|This letter was sent to the First Light mailing list on September 8, 2020.|
We hope this letter finds you well amid the difficulties of this disturbing time for all. It has been uplifting to see so many gathered online for summer services, often outside enjoying the weather as well as the gifts of our wonderful ministerial team. As we enter the fall season, we know you have questions about our plans for the rest of the year. Here are some updates:
We do not plan to return to the building until at least January 2021. Our rationale is as follows:
Much of the Covid-19 situation is still in flux, with cases creeping back up, children returning to school and attendance at other venues more common. Many sources predict a second wave will occur when we no longer have the benefits of sunshine and outdoor gatherings to offset risk.
Staff and leadership feel a deep responsibility to not place our congregants at risk. They would want to personally supervise the safe practices required to hold any congregational activities onsite. We believe the unique and limited resources of our staff and other leaders can bring the highest value to the congregation, instead, by continuing to focus on services offered online and by using this time to develop programming and services for a new model of congregational life going forward with both onsite and online activities offered with a variety of times and styles.
We recognize that some other faith buildings are opening and that it may be impossible to wait for a reliable treatment or vaccine – we cannot put social contact on hold forever or expect zero risk. Nonetheless, we think it wise to not lose patience too soon. At minimum, we want to see more mature testing and contact tracing processes to control outbreaks, and more experience and stability in how the general population is operating. Also, as many members of our congregation are at risk due to age and health vulnerabilities, we expect they would not choose to come to the building even if we opened it.
It seems possible that safer circumstances could exist sometime this winter. We are monitoring advances and will adjust our plans if conditions change significantly.
We cannot authorize in-person gatherings for First-sponsored activities offsite.
When people gather in First’s name, staff and leadership retain a responsibility for ensuring their safety. At this time, we cannot provide supervision or assurance so we cannot authorize gatherings. We also know we cannot forbid or prevent friends from gathering if they choose to do so. We ask, therefore, that our mutual covenants be your guideline. With respect for each and every member of any group in which you participate, we ask that any discussion about gathering makes it clear that individuals are taking full responsibility for their own safety and respecting the safety of others. We also ask that it include an anonymous poll, re-taken from time to time, to determine if everyone feels safe and comfortable with the idea of meeting in person. If any response is negative, we should honour our covenant to respect everyone’s needs and continue to meet online.
Please note: As well, individual or group meetings with the ministers, lay pastors, staff members, and other congregational leaders will be held by phone or Zoom for the time being. The ministers are reserving their in-person meetings for pastoral emergencies while making themselves available online for all other matters.
First is in a secure financial position; donations are strong and we can afford a small operating deficit.
Your support through donations and pledges gives us confidence that the budget approved by the congregation in June is manageable. We have sufficient funds to employ our professional staff and the essential but minimal part-time office staff we need at this time. By reducing office staff, we have offset the loss of most of our rental income. We are capable of absorbing the small planned deficit for a year or two without impacting our future; the shortfall can be covered by our Opportunities Fund.
Our real estate strategy remains the same and work continues.
Our lease at 175 St. Clair W. is currently scheduled to expire on Dec 31, 2021. The landlord is considering our request to extend until August 2022. Shortly, we will re-launch our search for an interim place to worship on Sundays. Despite the uncertainty created by the pandemic, we continue to plan for a permanent home where we and other community groups will gather and run programs. We are in early discussions with our agents and advisors about two interesting sites within our search area.
We’ll continue to evolve our programs to meet the congregation’s range of needs.
The pandemic is providing us with the challenge and the opportunity to rethink the ways we fulfill our mission to seek, connect, and serve. With the help of various technologies, we are preparing to offer online programs through the coming months, and in a hybrid onsite/online way once we are able to gather together again. This shift allows us to extend the reach of our congregation far beyond our current membership in Toronto to serve Unitarians and others near and far. Details about upcoming programming and events can be found in upcoming editions of First Light.
We appreciate hearing from you.
In September we will be sending a brief survey to the congregation. You’ll be able to share your views about in-person gatherings, respond to questions about potential new ways of engaging in congregational life, and let us know what’s on your mind about First right now.
Each of our individual circumstances differ, yet we all need the hope and inspiration we find in First’s beloved community, perhaps now more than ever. We are finding new ways to grow and connect and to impact the future for ourselves and the world. Thank you for being part of First’s ongoing journey.
With faith, hope and love
Karen Dunk-Green, President
per First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto Board of Trustees