The OUUC Capacity Task Group

Since mid-August, a group of OUUC members has been working with Rev. Mary Gear to develop a plan and procedures and protocols for how things should go at the church during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chosen by the Board, this group of eight people represents various aspects of life in our community and includes Marie Arensmeyer, Jerald Dodson, Tim Ransom, Pat Sonnenstuhl, Polly Taylor, MaryAnn Thompson, Christine Parke, and Frank Turner. Originally envisioned to study building capacity when created in the spring, this group was repurposed by the Board to address issues regarding the use of our facilities during the pandemic. The Board’s charge to the group, as revised in June, is:

This original charge to this Task Group was to “examining the current use of the OUUC building with the intention of offering welcome and hospitality to everyone.” This charge remains the same but now is focused through the lens of a global pandemic.

This group is charged to work with the minister, Caretaker, and other staff to address building use during the pandemic in a way that lives up to the OUUC mission, remains true to Unitarian Universalist values and principles, and is in line with public health guidance. While we recognize that the minister is ultimately responsible for operational decisions, we believe that response to this unprecedented situation requires our collective wisdom, and we want a deliberative, informed and spiritually grounded response.

A Model for the Work of the Task Group

The Capacity Task Group has been meeting weekly to address the Board’s charge. The first step was to look for a model that would help us determine and respond to the many issues that need to be addressed. We recognized that to follow any one model may mean taking actions that may be different from what an individual wants. But, we believe that the safety of the community is our top priority; we also must be inclusive, providing ways for people to participate in person or virtually. As a result, the Task Group recommends that we at OUUC commit to following the requirements, guidance, and protocols issued by the State of Washington for all activities and events that may occur in and about our church and grounds during the pandemic.

A document issued by the State of Washington entitled Phase 1, Phase 2, and Phase 3 Religious and Faith-based Organization COVID-19 Requirements (updated 08/10/2020) provides clear and extensive guidance regarding our responsibilities. It includes the following directive:

Prior to beginning operations as described in this document, all religious and faith-based organizations are required to develop for each location (indoor and outdoor if applicable) a comprehensive COVID-19 exposure control, mitigation, and recovery plan. The plan must include policies regarding the following control measures: PPE utilization; on-location physical distancing; hygiene; sanitation; symptom monitoring; incident reporting; location disinfection procedures; COVID-19 safety training; exposure-response procedures and a post-exposure incident project-wide recovery plan.

A New Agreement for These Difficult Times

The Capacity Task Group also felt that placing our highest priority on protecting our community calls for a new agreement among us, one that is specific to pandemic conditions. It drafted the following document:

OUUC Agreement for Times of Pandemic

Unitarian Universalism is a covenantal faith grounded in the belief that we are all connected and the practice that we make explicit agreements about how to be together. We affirm that our covenants are guided by science and our values.

We, the members, friends and staff of the Olympia Unitarian Universalist Congregation do affirm that extraordinary times, such as the era of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, call for an explicit and extraordinary agreement as to appropriate behavior among us.

We recognize that our actions directly impact the health and well-being of others. We acknowledge that COVID-19 disproportionately affects people with disabilities, Black people, Indigenous communities, Latinx people, the elderly, and essential workers, a majority of whom are women and women of color. We know that as a religious community, we have a moral responsibility to do all we can to reduce risks for those already at such high risk.

For that purpose, we agree that:

* Because our preeminent concern is for the health and safety of the community…

we will follow the guidance provided by the minister and staff regarding use of the building and grounds that reflects the known science and best practices to promote health and safety as gathered by congregational advisory groups, such as the Capacity Task Force. Such practices include, but are not limited to, use of masks, social distancing guidelines, room and group capacities, and symptom monitoring. In the absence of such guidance, we will follow that provided by the State of Washington’s governor and Department of Health.

* Because we choose to walk together we promise to…

accept the responsibility to stay abreast of guidance from the church regarding the best practices to promote health and safety by frequently monitoring church information sources (website, Wednesday Newsletter, and onsite signage). When in doubt we will consult with staff.

We also reaffirm the OUUC Covenant, with special reference to the following portions:

* Because we need not think alike to love alike, we promise to…

speak and work openly, honestly, and lovingly with our leadership, providing informed,

constructive feedback when we believe change is needed.

* Because we recognize that conflict is normal we promise to…

speak with each other directly and honestly from a position of respect, kindness, and love, recognizing that to do so, there will be times we need to seek counsel from the community.

Procedures and Protocols

Following the guidance provided by the state’s plan, the Task Group will be drafting policies and protocols for control measures at the church including PPE utilization, on-location physical distancing, hygiene, sanitation, symptom monitoring, incident reporting, location disinfection procedures, COVID-19 safety training, exposure-response procedures, and a post-exposure incident project-wide recovery plan. These policies and protocols will make up our own COVID-19 exposure control, mitigation, and recovery plan.

The Task Group has found it sensible to approach developing policies and protocols by addressing the kinds of activities that occur and the locations they take place in at OUUC. For example, we have drafted guidelines for activities on church grounds but outside the building (see below). Other guidelines in the works include those for bathroom use and for activities inside the building. One of our highest priorities is to have appropriate guidelines in place before activities resume.

OUUC Pandemic Guidelines for Being Outside at Church

No one should be on the church grounds if they have new or unexplained health symptoms.

If you are not feeling well – stay at home!

If you are in self-quarantine – stay at home!

Work parties or individuals at the church must have access to hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes.

Work parties or individuals must keep a record of those working on the church grounds in case it is needed for contact tracing.

Individuals on church grounds must stay at least 6 feet apart to the extent possible.

Everyone on church grounds must have a mask at all times and must wear it unless 6 feet of spatial distancing is maintained.

Exceptions to this requirement for cloth face coverings include when working alone; if the individual is deaf or hard of hearing and is communicating with someone who relies on language cues such as facial markers and expression and mouth movements as a part of communication; if the individual has a medical condition or disability that makes wearing a facial covering inappropriate; or when the job has no in-person interaction.

Work parties or individuals are strongly urged to wear gloves while on church grounds.

Anyone entering the church building must sign in and follow all posted requirements.

Anyone organizing a work party on church grounds must distribute the above information to all potential participants, must assure that hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes are available and must keep a list of people who are at the church for a period of least two weeks.

Anyone who tests positive for COVID and has been on OUUC premises in the prior two weeks must notify the church administrator.


The Capacity Task Group is anxious to receive input from the congregation regarding our approach to developing a plan and the components of it presented above. Please contact any of the members of the Group or provide written comments to our Administrator, Darlene Sarkela, who will forward them on to us.

Stay safe and healthy!