To the Members of the Dioceses of Eau Claire, Fond du Lac, and Milwaukee
Grace and peace to you in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ. We hope most of you have heard by now that the three Episcopal dioceses of Wisconsin have entered conversation about the possibility of returning to our roots and reuniting back into one diocese. In the 21st century, the church faces a changing landscape; our society is becoming increasingly secular and commitment to the church is no longer a given.
One way or another, the church must adapt to better engage the world with the resurrection hope we have in Jesus Christ. What worked in one generation will not automatically work as well in this one and generations to come. Jesus is the same from generation to generation, but how we are organized to faithfully bear witness to the kingdom of God he proclaimed and how we worship the triune God might well change.
At the end of 2020, the Rt. Rev. Jay Lambert of the Diocese of Eau Claire and the Rt. Rev. Steven Miller of the Diocese of Milwaukee both retired, which resulted in two of the three dioceses of Wisconsin being without bishops. That presented what seems like an opportunity to explore the future of the Episcopal Church in Wisconsin. Indeed, we believe the opportunity is providential. Might the Holy Spirit be inviting us to look afresh at being the church in our time? How might our combined assets – financial and human resources – be used to support each of our existing congregations and encourage the beginning of new congregations or communities that might look more or less like church as we know it? Or perhaps even communities of faith that look quite different from the church as we know it today? How might we be better public witnesses and agents of hope in Wisconsin? The time is right to look at these and other questions.
A steering committee has been formed as well as several task forces have been appointed to explore different aspects of a possible reunion. The task forces will be addressing many of the practical aspects of reunion, such as addressing the constitutions and canons, working through all the financial details, and the culture and mission of the Episcopal Church in Wisconsin. Each of those task forces will be soliciting input and participation from members of each diocese.
We will continue to update members of the diocese with information about the process and opportunities for you to participate in this discernment. We are currently building a website hub for you to learn more about and engage in the process. We will share that with you soon.
We urge you to be engaged and participate in this process of discernment. Most especially, we encourage you to pray. Steeping our discernment in prayer will better enable us to hear what the Holy Spirit is calling us to be.
Faithfully in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Matthew Gunter
Bishop of the Diocese of Fond du Lac
Bishop Provisional of the Diocese of Eau Claire
The Rt. Rev. Jeffery Lee
Bishop Provisional of the Diocese of Milwaukee
Here is one opportunity to participate in the trialogue, pursuing reunion as one Episcopal diocese in Wisconsin. The dioceses of Fond du Lac, Eau Claire and Milwaukee are exploring how reunification into one diocese can better equip us to be the church God is calling us to be in these times. A Steering Committee of representatives from each diocese is taking action to build connections and relationships exploring reunification. A first formal step is to form task forces to examine the possibilities.
Informal input began last Summer. Delegates to the diocesan convention last October participated in small discussion groups which generated great comments and questions about moving forward (read these here). Similar processes took place in the dioceses of Eau Claire and Milwaukee. An initial trialogue group, appointed by each diocesan governing board, reviewed this feedback and discovered a general desire to move towards a combined diocese. The potential to equip churches to be better in sharing the Gospel with one diocese was noted, but lack of clarity about how to do this was noted as well. A Steering Committee then developed a task force structure to begin work to address the questions related to reunification.
Task forces are being formed to examine various components of reunification including: Prayer; Parish and Regional Engagement; Culture and Mission; Location, Place, and Staffing; Finances; Constitution and Canons; and Communication. These will establish ways to involve more voices as ideas and proposals are developed (in-person or through technological means).
Those in the Diocese of Fond du Lac are invited to express their interest in serving on a task force. A description of each task force is provided on the interest page. After you share your interest, you can expect to be contacted to be involved by the end of February 2022.
When the Diocese of Wisconsin was formed in 1847, Bishop Jackson Kemper lived out the missionary spirit of the Church. He did so while working in a field rife with possibility and being God’s witness “in the wilderness.”
There is a type of wilderness today, and not one of geography. The world has changed, but will the church in this place? Can we form ourselves to be relevant? Can we use the resources God has provided to support the work of the Episcopal Church through local congregations?
The three Episcopal dioceses determined to pursue reunion as one diocese in Wisconsin to come together with a blank slate to create a new culture. Leaders from the Milwaukee, Fond du Lac and Eau Claire met in December to continue talks about reunification – to dream about what God wants us to do and take the steps to do it. This second meeting looked at ways to best involve people in the trialogue so we can begin to crystallize a direction and some action.
Delegates from each diocesan convention had provided thoughts, comments, and responses to the idea of reunion. There were a lot of questions about things we don’t yet know. Many comments reflected a general desire to move towards a combined diocese. The responses noted the potential of one diocese to equip churches to better share the Gospel. But there is a lack of clarity evident as to what that means. The trialogue has just started, so this was to be expected. The need for information is great to generate specific ideas or proposals as well as to have more informed questions and discussion.
Reflecting on many responses, the leaders at this second meeting recognized the pursuit will not be easy and is to be undergirded by prayer. Seeking to come together and do things in a different way will be a challenge in a variety of ways.
The purpose of the trialogue is to enable members of the three Episcopal dioceses in Wisconsin to explore how reunification into one diocese can better equip us to be the church God is calling us to be in these times. Work is beginning to shape how we can get to know each other better. There will be opportunities to learn more about each diocese and its people. These will help in building relationships and informing the discussion. As with any change, there will be more questions than answers to start.
The leaders, who were selected by each diocesan governing body, serve as the trialogue Steering Committee going forward. Its purpose is to take collaborative action to build connections and relationships exploring reunification.
The Steering Committee will establish task forces to examine various components of trialogue. These are: Prayer; Parish and Regional Engagement; Culture; Location, Place, and Staffing; Finances; Constitution and Canons; and Communication. Members of each diocese with experience, knowledge, or passion in each area are being called to participate. These task forces will establish ways to involve more voices as ideas and proposals are developed. This may involve in-person connections as well as technological ones.
Communication will be essential. To involve over 10,000 persons is an immense task. An interactive website as centralized source of information is being designed. There will be ways to interact with others, provide answers to frequently asked questions, and share your thoughts and ideas with the task forces. Stay tuned to diocesan communication channels to learn ways to be a part to better equip us to be the church God is calling us to be in these times.
The trialogue Steering Committee members are the Rev. Canon Kathleen Charles, Tim Donahue, the Rt. Rev. Matthew Gunter, the Rev. Canon Aaron Zook (Diocese of Eau Claire), the Rt. Rev. Matthew Gunter, Matthew Payne, Pat Pfeifer, the Rev. Canon Wilson Roane (Diocese of Fond du Lac), The Rev. Canon Scott Leannah, the Rt. Rev. Jeffrey Lee, the Rev. Jana Troutman-Miller, John Vogel (Diocese of Milwaukee).
Three Episcopal dioceses share a heritage of nearly 200 years after the Oneida brought the Episcopal Church to Wisconsin. Ministry and congregations were developed under the leadership of Bishop Jackson Kemper as missionary and diocesan bishop. More recently, the three dioceses worked cooperatively by co-hosting conferences, clergy gatherings and several other events.
The Milwaukee, Fond du Lac and Eau Claire dioceses have announced they are beginning to explore ways to deepen cooperation and coordination with each bishop and governing body providing their support. Each diocese is experiencing challenges of being the church in the 21st century while adapting to the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.
An initial leadership meeting will take place in September to discuss how congregations across Wisconsin might work more closely to best serve the witness and mission of the Episcopal Church. The focus will be how to be the body of Christ in this place and time. The meeting will consider how to best engage lay and ordained members of each diocese in future conversations.
The prayers of the Church and its members are asked to support this process.
Media Contact: Matthew P. Payne, firstname.lastname@example.org, (920) 830-8866.