Friends in Christ,
On October 8, in response to Gov. Evers’ executive order limiting the size of gatherings in Wisconsin, I released a message stating, “While religious organizations are legally exempt from this order, I am strongly urging all our congregations to refrain from gathering indoors for worship and other activities until mid-November at the earliest.” Since then, we have seen a continued surge in the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in every county of our synod and across the state.
Yesterday, Gov. Evers issued a new executive order, urging all Wisconsinites to stay home as much as possible and avoid gatherings with people not part of your immediate family and household. While this order is advisory and not mandatory, I believe it is prudent and wise for the congregations of our synod to follow it. I therefore am strongly urging all congregations of the Greater Milwaukee Synod to discontinue indoor gatherings for worship or other activities until at least January 2021.
I recognize that the vast majority of our congregations have been following this guidance, and I am grateful for your willingness to work together and participate in the efforts to slow the spread of this dangerous virus. I am also aware of several congregations that are continuing to gather for worship indoors. While these congregations may well be following guidelines regarding the wearing of masks, physical distancing, and other safety protocols, and while these congregations may not be aware of any COVID-related spread or outbreaks in their community, I believe the risks involved in gathering far outweigh the benefits. I urge you to reconsider the decision to gather indoors at least until the start of the new year.
When this pandemic began earlier this year, few among us could have known how long this would last and the kinds of decisions and sacrifices we would be asked to make. And now, as we prepare for a holiday season that will be unlike any we have experienced, I am well aware of the challenges and disappointments that continue to fill our lives. And yet, we are not without hope. There is promising news of an effective vaccine that may be widely available in the spring of 2021. As people of faith, we cling to the hope we have in the promises of Christ. This coming season of Advent can be a rich time of reflection and prayer, as we dwell in the silence and the longing of this season of waiting. Across our synod, congregations are experimenting with simple and creative ways to connect people to the promises of Advent and Christmas, even when we can’t physically be together. In the words of one of my favorite Advent hymns, “Yet I believe beyond believing that life can spring from death, that growth can flower from our grieving, that we can catch our breath and turn transfixed by faith.” (Each Winter As the Year Grows Older, ELW 252, verse 3).
In hope and love,
Bishop Paul Erickson