East Central Synod of Wisconsin
Preparing to Return to Corporate Worship
           May 28, 2020

Dear Partners in Ministry,

Grace, mercy and peace to you in the name of Jesus.

This Sunday is the Feast of Pentecost when the disciples gathered in Jerusalem surrounded by devout people from many nations and the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the masses. Pentecost marks the birth of the Church. Sadly we celebrate the festival this year in the midst of a pandemic. 

I want you to know I long for the day when our congregations can safely return to corporate worship, when we can lift our voices in song and prayer. I miss being with congregations, greeting people and proclaiming the Good News of God. I know you also long for the day when we can gather in person and be physically together within our houses of worship.

I want to thank you for all you have done and will continue to do to keep our congregations healthy and vital places where we can live out the mission we have been given. Good ministry and care for people is being done in these difficult days.

I also write to encourage congregations to move forward cautiously and in a manner that upholds our Christian vocation to love our neighbor as ourselves. The virus continues to spread and we know that places where people gather for extended periods of time, like worship services, can contribute mightily to that spread.  Out of love and care for one another I encourage us to continue to listen to public health officials and follow the guidelines for returning to worship.

Therefore as congregations consider returning to worship, I would recommend a congregational task force be formed to aid the leadership in preparing for in-person worship . I know some such task forces in place already but many others would benefit from this work.
There are many logistics that need to be discussed and given careful attention to ensure a safe return to in-person worship. Although wearing a mask and maintaining proper social distancing are good places to start, we must remain cognizant about state, county, and municipal health officials’ recommendations. We as the church, have a moral obligation to protect our neighbors and do everything we can to ensure that our church buildings are places where everyone, not just the least vulnerable to this virus, can gather safely.  Although an exact date cannot be placed on the time we would recommend to return to in-person worship , we can start preparing now so we are ready to care for our communities and create worship spaces that are safe for everyone.
A task force that can dedicate the time and energy necessary to properly evaluate the safety conditions of the community and the worship building. We in this office are prepared to walk with the congregational task forces in providing information and guidance. Once our congregational task forces are in place, we will be inviting each task force to a webinar hosted by the synod office towards the end of June . This webinar will cover information from public health officials regionalized within the synod, information from the Wisconsin Council of Churches, and the ELCA recommendations for returning to in-person worship. Task force members will have an opportunity to ask questions, and learn how to begin the process of creating a plan to return to in-person worship.
I understand the desire to return to our church buildings and gather for worship as soon as possible, but we must not return without a plan and proper safety protocols. Even then, we must remain attentive to the environmental situation the virus is causing. We are currently in Phase One of the Badger Bounce Back Plan which recommends gatherings of 10 or less people.  While Phase Two would allow for gatherings up to 50, there are many issues to think through before proceeding. We have been blessed with an opportunity to prepare and I encourage us to make the most of this time.

Attached to this letter is a guide to forming a task force and the recommended responsibilities of that task force. Further communication will be sent out from this office inviting task force members and congregational leaders to a webinar regarding returning to worship.

In Christ’s love and peace,

Bishop Gerald Mansholt

Bishop Mansholt's statement may also be found on our website here.

East Central Synod of Wisconsin | www.ecsw.org