As faith leaders, we are working to find the safest path forward for reopening our congregation buildings and resuming in-person gatherings.

While this is not the choice everyone is making in our area, we believe it is the safest choice.

We believe the ministries we offer are essential; they are life-giving, soul-nurturing, and heart-healing for many in our beloved communities. Yet, many of our essential services need not be offered in-person. We are reaching out by phone, text message, letters, cards, social media, drive-in radio services, drive-thru physically-distant prayer, and online streaming worship, scripture study, and meetings. Our faith communities are open, although our buildings closed and gatherings physically distant until it is safe to be together again.

We believe our purpose as faith communities is a calling beyond ourselves—beyond our wishes to something greater—to our God, our values, and our fellow human beings. Many of whom are at risk of contracting  COVID-19 if we do not exercise caution.

The Wisconsin Council of Churches has provided thoughtful guidance, which follows a phased approach based on the gating criteria of the Badger Bounce-Back Plan. Despite that plan no longer being legally enforceable, our congregations continue to support the spirit of that guidance.

Therefore, we commit to the following actions:

*Offering services to all who need the care and support of a loving faith community, especially in these trying times.

*Faithfully discerning the risks of gathering in person and revisit our plans and change them as needed.

*Recognizing our different religious and denominational structures, and ultimately, we might make different choices about how and when to re-gather.

*Supporting and challenging each other to the highest possible good for our community.

*Praying for our healthcare providers, essential workers, and community leaders.

*Advocating for the Appleton Health Department to provide regular, clear guidelines about the risks of particular activities and how to mitigate those risks if possible. We request all necessary information to be made available so we may freely make scientifically-informed decisions.

We recognize and respect that our government officials want to avoid any pretense of limiting religious freedom. The freedom we seek is the freedom to care for our community, not merely freedom from external restriction.

We believe that by faith, we are called to share in the abundance of God’s love by taking caring action and making personal sacrifices to help our community be safe, heal, and thrive.

Sincerely,

Rev. Christina Leone-Tracy, Fox Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship – Appleton, writing on behalf of:

Rev. Leah Ongiri, Fox Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship – Appleton

Rev. Dr. Michael Goodwin, Memorial Presbyterian Church – Appleton

Pastor Catherine Burnette, Zion Lutheran Church (ELCA) – Appleton

Pastor Jeff Tengesdal & Pastor Mary Bauer, First English Lutheran Church (ELCA) – Appleton

Pastor Brian Bankert, Trinity Lutheran Church (ELCA) – Appleton

Pastor Kurt Hoffman, Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church (ELCA) – Appleton

Rev. Steve Savides & Rev. Nick Hatch, First Congregational Church (UCC) – Appleton

Pastor Bob Wilkinson, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church (ELCA) – Neenah

Rev. Kimbrel Johnson, Senior Pastor, First Presbyterian Church – Neenah

Pastor Jen Christenson, Christus Lutheran Church (ELCA) – Greenville

Pastor Dara Clifford & Pastor Nate Gauerke, Christ the King Lutheran Church (ELCA) – Combined Locks