Dear friends and colleagues,
As you well know, yesterday the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a decision striking down the Governor’s safer-at-home order, thus lifting restrictions on businesses and public gatherings. The court did not challenge the wisdom or medical prudence of the Badger Bounce Back plan. The “lifting of restrictions” ruling came as a response to a legal challenge arguing that the Executive branch of our state government does not have unilateral authority to mandate the safer-at-home order. Additionally, the Court urged our state legislature to work with the Department of Health Services to avoid the potential chaos and health devastation of a reckless and uncontrolled reopening.
In consultation with the Wisconsin Council of Churches (read WCC Wednesday evening press release) and in solidarity with our denominational partners across the state, we continue to recommend that UCC congregations not resume in-person worship or other activities in our church buildings until the public health gating requirements are met, as set forth in the Badger Bounce Back plan. Yesterday new cases were up again, and we have not yet met the criteria for moving into phase 1 of the plan. Phase 2 would allow for gatherings of up to 50 people with social distancing and health precaution protocols in place. This will likely take several more weeks. I encourage you to continue to provide online worship services and to prepare for the eventual easing back in a hybrid fashion (incorporating both in-person and online gatherings).
Sisters and brothers, I plead with you — please resist any inclination to make this a partisan issue. We are already fighting the most devastating pandemic of our lifetimes; we cannot afford to fight with each other. We all empathize with the economic struggles that shuttered businesses are encountering. At the same time, this is about the safety and well-being of our beloved people, many of whom are particularly vulnerable due to age or pre-existing conditions. While our state has been hit hard, we are making progress precisely because the safer-at-home policy has been in place.
This is not the first time God’s people have been asked to “stay the course” through a difficult stretch. Our biblical ancestors endured slavery in Egypt, 40 years of desert meandering, captivity in Babylon, and persecution in proclaiming the risen Christ. Yet they patiently and painstakingly stayed the course. Throughout history, when humanity has faced our biggest challenges, we have set aside our individual desires and prioritized the collective needs of our society. This will not last forever, and we will make it through to the other side!
Our highest calling is to love one another. We may not always agree, but we dare not fail to love each other, for God’s sake and for the sake of our future. Let us continue to spiritually surround all who grieve, those who suffer the effects of covid-19, the many valiant front line workers and all who feel the pain of isolation, stress and economic fragility.
I invite you to lean on our Conference Staff for support. We send heartfelt prayers and love to you, and know that this is a tough chapter. God bless you and keep you, and know that we care deeply.