News & Messages

Guidelines for Returning to Public Worship

May 28, 2020

To clergy, wardens, and people of the Diocese of Milwaukee,

I write to you today as your bishop, chief pastor and canonical overseer regarding the reopening of our churches for public worship. The pastoral direction that clergy and churches of the Diocese of Milwaukee suspend public worship is now extended until at least July 5. I will continue to assess this situation in light of developments and prepare to give directions for the future. It is possible that it will be necessary to extend this directive even longer. This directive applies to all our congregations, clergy and licensed lay ministers.

Below you will find the updated guidelines for public worship developed by the Way Forward Task Force. Before returning to public worship, each congregation must submit a plan by email to the Office of the Bishop for review and approval by the task force. Please complete the following survey at https://forms.gle/KSPPo6yDMiM8C9KC9 so we can prepare to review them.

Returning to Public Worship Guidelines

Once your plan is complete, please email the plan to Deacon Bill Dunlop ( ) and copy me ( ) and Patty Jaffke ( ). A congregation must receive written approval from the Office of the Bishop before returning to public worship. The date for this return is yet to be determined. The decision to reopen will be based on gating criteria established by the Departments of Public Health.

These guidelines are being issued now so that you may have ample time to prepare to resume public worship. They contain both requirements and recommendations not only for public worship but for the ministry of Lay Eucharistic Visitors to those who are unable to attend.

In addition, I am revising the current direction regarding online parish worship effective on June 14, 2020, the second Sunday after Pentecost. Those congregations wishing to offer Sunday morning parish online worship may do so provided:

  1. It is a service that follows the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer.
  2. All requirements established by both myself and the Governor’s Badger Bounce Back Plan are observed.
  3. It is mindful of the theology of worship set forth in the Presiding Bishop’s Word to the Church.

We will continue to offer a diocesan service at 10:00 am on Sundays as a support to those congregations that are in search, do not yet have the technical capability to produce their own service, or simply choose to use this offering for their principal Sunday service. It can also be used in place of hiring supply clergy because of vacation schedules or illness.

Please note that permission to resume public worship does not constitute encouragement. I would commend to you the prayerful discernment of the rector and vestry of St. Christopher’s, River Hills for your consideration. You may find a copy of their letter to the Way Forward Task Force here. I believe times such as these require this sort of wise and thoughtful discernment.

May God continue to bless us as we go through this most interesting time.
 
Yours in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Steven Andrew Miller
Bishop of Milwaukee

Additional Resource:

Checklist from the Church Mutual Aid insurance company: Recommendations for a Safe Return to Public Worship

Response to Wisconsin Supreme Court Ruling from Bishop Miller

May 14, 2020

Our citizenship is in heaven and from it we await a Savior. (Philippians 3:20)
 
Dear Friends in Christ,
 
The verse quoted above came to me when I learned yesterday afternoon that the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the “Safer at Home” order issued by the Governor and the Department of Health Services. Watching the news this morning, my television screen was filled with pictures of people gathered in Wisconsin bars at anything but a safe social distance. In fact, our state now has a F rating for Social Distancing according to local news reports.

This particularly saddens me because over the last two weeks I have been working with our Way Forward Task Force* to produce a plan with appropriate protocols to reopen our churches once Phase One of the Badger Bounce Back plan is initiated. The Way Forward Task Force is a group of people I’ve assembled made up of medical professionals and diocesan clergy to examine data and advice from public health officials as well as other dioceses and judicatories. It is my hope that the task force will complete its work shortly so that congregations will have ample opportunity to prepare to resume public worship in accordance with these guidelines. My fear is that behaviors in the aftermath of this early opening in parts of our State will make it necessary to delay resuming public worship because of a renewed outbreak of COVID-19 cases at numbers that exhaust our health care resources.

I know some of you are very anxious to return to in person worship. I would remind you of those much cherished words of the Apostle Paul found in his first letter to the Corinthians, “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor. 13:4-8). In this situation, our love of our neighbor requires that all of us display these attributes of love now and as we move forward.

Because our citizenship is in heaven, the pastoral direction I issued on April 17 remains in force. Through May 31, churches in the diocese are not authorized to offer public worship. This court decision, and the subsequent response of many, may make it necessary for the safety of the members of the diocese to extend the pastoral direction for an even longer period of time.

My expectation, based on the advice of the task force, is that we will begin a phased re-opening for public worship 14 days after the initiation of Phase One of the Badger Bounce Back plan. I pray that day comes sooner rather than later.
 
Yours in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Steven Andrew Miller
Bishop of Milwaukee
 

*Members of the Way Forward Task Force:
Amy Dunlop, MSN, PPCNP-BC, APNP; the Rev. Dave Mowers; the Rev. Geoff Ward; James Mahoney, MD; the Rev. Jana Troutman-Miller; William Berger, MD; the Rev. Bill Dunlop; Bishop Steven A. Miller

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.

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