Three Wisconsin dioceses move toward possible reunion votes at October conventions

Bishop Sean Rowe, bishop of the Diocese of Northwest Pennsylvania and bishop provisional of the Diocese of Western New York, speaks to the Wisconsin dioceses last January on adaptive leadership and change.

Leaders of the Episcopal Wisconsin Trialogue steering committee, representing the state’s three dioceses, say that the next several months will be pivotal in the discernment process that began in the fall of 2021 and involves 58 leaders from across the dioceses of Milwaukee, Fond du Lac and Eau Claire.

“We’re seeing the fruits of the labor of so many faithful Wisconsinites,” Bishop Matt Gunter of Fond du Lac and Eau Claire said. “With God’s grace, we are finding our way toward better being the church that God is calling us to be.”

This spring, the steering committee received reports from several of the seven task forces that were formed last spring. Their work will help the steering committee decide whether to recommend reunion to the standing committees of all three dioceses. If they do, and the standing committees agree, a vote on reunion will be placed on the agendas of the three diocesan conventions that will meet on Oct. 21.

Some of the task forces are working to address the structural and financial questions raised by the prospect of reunion, while other groups are assessing readiness to form closer relationships and collaborations.

The Culture and Mission Task Force has reviewed and analyzed feedback provided by hundreds of participants at last fall’s diocesan conventions. It also used feedback from congregations across the state that have held conversations using materials developed by the Parish and Regional Engagement Task Force.

“We dream of a multi-generational church in Wisconsin,” the Rev. Jane Johnson of Fond du Lac, a co-facilitator of the Culture and Mission Task Force, said. “A bigger diocese means more perspectives. People are longing to listen to different collective voices, hear their experiences and bring them to our life together and our work to create a more embracing and inclusive culture.”

For its part, the Finance Task Force, facilitated by Caroline Senn, chief financial officer in the Diocese of Milwaukee, has produced several models of a diocesan revenue plan for the Steering Committee to consider. Along the way, the Finance Task Force and Structure Task Force have collaborated so that the staffing plan for a possible new diocese can be aligned with various revenue options.

An interim report from the Structure Task Force, published last fall, explored what infrastructure a new diocese would need to accomplish its mission. “[A] diocesan community exists to encourage and assist congregations in their development of local Christian ministry and community,” it reads, going on to say that congregations thrive when they are “incarnational, discipleship-oriented, and apostolic.” The Structure Task Force recently presented its final report to the Steering Committee.

At a day-long, in-person meeting on April 15, the Steering Committee will review the work of the Finance, Structure, and Culture and Mission Task Forces. The meeting will take place at Beloved Community in Stevens Point, the Fond du Lac parish that is closest to the geographic center of the state. Based on the outcome of that meeting, the Constitution and Canons Task Force may be asked to develop draft canons for a reunified diocese.

“As we talk about the structure and finances of a new diocese, we’re learning about the cultures and histories of each diocese and the expectations that we have for our dioceses and our bishops,” Tim Donahue, a Steering Committee member from the Diocese of Eau Claire, said. “The relationships we are forming will help us continue working together in the future, whether we decide to reunify or not.”

“The future of God’s mission in the Episcopal Church in Wisconsin is strong,” the Rev. Jana Troutman-Miller, president of the Diocese of Milwaukee’s standing committee and a member of the Steering Committee. “The Trialogue is showing us new possibilities for shared ministry and a common vision, and I am grateful to be on the journey.”

Trialogue news updates compiled by the Communication Task Force and resources from the Prayer and Discernment Task Force are available on the Trialogue website and Facebook page.

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