Saturday, June 6, 2020

Returning to the New Normal, When and How by Reverend Tom Capo

The president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Susan Fredrick Gray, sent out an email last week about Covid 19 and what to consider before opening our church buildings and campuses back up.  There were many things to consider, which I expected, but what shocked me was this: “We… recommend that congregations begin planning for virtual operations for the next year (through May 2021).”  She went on to say, “Take a moment to breathe. I know this is significant. While there is much public conversation about ‘reopening,’ the reality is public health officials consistently predict a long trajectory [through] this pandemic.  [And] a majority of our congregational members, leaders, and staff members are in high-risk categories.”
         Boy did I take a “moment to breathe” when I read this.  Had I fallen through the looking glass, down the rabbit hole, through a wardrobe “to some enchanted forest where animals talk and danger lurks and nothing works quite the way it did before.” The world had already changed too much.  I had thought this Covid thing would be like a sprint, maybe a long spring, but a sprint.  Now it seems like a marathon and I haven’t gone one lap around the track  yet.  How would we maintain this faith community during this time when nothing seems to quite make sense, for a year?  How do we keep in contact with one another?  Zoom and YouTube are nice and I have learned a lot about them, but are they enough to hold this congregation together?  These thoughts and others circled around my mind and I bet they have been spinning through yours. 
         As I breathed, I reflected on the words of one of our Unitarian forebears, Theodore Parker: “Be ours a religion which, like sunshine, goes everywhere; its temple, all space; its shrine, the good heart; its creed, all truth; its ritual, works of love; its profession of faith, divine living.”  Could these words still have meaning for Unitarian Universalists over 100 years later?  Still have meaning for us in this congregation? Just how much glue could they provide to hold our faith and congregation together? They seem idealistic, impractical, antiquated, and lofty.  Then, in true lectio divina fashion, I took time to sink into the vision of Unitarian Universalism with this quote, phrase by phrase. 
         “Be ours a religion which, like sunshine, goes everywhere.” I started thinking about how our congregation could hold services outside with everyone masked and six feet apart and plenty of hand sanitizer.  I wondered could we have the congregation drive onto the property and hold services with everyone in their cars?  Could we open all the large doors in the church building, put up an Acrylic Plastic Sheet between the preacher and the congregation, and put big circles on the floor six feet apart for each family to sit in together? 
“Its temple, all space” Steve Snyder has talked about different filters for the air conditioning system and we discussed having masks and gloves available for anyone who joins the service.  And we considered limiting the worship space to 25 or 50 percent of its capacity with no after the service lunches, and no hymnals, no orders of service. And limiting the bathrooms to one in one out. 
“Its shrine, the good heart.” The likelihood of any hand-shaking or hugging or singing together will have to wait until after a vaccine is created and distributed.  But we could find new ways to “touch” each other.  Even from six feet away we could discover new ways to “touch” each other.
         “Its creed, all truth; its ritual, works of love.” When will we open?  How will we open?  Practically, these questions are not easily answered.  There will be people in churches around the country who will try different ways of gathering,  some who will open sooner, some much later.  I have been in communication with clergy locally and nationally; I have attended workshops put on by the UUA and by Church Mutual Insurance Company.  They all have lots of ideas, but there are also a lot of fears and concerns about liability and consequences if someone contracted Covid 19 while attending a program at a faith community.  Ultimately, there is no clear path forward, at least for the foreseeable future.  But our creed of all truth?  Our ritual being works of love? These are a couple things that, at their core, at their essence, haven’t changed.  All of us are still continuing our search for truth and meaning despite not being able to gather together in one physical space.  And if our ritual is to be found in works of love, then we’ve got that down.  When we bring  you these Sunday services on YouTube, that is a work of love.  When we meet in small groups through Zoom?  More works of love.  When we call each other on the phone to check in?  That’s love at work.
         “Its profession of faith, divine living.” Breathe in, breathe out.  A rabbi I was listening to a few days ago said that during this time of Covid 19, we should not be obsessed with the hardships and limitations; we can and will find a way to deal with them.  Instead, we need to be even more steadfast in living our faith, however we understand it, in this world.  Our communities are still there to support us, perhaps not in the way we would prefer for them to be, but they are still there.  They’re in our acts of love.  Love that finds a way. 

If there was ever a time to lean into our 7 Principles and use them as a rock solid foundation to support how we live and move and have our being, wouldn’t this, wouldn’t now be that time?  That time to examine and strengthen our connection to the 7 Principles which guide and inform our faith?
         I cannot tell you today when we will gather together here on this property or exactly how that will look, but I can say you are in my thoughts and on my heart.  As I explore different ways of being wonder in touch with you, I am finding that my conversations with many of you are deeper and richer than they have been over this past year.  I think about you all when I consider with new insights decisions and directions for this faith community and for Unitarian Universalism.  I now read the Unitarian Universalist Principles more frequently than I did before the Coronavirus. And explore my relationship them in this Covid time.  And my prayer life has been more frequent and more vibrant than it has been in many years. 
         Your leadership and I, with your input, will figure it when and how we gather.  Unitarian Universalists have never backed away from working out complex solutions to difficult issues.  I can’t tell you what the solutions are because I don’t know, yet, but I will tell you what I do know; together we will figure this out.
         In the meantime, there will still be Sunday services, children and adult religious exploration, opportunities to talk with one another, to be in relationship with one another.  This building will be maintained, I am not be going anywhere, you will still get your newsletter and weekly.  Joseph will play beautiful music for our services and your Board will continue to decide on the business of the church.  We got this.  Right now you have the opportunity to consider what Unitarian Universalism and UU Miami means to you, to explore and deepen your spirituality, your faith, and how you live in this world as a Unitarian Universalist.
This faith and this congregation will be here throughout quarantine and Covid 19, however long it impacts our lives. “That’s how it works. Do not confuse the beginning of the story with the end.”  We may have thought that Covid 19 was just a short chapter in our story, but it seems to me a new story has begun and we are just realizing it. As the story unfolds, hold onto what you know is true, even if it feels like it is a long way from here.  It is not a long way, my friends, it is right there in your heart and it reaches out to connect with the hearts of those of us sharing our faith journey with you here at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami.


  1. Sometimes with difficulty, there are new possibilities. I have walked to our UU church, which is about a mile and a half from where we live. I did that a couple times for church church, and now about three times since we've been closed, with services on facebook, and coffee hour by Zoom. I have found lots of churches have been doing Zoom, and I've Zoomed into Omaha (it's decades since I've been to Omaha), and I've Zoomed into Bismarck, North Dakota, and I've never ever set foot in North Dakota, and I've Zoomed to Denver, and Little Rock. Our men's group (interested? email me) which met for lunch once a month, and which I never attended, now meets by Zoom every Wednesday, and I often attend. So, think, we've got opportunities. John Keohane Austin, Texas, member First UU church of Austin

  2. Thanks John. I agree there are so many new possibilities. I hope you join UU Miami some time: I'd like to hear how your men's group is going. I was a member of a long-stranding men's group at Bay Area UU Church in Houston. I felt connected with other men and shared with men in safe and supportive environment.