Miss Manners, Judith Martin, says that etiquette is a code of social behavior, the basics of living a civilized life. She writes that there are underlying principles that manners share with morality, such as concern for others. She asserts that behaving like our better selves benefits everyone.
Miss Manners identifies a basic question of civilization: how should we treat each other? I have named this one of the big questions of life and an important theological question. In Unitarian Universalist congregations, how we are together is based on our covenant, the agreements that we make to each other.
That question of how we will be together is in the forefront now as we re-enter society again, coming together after more than a year of separation and isolation required by the “stay-at-home” guidelines of the global pandemic.
As we prepare to gather in the OUUC indoor and outdoor spaces again, etiquette, covenant, or how we will be together, is on my mind and in my heart, as well as those of the Health & Safety Task Force. We are busy revising the OUUC building use protocols to reflect the latest changes in state and federal guidance, as well as reflecting our principle and values. How we are together as a faith community continues to reflect our values and principle as well as science. You can find updates as we make them on the OUUC website and in the Weekly Update.
As we move toward gathering in person again, there are a few topics that I want to invite you to reflect on.
Masks. Where are you with mask wearing now? It may change based on the day or the location. Are you comfortable stating your preferences and accepting the preferences of others? Are you comfortable asking and negotiating with others about wearing a mask?
For the foreseeable future at OUUC, we will require masks when we gather inside in larger groups, like in the sanctuary for worship. We will do this to protect the most vulnerable among us, including those who are not yet eligible for a COVID vaccine-our youngest members. For smaller groups, we will leave it up to the group to decide, asking that if anyone in the group prefers a mask, then the group will wear masks.
Personal Space. Has your need for personal space changed with COVID? Do you need more space than you used to? Are you comfortable being close to others that you know? That you don’t know? What if you don’t know their vaccine status? Are you comfortable stating your preference for personal space and accepting the needs of others?
I know that my need for personal space is different than pre-COVID in that I need more now than before. And I know it may change with time as I become more adept at being with other people again. As we begin to gather again, we will need to be sensitive to our own needs and the needs of others, especially if they are different from ours.
Touch. How are you with touch these days? Are you a hugger and you can’t wait to hug others? Are you nervous about being near others, especially if you don’t know if they are vaccinated? Are you comfortable stating your touch preference and accepting the preferences of others?
Each of these topics is fundamentally about covenantal consent, making agreements that we will seek and respect the consent of others as we count on them to seek and respect ours. The UU Association has published a graphic about this, laying out the values of inclusion, care, consent and covenant as we gather again. You can find it here.
As with all important things, returning to in-person gatherings requires of us that we reflect on our own values, needs and preferences, then act in a way that respects ourselves and others. It’s the intersection and interconnection of the inner and outer, always.
See you soon,