Each benchmark must be satisfied before moving to the next stage. Increases in reported cases means a return to the previous level.

  • These guidelines may be updated at the discretion of Unity leadership based on changing conditions.
  • The church building is closed to the public. If necessary, during the week contact less delivery/drop-offs may be arranged by appointment with church staff. On Sunday morning, only Sunday service participants allowed in the church building.
  • Staff work from home with minimal visits to the building. All staff meetings are virtual only. If it is necessary for staff to be in the office, cloth masks will be worn outside of offices and physical distancing protocols will be followed (remain at least 6 feet apart). Frequent hand washing and hand sanitizing will be followed. High-touch surfaces will continue to be cleaned/sanitized regularly.
  • Maintain communication with local/state authorities, including Centers for Disease Control and Minnesota Department of Health, to determine and implement data-driven, medically recommended virus and disease mitigation strategies in our community.
  • Maintain regular communication with congregants and members via mail, email, phone, social media, website; be transparent about how decisions are being made and the resources guiding decisions.
  • Executive Director communicates with Church Mutual Insurance Company regarding any decisions about building use and resuming in-person activities during the pandemic.
  • Sunday service continues to be live streamed from Unity Minneapolis sanctuary. Ministers, YFM Director, musicians, ASL interpreter, sound technician and livestream team will be the only ones in the sanctuary. Cloth masks to be worn by everyone entering the building, and physical distancing protocols followed (remain at least 6 feet apart).
  • No children (grade 4 and under) allowed in the building or gathered for programming. Uniteens and Y.O.U. may gather for outdoor activities in groups of 10 or less, but only if church staff, youth, and the youth’s parents agree to participation.
  • Unity Minneapolis ministers manage pastoral needs by phone, virtually, or other electronic means.
  • Board of Trustees, committee and team meetings, adult education classes and workshops, and other small church groups of 10 or fewer adults are encouraged to meet virtually, but may be permitted to gather at the church building to meet outside the church building (in the parking lot, on the church patio, on the lawn areas of the church property, etc.)
  • Participants bring their own chair and all supplies needed for the meeting
  • Participants follow physical distancing protocols and wear a mask
  • West side upper level bathrooms can be available to meeting participants entering the building one at a time
  • Participants and organizers agree not to hold Unity Minneapolis liable for any injury and/or illness (including contracting the novel coronavirus which causes COVID-19) that may incur as a result of participating in events on Unity Minneapolis property.
  • No outside community group meetings (12-Step Programs, etc.) allowed in the building.
  • Weddings, Celebration of Life Services, Christenings, and/or other special services of the church will follow the guidelines for in-person gatherings for church groups outlined above.
  • Unity Minneapolis Garden Team members will wear cloth masks and follow physical distancing protocols (remain at least 6 feet apart) while maintaining the gardens.
  • If anyone who visits the building tests positive for COVID-19, notify local health officials and communicate with staff about potential exposure. Follow guidelines to care for the person and all who might have come into contact with that person.

Board of Trustees and staff continue to discuss alternate plans for Sunday services and other ministry activities that do not involve in-person gatherings in the church building. Discussion will also continue regarding realistic expectations for returning to in-person worship at Unity Minneapolis.

Stage 3

Unity Minneapolis will operate in this stage under the following conditions:

  1. A clear downward trajectory in the number of reported state-wide COVID-19 cases for four or more consecutive weeks.
  2. Indoor gatherings of 50 individuals are allowed by the MN Department of Health
  3. Available and accessible testing and contact tracing capabilities are reported by state and local health officials
  4. Healthcare facilities report adequate access to personal protective equipment (PPE)

Increases in reported cases means a return to the previous level.

Board of Trustees and staff discussions continue regarding realistic expectations for returning to in-person worship at Unity Minneapolis. In-person services with safety protocols may be implemented by Unity Minneapolis leadership (Board & Staff) after all benchmarks in stage 3 have been met.

  • These guidelines may be updated at the discretion of Unity leadership based on changing conditions.
  • The church building is closed to the public. Church staff can return to work in the building and pre- approved visitors (scheduled visits) are allowed. Recommend that staff meetings remain virtual. The current MN Department of Health recommendations for masks and physical distancing will be followed in the building. Frequent hand washing and hand sanitizing will be followed. High-touch surfaces will continue to be cleaned/sanitized regularly.
  • Maintain communication with local/state authorities, including Centers for Disease Control and Minnesota Department of Health, to determine and implement data-driven, medically recommended virus and disease mitigation strategies in our community.
  • Maintain regular communication with congregants and members via mail, email, phone, social media, website; be transparent about how decisions are being made and the resources guiding decisions.
  • Executive Director communicates with Church Mutual Insurance Company regarding any decisions about building use and resuming in-person activities during the pandemic.
  • Sunday service continues to be live streamed from Unity Minneapolis sanctuary. In-person services with safety protocols may be implemented by Unity Minneapolis leadership (Board & Staff) after all benchmarks in stage 3 have been met.
  • No children (grade 4 and under) will be permitted in the building. Uniteens and Y.O.U. may meet in the building but only if church staff, youth, and the youth’s parents agree to participation. Outdoor activities are strongly encouraged. If activities take place indoors, no more than 15 people per room will be permitted. If physical distancing continues to be recommended by MN Department of Health the indoor youth meetings must occur in a room with ample space for physical distancing and outdoor air source, if possible. Masks to be worn by all participants according to recommendations of MN Department of Health.
  • Unity Minneapolis ministers continue to manage pastoral needs by phone, virtually, or other electronic means. In-person visits may be made with the consent of all parties involved, while wearing cloth masks and maintaining physical distancing protocols as recommended by the MN Department of Health.
  • Board of Trustees, committee and team meetings, adult education classes and workshops, and other small church groups are encouraged to meet virtually, but may be permitted to gather at the church building under the following conditions:
    • NOTE: 25 people is the largest group Unity Minneapolis can accommodate in the building with physical distancing protocols followed.
    • Groups of 25 or fewer adults are encouraged to meet outside the church building if possible (in the parking lot, on the church patio, on the lawn areas of the church property, etc.)
    • If it is not possible to meet outdoors:
      • organizers will arrive at the church building ahead of meeting times to prop open building entrance and meeting room doors to minimize contact with doors/door handles
      • group meetings will be held in a space that allows all participants to follow physical distancing protocols as recommended by the MN Department of Health.
      • all participants wear cloth masks and follow physical distancing protocols as recommended by the MN Department of Health
      • no singing allowed
      • any doors or windows that open to outside air will be left open during the meeting
    • Participants and organizers agree not to hold Unity Minneapolis liable for any injury and/or illness (including contracting the novel coronavirus which causes COVID-19) that may incur as a result of participating in events on Unity Minneapolis property.
  • Outside community groups (12-Step Programs, etc.) may be allowed to meet at the church building ONLY if: Unity Minneapolis’ insurance company has been notified of such use; AND the groups agree to the following conditions in writing:
    • NOTE: 25 people is the largest group Unity Minneapolis can accommodate in the building with physical distancing protocols followed.
    • Groups of 25 or fewer adults are encouraged to meet outside the church building, if possible (in the parking lot, on the church patio, on the lawn areas of the church property, etc.)
    • If it is not possible to meet outdoors:
      • organizers will arrive at the church building ahead of meeting times to prop open building entrance and meeting room doors to minimize contact with doors/door handles
      • group meetings will be held in a space that allows all participants to follow physical distancing protocols as recommended by the MN Department of Health.
      • all participants wear cloth masks and follow physical distancing protocols as recommended by the MN Department of Health
      • no singing allowed
      • any doors or windows that open to outside air will be left open during the meeting
    • Participants and organizers agree not to hold Unity Minneapolis liable for any injury and/or illness (including contracting the novel coronavirus which causes COVID-19) that may incur as a result of participating in events on Unity Minneapolis property.
  • Weddings, Celebration of Life Services, Christenings, and/or other special services of the church will follow the guidelines for in-person and community group gatherings outlined above.
  • Unity Minneapolis Garden Team members will wear cloth masks and follow physical distancing protocols (remain at least 6 feet apart) while maintaining the gardens.
  • If anyone who visits the building tests positive for COVID-19, notify local health officials and communicate with staff about potential exposure. Follow guidelines to care for the person and all who might have come into contact with that person.

Board of Trustees and staff discussions continue regarding realistic expectations for returning to in-person worship at Unity Minneapolis. In-person services with safety protocols could be implemented by Unity
Minneapolis leadership (Board & Staff) after all benchmarks in stage 3 have been met.

Stage 4 

Unity Minneapolis will operate in this stage under the following conditions: 

  1. Schools, daycares, and other child-related gathering spaces allow in-person gatherings without restrictions 
  2. One of the following criteria has been met to minimize community spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19:
    • a cure is found and widely available to the public 
    • a vaccine is developed and widely available to the public 
    • herd immunity is achieved to the extent that local/state health officials determine that the risk to vulnerable community members need not restrict in-person gatherings 
  • These guidelines may be updated at the discretion of Unity leadership based on changing conditions. 
  • Continue to re-evaluate Minnesota data, checking health recommendations from Minnesota Department of Health, about daily transmissions and adjust operations accordingly. 
  • Continue to follow state guidelines if you are aware of someone infected with the coronavirus which causes COVID-19 and report information to proper authorities, maintaining confidentiality. 
  • In-person church activities and Sunday services may resume including persons of all ages and in all populations (vulnerable and non-vulnerable), with minimal or no restrictions as determined by Unity leadership (staff and/or Board of Trustees). 
  • Outside community groups may resume with minimal or no restrictions as determined by Unity leadership (staff and/or Board of Trustees). 
  • Maintain sanitation/cleaning and hygiene measures at church, including propping open entrance, meeting room, and sanctuary doors as weather permits, and maximizing indoor airflow and introduction of outside air. 
  • Physical distancing may be relaxed, and masks may become optional as determined by Unity leadership (staff and/or Board of Trustees) 
  • In-person Coffee Hour may resume depending on the local and state regulations. 
  • Continue to follow state guidelines if you are aware of someone infected with the coronavirus which causes COVID-19 and report information to proper authorities, maintaining confidentiality. 
  • If we become aware that staff, visitors, or congregants that have been in the building test positive for COVID-19, notify local health officials and communicate with staff and congregants about potential exposure while maintaining confidentiality. Follow guidelines to care for the person and all who might have come into contact with that person. Follow direction of local/state health officials regarding a suspension of in-person gatherings on church property. 

Resources

Centers for Disease Control Recommendations: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

Minnesota Stay Safe Plan: https://mn.gov/covid19/for-minnesotans/stay-safe-mn/stay-safe-plan.jsp

Osterholm and Walz Talk COVID-19 and the Church: https://www.minnesotaumc.org/newsdetail/osterholm-and-walz-talk-covid-19-and-churches-13993626