News & Messages

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 Please keep in mind that this permission is not encouragement and may be rescinded if a significant spike in cases occurs.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

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

123