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An Update from the Way Forward Task Force

June 18, 2020

To all the beloved in Christ in the Diocese of Milwaukee:

Dear Friends in Christ,

I am writing today to inform you of my decision to allow some of the churches in the Diocese of Milwaukee to re-gather for public worship on or after Sunday, July 12, 2020. All in-person gatherings in the diocese will comply with the current version of the Way Forward Guidelines, an updated copy is linked below in this letter. Please keep in mind that this permission is not encouragement and may be rescinded if a significant spike in cases occurs.

Due to the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision to overturn the statewide Badger Bounce Back plan and to the length of time which has already elapsed while we wait for the state to move into the first phase of that plan, the Way Forward Task Force has developed a Regathering Risk Assessment Dashboard to quantify data about the virus on a county-by-county basis. As we prepare to re-gather for public worship, this tool will provide the parishes and the diocese with a reasonably objective way to help decide collaboratively which parishes may re-gather safely, and which parishes may be best served to continue to meet virtually for the time being for the safety of all. The tool is based on active, state-reported cases to provide the best data available for evaluation of the current, fluid situation.

Any parish whose county has 50 or fewer active cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents is permitted to gather for in-person worship beginning July 12. These counties are indicated by the color green appearing in the active cases/100,000 field on the Dashboard tab of the spreadsheet. If your county has a color other than green, you may only begin re-gathering for worship or other gatherings once that cell has turned green and you have notified the diocese. Similarly, if your county is green now but changes to a different color, you, in collaboration with the Bishop, will most likely be required to cease in-person worship gatherings until that cell is green again.

Also, you should evaluate any meeting or event based on the probabilities in the tool based on the size of the event before conducting it. Any event with a probability of greater than 1% of a person with COVID-19 attending should be held online, restricted to a size that meets the desired probability of 1%, postponed, or canceled.

As of this writing, parishes in the following counties are currently eligible to meet for worship on or after July 12: Columbia, Crawford, Dane, Grant, Green, Iowa, Jefferson, Ozaukee, Richland, Sauk, Washington, and Waukesha. Please monitor the dashboard as case data is updated daily, and your county’s situation may change between now and July 12. The Way Forward Task Force will be monitoring this data and will attempt to provide you with updates if your county’s status changes, but please pay attention to this on your own as well.

Regardless of whether a particular county’s parishes are able to re-gather for public worship at this time, all churches of the Diocese of Milwaukee may begin offering home communion visits beginning July 12. These visits must be done in accordance with the Way Forward Guidelines. Any parish which needs to have a celebration of the Holy Eucharist to consecrate sufficient elements for these visits may do so in any county on or after July 12. Parishes in counties that are not yet “green” should only hold these celebrations if they need to do so, must limit attendance to no more than five persons, and must observe all of the Way Forward Guidelines for in-person worship.

Please be reminded that no parish may gather for public in-person worship indoors or outdoors, or hold any other in-person gatherings, before they have a plan for regathering that has been approved by the Way Forward Task Force. Online services that consecrate the Eucharist in accordance with the rubrics of the Prayer Book for home distribution may be conducted.

Please carefully familiarize yourself with the latest version of the Way Forward Guidelines.

Highlights of the changes in this version include:

  • Changed capacity limits. All inside gatherings will be limited to 10 persons for the month of July. We will make a subsequent announcement about capacities for August and going forward.

  • Specific guidelines for outdoor worship gatherings. While the first two meetings outdoors must have no more than 10 people, subsequent gatherings may have as many persons as the local public health authority and the size of the space allow (so somewhat larger gatherings may be possible depending on your context).

  • Specific guidelines for non-worship gatherings outdoors, and for 12-step groups and congregations renting Diocese of Milwaukee facilities indoors.

We have also created a Frequently Asked Questions document to assist you.

As always, if you have questions about these guidelines, please feel free to contact us. Questions specifically pertaining to the Regathering Risk Assessment Dashboard, its methodology, or its underlying data may be sent directly to the Rev. Dave Mowers ( ). All other questions and plan submittal should be sent to me ( ) with a copy to Rev. Bill Dunlop ( ) and Patty Jaffke ( ).

Yours in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Steven Andrew Miller
Bishop of Milwaukee

Mission and Ministry Still Happens in the Diocese of Milwaukee

Two weeks ago the Commission on Mission and Development was having a conversation about our churches and wondering how people are not only staying connected with one another but also how they are continuing to live into their mission and ministry. We decided to contact all of our churches and find out. Here are a few examples from some of our conversations.

St. Paul’s in Watertown is a church with an average Sunday attendance in the upper 40s, and they have a huge heart for ministering to their local community. Mary’s Room provides baby needs such as diapers and wipes to those who financially need help. They also work with local churches to provide food for families in need through a backpack program.

So, how could they continue with these vital ministries in a pandemic and keep people safe? For Mary’s Room, they are providing supplies for a month with curbside pickup to keep the volunteers safe and also encouraging recipients to stay home for longer periods. In this time of COVID-19, an additional ministry was started by making masks to give away and sell. They have made over $2500 from sales and have given away many masks.

St. Paul’s organizes and participates in a cooperative ministry with other churches in their area. With the pandemic, the work of this ministry, providing food to families in need, suddenly became more complicated. How could the churches together supply food to families for not just one week but a few weeks at a time? They talked with the school district and, because the school district had a contract with the bus company, they still had a way to deliver the food to the families in need. Then they had to decide how to pack the backpacks while remaining safe. Typically, each church volunteers to provide one particular item for each backpack (for example, jars of peanut butter). They came up with an idea of moving the packing station to a church with an overhang so one person can lay out all the backpacks opened. A person from each church drives up and loads up the backpacks with their designated items. When they finish filling all the backpacks, they drive away and the next person comes to put their items in and on and on until the bags are filled. The last person zips and makes sure that the backpacks are ready for the bus driver to pick them up and deliver them to the families.

St. Paul’s shows us they will continue their mission and ministries. Not all ministries can continue, but they could adapt some and find a way to still serve people safely. I know they would be more than happy to help your church think creatively if you would like some creative ideas of how your ministry could be adapted to this new day.

In my conversation last week with Seth Dietrich, rector at Christ Church in Whitefish Bay, I heard their Outreach committee had decided to meet twice a month to discuss new ideas for ministry as well as reimagine their current ministries. Right now they continue by providing more money than food, and they assist with the to-go meals at All People’s Lutheran Church on the north side of Milwaukee. They also have a dedicated mask-making group which is making masks for Froedtert Hospital. A parishioner obtained a design from the hospital and then she purchases the materials needed. People who are making the masks pick up the packets of material from her home and when they’re finished making the masks, drop off in a designated container. She then takes then to the hospital and the process begins again.

Right now people who have sewing skills can provide their talents, and those who may not have those skills can provide money for supplies for All People’s to-go food program or material for masks. Providing several ways for people to help gives opportunities for the people of the parish community to participate as they are able.

Christ Church is also trying to provide connection and space to people in the congregation who may usually help or participate in the life of the church but just can’t begin to think of adding one more thing to their new routines. With many younger families in the congregations, the church leaders see them stretched with having no additional time for Zoom meetings or online church events. Just getting through the day-to-day things with kids’ schooling, working (often more hours), and getting daily supplies, which takes a lot more time than it does simply going to the store, is tougher. They need rest, support, and comfort of knowing the church is there. Christ Church is trying to keep people connected and not burdened. They’ve stressed to families to join as they can, and they openly acknowledge that these are difficult days. Online activities may not be for everyone, but with good communication, the parishioners know there’s always a place for them to join in as they are able.

The opportunity before the church right now is how to be the Church, how to adapt, and how to be available — not only our parishioners but those who may not have felt comfortable walking into a worship service on a Sunday morning. I’ve heard many of you talk about how people who usually don’t attend prayers services or discussions are now attending online, yet those who usually do are not.

St. Paul’s and Christ Church are two examples of how the Church is trying and is learning to do things in new ways. How is your parish connecting and inviting people into your parish? How we are sharing our resources and showing we are bigger than one community? We have our diocesan churches worshipping and sharing gifts and resources. We continue to nurture our partnerships with other denominations and nonprofits and we all benefit. Thank you for your creativity, connectivity, and of course, for your steadfastness to God’s call to be disciples of Jesus Christ — however that looks during this time.

Update on the Status of the Bishop Transition Process

The Rt. Rev. Steven A. Miller and the Standing Committee have written letters to share with the diocese. In his letter to the diocese, Bishop Miller confirmed his intention to retire at the end of 2020. After discussions and at the encouragement of Bishop Miller, Bishop Todd Ousley of the Office of Pastoral Development, and the Rev. Dr. Ann Hallisey, search consultant, the Standing Committee has adopted a new timeline for the discernment of episcopal leadership for the Diocese of Milwaukee.

Letter from Bishop Steven Andrew Miller

Letter from the Standing Committee

​If you have trouble accessing the letters, please contact me for assistance.

Sara Bitner
Communications Officer
Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee

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