As the weather turns colder and the pandemic continues to restrict our ability to gather for worship and other activities, we recognize that congregations are revisiting decisions previously made about when and how to gather safely. As we do this, I’d like to lift up several things for consideration.

  1. Engage in conversations with curiosity and compassion. We are all being forced to make difficult decisions in an environment in which public health information, political tension, and individual preferences cloud our conversations. Please recognize that our pastors, deacons, and leaders are under a great amount of stress as we try to lead and serve. Ask questions before making judgments and seek to shape all our considerations with love for one another.
  2. Recognize that all the counties of this synod are experiencing a significant rise in positive COVID-19 test results and hospitalizations (Wisconsin Department of Health Services). This is not surprising, given the increase in indoor activity and the return to in person attendance in schools of all levels.
  3. The bishop’s office recently conducted a survey, asking pastors serving in the synod to respond to questions regarding their worship practices, feelings of connection, and financial needs as we enter the seventh month of the Coronavirus pandemic. We received responses from 89 congregations, or 74%. A few results worth noting:
    1. “How is your congregation worshipping?” (some chose more than one option)
      37% Indoor, in-person (with seating restrictions, masks, etc.)
      59% Outdoors (drive-in or green space)
      87% Online (livestreamed or pre-recorded)
      12% Other (telephone, printed materials in the mail, etc.)
    2. “Do you offer communion?”
      82% Yes / 18% No
      77% In person
      26% Take home
      42% Online

    In addition, 44% of congregations reported that they were in a position to “respond with generosity to ministry needs in the synod” and 17 congregations requested financial assistance to support upgrades in technology to strengthen their ability to provide worship and/or to respond to food or housing needs of individuals and families. We are grateful that we are able to respond positively to each request for assistance, and we will be sharing other opportunities for those who are in a position to be generous in the near future.

  4. The Wisconsin Council of Churches has just released additional guidance for those who are exploring indoor, in person worship. Please note that they are still discouraging this, but if congregations are wanting to explore indoor gatherings, these guidelines are important to follow.
  5. We will be hosting two online zoom conversations for pastors, deacons, and council leaders to engage in conversations with others as you seek to make faithful and responsible decisions. These will be held on Tuesday, October 6 and Thursday, October 8, from 6:30-8:00 pm. The link for these meetings will be sent to all pastors and deacons next week.

These are challenging, unprecedented times, and, to put it simply, there are no perfect, risk-free options available. As we try to make the best decisions possible that will help us get through these coming months, I pray we will be guided by Paul’s words to the church in Colossae: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:12-14)

Thanks for continuing to be church together,
Bishop Paul Erickson

© 2017 Greater Milwaukee Synod

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