March 4, 2021
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Many have us have endured one of the hardest years in our lives in the 50 weeks since we ceased most in-person gatherings in the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee. We have done something that has been extraordinarily difficult to demonstrate God’s love to the elderly and the medically vulnerable in our midst. And while the need to take basic precautions, wear masks and socially distance in gatherings will remain for a time, it has become apparent to the Standing Committee that we can now change tactics and respond to the situation facing our churches somewhat differently.
We are writing today to tell you that the Standing Committee is deeply aware of the pain that many of the parishioners and clergy in our parishes are experiencing as a result of our current situation. The choice to have very tight criteria for in-person gatherings over the last year, born out of a desire to protect the vulnerable and to respect the dignity of every human being, has kept people safe from the virus, but you have clearly communicated with us the poignant, tender and difficult ways our decisions have impacted you and your parish communities.
Our role as the Standing Committee is not only to keep our communities safe from the virus, which, together with the Way Forward Task Force, we will continue to work hard to do. We also have to balance the need to keep people safe from the virus with the grief, loss, need and hurt that are being experienced by many people in our churches today. We are thankful to the Way Forward Task Force members for their ministry over the last year and for their continued work on our behalf in this next season. In faithful love and service to all of us, they have kept us safe, and they are committed to helping us regather as safely as it is possible to do so.
After hearing from so many of you, and after consulting with the Way Forward Task Force and receiving substantial input and feedback from them, we are pleased to inform you that Standing Committee is issuing a new set of Returning to Public Worship Guidelines effective the Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 14.
These guidelines, which are found here, contain the following major changes:
- The guidelines raise our risk tolerance and change our thresholds for indoor gatherings such that at this time, every parish in the diocese will be able to meet with at least 10 people indoors and parishes in most counties will be able to meet with 25 people indoors (or whatever lesser number their maximum capacity with social distancing is);
- The guidelines lay out a process by which parishes may use a given space for worship multiple times in one day with some pre-work on ventilation and HVAC systems;
- The guidelines streamline the process of obtaining approval from the Way Forward Taskforce for the resumption of worship services so that it is less cumbersome.
In addition to these changes, we’d like to remind you that in the last edition of the guidelines, released in early February, restrictions on the number of people gathered outdoors were removed, making it possible for all parishes to offer outdoor gatherings with as many people as will fit provided they are spaced at 6’ or greater.
We will continue to use the Regathering Risk Assessment Dashboard to keep track of the number of cases of the virus in our communities. You will notice changes to that interface that reflect the changes in the guidelines. The Way Forward Taskforce continues to update that Dashboard every day. This tool continues to be invaluable to the Standing Committee and to the churches of the diocese.
This is a moment to celebrate, even as we continue to have some restrictions in place. We have been doing what love requires, and it has been very difficult. Now we will begin to gather together again, to bear one another’s burdens, to mourn with those who mourn, to comfort the afflicted, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor: that the One who God raised from the dead is the One who has brought us safely to this day and will bring us safely to that day when there shall be no more crying or pain when all things will be made new, when all will be well and all manner of things shall be well.
We are so grateful for your prayers for us as we lead the diocese in this season, and please be assured of our daily prayers for you.
In the joy of the Lord Jesus Christ,
The Standing Committee of the Diocese of Milwaukee
The Rev. Scott Leannah, President
Ms. Margaret Done
Ms. Celia Fine
The Rev. Andrew Jones
The Rev. Dave Mowers
Ms. Tammy Prather
The Rev. Jana Troutman-Miller
Mr. Marcus White