Emerson’s Board of Trustees would like your input regarding vaccination and other requirements for in-person activities – read the following letter from our Board President, Clinton Bench:

President’s Leaf
August 2022

More than two years into the pandemic, and we’re still battling new variants.  Politicization of the pandemic and of recommended non pharmaceutical interventions like masking are no doubt to blame at least partially for the length of this crisis.  The unwillingness of many to vaccinate, especially without any scientifically-based medical reason, has also frustrated progress.  Emerson has taken a strong stance in support of vaccination and masking – not as a political statement, but rather as witness of our interdependence and responsibility to protect our whole community.

While the pandemic hasn’t ended, we have clearly entered a new phase of it.  Just this week, the CDC has changed its recommendations on COVID response and recovery to focus primarily on avoiding and treating severe cases of COVID that result in hospitalization.  Throughout LA County, masking has become largely optional, and few venues require proof of vaccination for meetings, commercial activity, and events.  I note this not to suggest that our own rules need to match those of the “masses,” but rather because it seems worth reviewing our current protocols to ensure that they are having the effect and impact we intend.

Currently, Emerson still requires masking indoors for all events (except while actively eating) and only permits those who are vaccinated to participate in official events, services, and meetings.  The Board of Trustees discussed both of these protocols at its most recent meeting and decided to leave both in place.  There was strong support for maintaining our mask requirement, but questions were raised about whether our vaccination requirement brings the same benefits as it did earlier in the pandemic.  Trustees agreed that I would share this message through our weekly newsletter to seek feedback from members and friends.  Please reach out to me at clinton@emersonuuc.org to share any thoughts you have.

Respectfully and warmly,

Clinton Bench, President
Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church Board of Trustees


While reservations are no longer required to attend in-person services, in the interest of protecting our community and the most vulnerable, along with the current elevated rate of cases in LA County, we are continuing with other safety protocols for the time being.  IF this is your first time attending Emerson since we re-opened, please be prepared to show your vaccination card and to agree to our Health and Safety Covenant (see webpage).   

Currently, to attend in-person services and other indoor activities, we expect you to be vaccinated (and preferably boosted); wear a well-fitting, high-quality mask (N95, KN95, KF94); and adhere to safety protocols for in-person services. We expect you to stay home if you are sick or have been exposed to COVID, and to contact the office if you discover you were exposed to COVID shortly before or while attending Emerson in-person.  Future changes will be based on the status of the virus, scientific findings, and our Unitarian Universalist principles. Watch for updates in your weekly eBlast or on this website.

When Meeting In-Person:  Before you join ANY in-person gathering (small, large, at church or elsewhere), we encourage you to covenant with everyone in your group, ensuring that each person is aware of and comfortable with the safety precaution levels for the gathering.  The UUA’s Guidance for Gathering in Covenantal Community (under our Community menu above) may be helpful.

The matching technology grant we received from the UUA helps us to continue multi-platform (a.k.a. hybrid) services so that anyone can join either in-person or online.  Please donate what you can to match the technology grant (see FUNDRAISER).

To learn more about how well different masks protect you from COVID, read this Scientific American Article, “Why We Need to Upgrade Our Face Masks – and Where to Get Them” or see the CDC website, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019 

Find vaccination locations at: Coronavirus.LACity.org/GetVaccinated
Link to free at-home COVID tests from US government:  https://www.covidtests.gov
Find testing sites at: Coronavirus.LACity.org/Testing

Concerned about unvaccinated loved ones or co-workers?  From the UUA, suggestions on how to encourage others to get vaccinated: https://www.uua.org/leadership/library/encouraging-vaccination

For those who wonder why Emerson’s expectations for meeting in-person are more cautious than those of schools and businesses:  Our pandemic response has been based on a combination of recommendations from the Unitarian Universalist Association, the CDC, current local conditions, and respected medical doctors, epidemiologists and other health experts.  The UUA stated (https://www.uua.org/leadership/library/masking-guidelines, June 1, 2021):  “As congregations, our decisions about masking or un-masking need to be about community.  We are in covenant with one another to act not just as a collection of individuals, but as a body that works for the good of all.  Because our Unitarian Universalist faith is grounded in values that call us to care about one another, we must continue to make our decisions by centering the needs of the most vulnerable among us….”  UU churches are all abilities communities, and some of us have immune systems that do not mount a strong protective response after vaccination and can suffer severe consequences upon infection.  (In October 2021, 41% of Emersonians responding to our survey reported that they had someone in their household for whom COVID-19 will continue to be a risk, regardless of their vaccination status. See survey further below.)  We also are part of an interdependent web, and, as such, our risk-taking and our actions affect more than just ourselves.  Therefore we want to take utmost care to minimize the possibility of the spread of COVID-19.

A word from our President, Clinton Bench – March 16, 2022
Is it over yet?  Well, the science of epidemiology suggests that it will be a bit longer before we can claim that, but the risk of COVID spread has diminished substantially in LA county as of late.  And just in time for Spring!  I am definitely sensing cautious relief among the Emersonians I’ve seen at recent Sunday services, meetings and events.

On that note, the Board of Trustees has decided to relax our COVID-related safety protocols a bit to be more inline with other institutions in Los Angeles County.  On one hand, we will continue to require that individuals be up-to-date on their vaccines to attend in-person events and to wear face masks indoors for the time being.  However, we will begin offering food and drink during our coffee hours on Sunday in a way that’s more consistent with past practice.  Individuals will be encouraged to stand outside with their food and
drink or remain in the Pavilion with sliding doors open.

We will also begin allowing for events and meetings that include food and drink indoors, so long as participants are seated when consuming food and drink and remain masked indoors except when actively eating or drinking. We realize that some folks may not yet be ready to participate in functions such as these, and that should be respected by everyone.  Similarly, some may choose to participate in the events but stay masked and avoid eating food or drink — it is important to take care that our actions do not create discomfort for the decisions that others may make.

Thank you all for your continuing commitment to our covenants to keep one another healthy and maintain right relations in our congregation!

–Clinton Bench

October 30, 2021

Dear Emerson Community,

We’ve really missed being with you during the past year-and-a-half! That’s why we’re so excited that Emerson is opening our doors to in-person worship, along with a Zoom livestream option next Sunday, November 7th at 10:30 am! RSVPs are required.

Emerson’s Back Together Team has worked hard over the past year following guidance from the Unitarian Universalist Association and our public health officials to figure out how and when we can safely reopen, while upholding values such as inclusion, keeping vulnerable people safe, and providing meaningful experiences for those worshiping online and those worshiping on campus. We anticipate that we will experiment and make changes as we move forward.

Here are the guidelines we have put in place for in-person worship: 

  • We are limiting capacity to 50 people. RSVPs are required, to help us with contact tracing, if needed.
  • We are requiring proof of vaccination to attend.
  • Masks are required indoors.
  • Social distancing will be in place.
  • There will music, but no congregational singing. (Although you are encouraged to join us outside at 10:20 to sing, masked, before the service.)
  • No beverages or food will be served. (A scaled back outdoor coffee hour will begin in the coming weeks.)
  • Children’s Religious Education will take place outside in the playground area, and children will not be in the sanctuary for the beginning of the service.

We expect attendees to abide by Emerson’s Health & Safety Covenant:

I covenant to do my part to keep Emerson UU and our community in good health as I return to Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church of Canoga Park.  I understand I have a role in the fight against COVID-19 and commit to responsible actions and to being an accountable member of our church and larger community. I covenant to uphold our values by demonstrating personal integrity, respect for others, and support for Emerson UU Church by:

  • Staying home if I have been exposed to COVID or feel any COVID symptoms.
  • Getting vaccinated against COVID, if I am eligible.
  • Wearing a well-fitting face mask that minimizes leaks.
  • Maintaining physical distancing.
  • Keeping my hands clean/sanitized (before entering and as needed).
  • Alerting the Emerson office if I discover I was exposed to COVID-19 before or during this event.
And thank you to everyone who responded to our reopening survey: we had 53 responses, representing 98 individuals. Here are some of the results:
  • 72% said they/their household were likely or very likely to attend in-person services.
  • 19% said they will continue to attend services online because it is safer, and 15% will attend services online because it’s more convenient.
  • 81% said that everyone in their household was vaccinated, and another 12% were all vaccinated except those who were ineligible at this time, like children under 12. One respondent had someone in their household who was eligible to be vaccinated and wasn’t, and three declined to answer.
  • 41% had someone in their household for whom COVID-19 will continue to be a risk, regardless of their vaccination status.
  • There was a clear preference for outdoor religious education for children.
  • Many people used the open-ended comment section to express their eagerness to be back in person (we’re eager too), while others expressed gratitude for the opportunity to continue worshipping online.

It’s exciting to be moving into a time where people are able to join us in-person and online for worship. We are stronger together, and as we have learned, together does not have to mean being in the same physical space.

If you have any questions about worship, either in-person or online, please reach out to Rev. Matthew.

Looking forward to seeing you soon!

With love and anticipation,
Rev. Matthew McHale

Ready to Meet In-Person?

October 15, 2021

Dear Emerson Community,

We’ve really missed being with you during the past year-and-a-half! That’s why we’re sooo excited that Emerson is going to start worshipping in-person soon!

We’re planning to start in-person worship on Sunday, November 7th, with our annual Water Communion Service. (As is tradition, you are invited to bring some water to the service to pour into our common bowl).

Emerson’s Back Together Team has worked hard over the past year to figure out how and when we can safely reopen. We will be taking various safety measures like masking, ventilation, and limiting capacity to 50 people (there will be an RSVP system which we’ll share more about soon.) To help us as we prepare for that reopening, we’re trying to gauge people’s comfort level and interested in gathering for worship, small group gatherings and for religious education, so we are asking for YOUR INPUT by filling out this survey.

Yet, as much as I’m looking forward to being in person, I am really glad that we have been able to worship together virtually every week during this time. That we were able to stay connected, even if we couldn’t be together in person. And I don’t want to lose that opportunity to stay connected with one another virtually. This pandemic has shown us the value of allowing people to connect with Emerson in ways beyond just in-person.

Which is why we are getting ready to switch to hybrid (or multi-platform) worship, where people can worship either in-person or online.  Starting October 24th, we’ll be leading the online worship live from our sanctuary, which will give the worship leaders and volunteers a chance to work out some of the kinks before we invite you all into the sanctuary.

So that people still joining online can experience high-quality worship, we had to upgrade our AV system. And we need your support to do that. You can contribute to our hybrid worship fund online, or by mailing a check to the church, with “Hybrid Worship Fund” in the memo. And because we received a matching grant of $5,500 from the Spirit Level Foundation, your contributions are doubled! (Also if you you’d like to help our tech team setting it up or running it, please email, revmatthew@emersonuuc.org.)

And of course there are already opportunities to connect in person in smaller groups, like our choir, our Elder’s Circle, which next Thursday (you can also join online) or our Garden Planting day next Saturday (in person only, obviously), and more!

We’re really looking forward to seeing you soon!

Rev. Matthew

President’s Letter
August 12, 2021

“Patience, resilience, and empathy.”  That is my “elevator speech” about what the last year has been like for me personally, and in my role as president of our Board of Trustees!  But since this is a newsletter, I will share a few additional thoughts (including gratitude) about our Emerson experience during a time of multiple concurrent pandemics.

As I’ve said many times, I am so grateful for all the work that Reverend Matthew, our Worship Associates, and our webcasting technology team have done over the course of the last 16 months to make sure that our worship services each week are meaningful opportunities for us to breathe, reset, and be together after what have been extremely challenging weeks.  It’s been wonderful to see a number of new folks joining us at services, too, and I’m excited to meet them in person when we reopen for in – person services.  (More on that in a moment.) At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, I worried that perhaps many people would drift away and it would be difficult for Emerson to remain vibrant. I’m so pleased to have been wrong, and to even see attendance at our services and meetings generally be higher than they were before the pandemic started!

The coming year gives me great optimism. While I expected that we would be able to join together again for in-person events and services in September, the Board of Trustees has decided to wait at least another month before making any final decisions because of the prevalence of new COVID cases resulting from the Delta variant.   That said, the recent award to Emerson of a Spirit Level Grant, will allow us to conduct hybrid online/in-person Sunday services.  I hope that this flexibility will allow for some of us to be together in person sooner than we otherwise could have, while allowing others to participate from the comfort of their homes.  I also hope that this new technology will allow for our community to stay even better connected for meetings and events throughout each week (and who knows… maybe we’ll find some new members and friends who aren’t able to be in Canoga Park with us regularly!)  We also have a great new Office Administrator, Deborah Posner, who is helping get our office reorganized, upgrade our membership management resources, line up contractors for buildings/grounds work, get our E-Blasts out on time, and so much more.

Our new member management system, Breeze, is up and running and it was used to organize an event for the first time over the summer — the grounds cleanup day. It will be great to have a single source of member contact information and event planning resources to support religious education, periodic volunteer activities, and help us account for pledges from members and friends more accurately.

What gives YOU optimism about the coming year? What are your hopes for the deepening of fellowship in our community? What gives you pause and concern? I hope that you’ll consider sharing these thoughts with me via email or phone.  I also hope that for those engaged in Small Group Ministries, you’ll share these thoughts with one another, as well as your sense of when and how it is best for us to come back together for in -person events and services.