By Kristin Collins
When the sanctuary at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh abruptly closed in March 2020, we were left without a blueprint. How does a congregation continue to transform lives and serve the world when its members can’t even be in the same room?
Suddenly, there were no more opportunities to pack grocery bags for seniors, stuff backpacks for children, build houses with Habitat, or march for the rights of our LGBTQ neighbors. It would have been easy to throw up our hands and vow to get back to social justice work after the pandemic.
Instead, extraordinary times brought forth extraordinary creativity. Within a few weeks, the fellowship’s parking lot had become a Covid-safe hub for serving the needy and fostering connection.
It started with UUFR member Linda Liles, who had built a relationship with Love Wins, a day shelter that provides support and meals for homeless people in Raleigh. Before the pandemic, dozens of UUFR members were providing food, cooking, serving, and sharing a meal with Love Wins clients each month.
Those communal meals came to a sudden end, but Linda was determined to keep feeding her neighbors. She invited volunteers to begin dropping off food in the UUFR parking lot, which she then delivered to the Love Wins chef to turn into takeout meals. They increased their donations from monthly to weekly, and the UUFR Action Lot was born.
Masked members began descending on the parking lot every Friday morning to fill Linda’s car with food. Soon, her car overflowed and another member began bringing his pickup truck too. Other ministry teams quickly got in on the action.
The voter engagement team distributed get out the vote postcards that members could send to likely voters. The immigrant and refugee team collected diapers and baby supplies for families. In the heat of summer, the Social Justice Council put out the call for fans and window air conditioners to donate to families in need. The UUFR Stitchers collected knitted squares, which they made into blankets for the new homeowners of the Habitat for Humanity Interfaith Build house and for newly arrived refugee families. Another member collected more than 900 hand-sewn masks to donate to Raleigh’s communities of color.
Meanwhile, the parking lot fostered much-needed connection. UUFR members swapped puzzles and celebrated birthdays. They showed off new babies and new puppies.
Now, as our pandemic year winds down and vaccinations ramp up, we are looking forward to returning to our sanctuary. But we will never forget the way a humble parking lot gathering allowed us to meet the moment.
“As a member of this congregation for over 35 years, I cannot remember a time when the members of this congregation have given so much of their time, talent and treasure to promote UUFR’s mission to transform lives, empower people and serve the greater Raleigh community,” said Jim Hurdis, co-chair of UUFR’s Social Justice Council. “And we did this during a pandemic. Our facilities were closed. What can we accomplish when we are back in full operation again?”