Plymouth's COVID-19 Response

May 4, 2021

Greetings Plymouth family,

It has been more than 14 months since the pandemic took hold. All of us at Plymouth have experienced a year of trauma and tumult in our daily lives with all kinds of loss, including not being able to gather as usual for worship and church business. Living with the presence of COVID is still an on-going challenge. We all want to return to “normal,” but we must do that safely or we risk resurgence of the virus.

While we have needed to be mostly remote these past months, knowing the importance for our community to stay connected, Plymouth lay leaders and staff worked together to create in-person opportunities:

  • Pastor Stephen’s farewell service in the courtyard

  • Call Sunday for Pastor Teresa Howell-Smith

  • BOOM’s Halloween and 3rd Saturday food collections and visits in the courtyard

  • Outdoor worship at the lighthouse on Christmas Eve, Easter morning, and now the 1st Sundays through Summer.

For the same reason, we will be holding our next Congregational meeting on Sunday, May 16th, in a hybrid format like Call Sunday: limited attendance in the sanctuary with remote access via Zoom phone or video conference. Worship will be on Facebook and YouTube as usual; just the meeting will have an in-person option.

Registration is required to attend the meeting in-person. You may sign up at

Thanks to the vaccines and reducing level of infection, we will soon be able to partially open for limited numbers to worship in the sanctuary and some small group meetings in the building. This letter, developed by Church Council with the Re-Opening Committee and Staff, is to outline the current plan to gradually re-open. We will keep an abbreviated version of these points going forward in the Enews, for your reference.

Thanks also to our new live-streaming capabilities in the sanctuary, an extensive project spearheaded by Bill Cumming and Deacons, we will be able to broadcast worship from the sanctuary to be viewed remotely on Facebook and YouTube as it happens.

With these factors combined, we are planning a return to limited in-person worship on Sunday, June 13th, enabling a small group of 25 people to be in the Sanctuary and live-streamed on Facebook and YouTube for those not in-person. The hope is that we can continue reduced capacity in-person worship 3 Sundays a month through the Summer, keeping 1st Sundays outdoors at the North Point Lighthouse in Lake Park. Hopefully the pandemic risk will be reduced enough for us to increase attendance come Fall. This is a tentative plan and may still change based on the following criteria.

The following are guidelines from “A Returning to Church” supplement, from the Wisconsin Council of Churches April 16, 2021:

You can see from last week’s WI stats (in red above) that we are in between “Unsafe to Gather” and “Make it Safer.”

So how do we (gradually) resume in-person worship and use of the Church building with a mixture of vaccinated and unvaccinated people?

  1. We will follow the Milwaukee Public Health Department guidelines: including masking and social distancing regardless of the number of parishioners/attendees.

  1. The CDC recommends even fully vaccinated people stay away from medium and large groups. The vaccines, while very effective do not confer immunity to 100% of those who have received it. There are many variables including our own body’s physiology.

We will reduce our risk by following these recommendations:

When worshiping indoors, for the foreseeable future, there will be no congregational singing:

  1. We will limit the number of people singing to a cantor or small ensemble or worship team—at least 16 feet away from the congregation, this assembly all having been vaccinated.

  1. Use microphones for the cantor and other worship leaders to limit the need for vocal projection.

Sometimes less is more, however, in the case of COVID-19, the more of the above options we can layer together the better we can mitigate our risks.

These are especially important as we attempt to follow the “Safer” Guidelines as outlined in Table 1.

For the partially in-person Congregational Meeting and when we began limited in-person worship and small meetings, our safety measures will include, but not be limited to these practices:

  1. Please get vaccinated! Plymouth encourages congregants to get the vaccine and will continue to include basic info in our E-news.

  1. We will follow Milwaukee Public Health Dept. Guidelines on the use of building including:

    1. Limiting the number of people allowed to gather to small groups (< 50 for worship, <15 for meetings). Including staff and worship leaders in the count, we will begin with 25 registration slots for in-person services in the sanctuary and increase as guidelines allow.

    2. Marking safe distances and paths for entry and exit from the sanctuary to limit contact.

    3. Providing appropriate signage.

    4. Working with our custodian to maintain cleanliness of high touch surfaces.

    5. Providing hand sanitizing stations.

  1. Asking our ushers to screen people who choose to attend in person, including a self-screening questionnaire and temperature scan.

  1. We will welcome you warmly, BUT CANNOT as yet return to hugs and handshakes.

  2. Those using the space will be asked to stay in designated areas. For example, those attending worship may be in the sanctuary and use the Commons restrooms, but not go down to the kitchen or up to Graham Chapel.

Requests for Plymouth Groups / Committees returning to meet in-person in our building:

  • For now we ask for at least a week’s notice for a request to meet in the building.

  • Please email meeting room space requests to Crystal and also to Pastor Teresa

  • Please include basic info of the meeting or gathering: date/time, number attending, contact person info, etc.

  • Please understand that each group will be asked to follow certain protocols, there are many reasons for this namely: safety, planning, cleaning, and shared use of space with Milestones-- we must consider the staff and children.

The Re-Opening Committee will also establish a methodology for Contact Tracing in the event we find someone who attended worship has been exposed to the virus.

The newer COVID variants are expected to become predominant in Wisconsin, as they have in other parts of the country. Many of the variants appear to be more infectious, more severe, and more easily transmissible to younger people than the original virus. All that being said, we know that masks, social/physical distancing, and other basic public health measures like frequent hand washing remain highly effective against these variants.

The Wisconsin Council of Churches stated, “It is vital that congregations continue to monitor daily positive case rates and are prepared to return to virtual options if case rates increase.” The Re-Opening Committee will create a step-back plan or step-down gathering sizes if the number of cases exceeds “Safer” levels as outlined in Table 1.

As Chair of the Re-Opening Committee, I hope that you will embrace our plan

  • for a hybrid Congregational Meeting on May 16th,

  • to meet outdoors at the North Point Lighthouse in Lake Park on the 1st Sundays this Summer, and

  • to open in mid-June to limited in-person worship in the Sanctuary the other Sundays.

Yours in Faith,

Luci Klebar
with Pastor Teresa and Staff, Moderator Heather, Chair of Deacons Sachin, the Re-Opening Committee, and all of Plymouth Council

June 12, 2020

Dear Friends,

The Reopening Committee has been meeting regularly to review the ongoing developments and criteria for returning to worship. All of us are looking forward to the day we can worship together again. We continue to follow the Badger Bounce Back Plan ("BBBP") and the guidance from the Wisconsin Council of Churches (“WCC”). The Reopening Committee is also monitoring City and County guidelines and criteria, but the WI Conference of the UCC recommends we follow the BBBP and the WCC frameworks for reopening.

Here's where we are:

  • Under the BBBP, we are currently in the Stay-At-Home phase. To reach Phase 1, all the gating criteria must be met.

  • To reach Phase 2, all gating criteria must be maintained for at least two weeks after we reach Phase 1. To reach Phase 3, all gating criteria must be maintained for at least two weeks after we reach Phase 2.

  • We will not return to in-person worship until we are in Phase 3 under the BBBP.

  • When we return, we will have additional precautions and safety considerations. For example--we will require worshipers to wear masks, sit 6 feet apart from those not in the same household, eliminate coffee hour, etc. Worship will look different.

  • It is likely that the path to Phase 3 will not be a straight line. There will be setbacks, new waves, and changes. We will adjust as those changes come.

Here's what you might be wondering:

Q: I'm over 60 or have a complicating medical concern. Will I be refused if I want to come to worship despite my higher risk?

A: No. We do not intend to exclude people who are older or who may be at a higher risk of serious illness if they contract COVID-19. Each person can make their own decision about the risks of being in worship with others. However, those who are feeling ill or who believe they have been exposed to the virus must stay home.

Q: Will masks be required when we return to worshiping in the sanctuary?

A: Yes. Each worshiper should bring their own mask. Plymouth will have a few extras available for those who do not have one.

Q: Will we be able to sing during worship?

A: Not yet. Singing causes the droplets in our mouths to be aerosolized, which causes them to travel farther and stay in the air longer. Together with the Board of Deacons, we’ll be looking for creative ways to present hymns and other music while still minimizing our risk of exposure. For more information, here is the Wisconsin Council of Churches’ statement on Church Music During COVID-19.

Q: Can we have worship outside?

A: Probably not. The mayor’s office has acknowledged that some congregations are currently doing this and exceeding the amount currently allowed for religious gatherings (fewer than 10), and they don't recommend it. Even if we find a place to space out far enough to make such a gathering safe, we would also have the potential of other people entering our space. That makes outdoor worship less safe, and still puts our staff at risk.

Q: Well, is there any other way we can connect with our Plymouth family?

A: Glad you asked! The Deacons are working on a plan to put together neighborhood-based gatherings modeled on the Bon Appetit dinners. Those interested can fill out a form to indicate that they want to either host or participate. More info to come from Deacons after we reach Phase 1.

Q: When can I meet with my small group at Plymouth?

A: We anticipate that small groups may be able to meet at Plymouth once we enter Phase 2. Each group will have to follow a schedule to allow for thorough cleaning after the meeting, and all members of the group will be required to follow safety precautions (social distancing, wearing masks, etc.)

Q: I'm not ready to come back, even after we reach Phase 3. Will worship still be online?

A: Yes! A subcommittee of the Board of Deacons is looking into options for streaming our services once we begin meeting in person. Look for more information in the Fall.

Thank you for your patience while we learn to live with these new circumstances. May you remember that we’re not asked to do it alone, as we know from Isaiah 43:1-5

“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.

I’ve called your name. You’re mine.

When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.

When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.

When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end—

So don’t be afraid: I’m with you."

Yours in faith,

The Re-opening Committee - Amanda, Crystal, Donna, Jim, Katie, and Pastor Stephen

May 2020

Never having faced a situation like this pandemic before, we have all been struggling with the question of "what happens next?" To that end, Plymouth's Church Council has established a Re-opening Committee which meets on a regular basis to discuss the use of our building for Plymouth activities as well as outside groups, and to make recommendations to the Council.

As we work to balance the needs of our community and congregation, we take guidance from the Wisconsin Council of Churches. "The minimum requirements of the law are not necessarily the mark by which the Church should measure its behavior," said Rev. Kerri Parker, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches. "Instead, we are guided by pastoral and prudential concerns; our commitment to love God and to care for one another. This is one of the deepest lessons Jesus Christ taught his followers, and of critical importance in this moment of communal vulnerability." The Committee is grateful for the guidance from the WCC, state and national United Church of Christ (UCC) leaders, and health professionals. We aim to chart a course that is right for Plymouth--taking precautions to ensure the safety of our members and friends, while continuing to extend an extravagant welcome.

We will continue to be in conversation with all parties and keep the congregation apprised of the plans as we go forward.

Yours in faith,

The Re-opening Committee

March 2020

Dear beloved siblings of the church family that is Plymouth,

Our prayers are with you all as our world faces this devastating moment in human history.

This message seeks to bring you up to date with what is happening (and not happening) here at Plymouth. Because of recommendations from the Trump administration and a declaration from Wisconsin's Governor Evers: we will suspend all in-person worship services and all study groups, committee meetings, music rehearsals, and social events. (Per their own policies, Milestones daycare is closed, UW-Milwaukee has suspended classes, and various rental groups are choosing to not meet.) It is important that we all follow the social distancing that is necessary to avoid exposure to the virus.

Wisconsin Conference Minister, Rev. Franz Rigert, in a letter sent this week reminds us that "Social distancing does not mean spiritual distancing. We will be sharing online and on Facebook and I hope that if you desire to have a conversation, that you give us a call. We are actively exploring how we can connect differently - online and beyond - to stay connected in ways that foster hope and reassurance." That is true for the Conference and it is true for Plymouth.

I am reminded of an older hymn that isn't in most of our hymnals anymore. It has some old-fashioned words and phrases, but I hope you receive the truth of its message. Written by Thomas Moore in 1816 - "Come, you disconsolate, where'er you languish, come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel! Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish: Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal."

We will be hosting a watch party of the worship service on our Facebook page on Sunday morning at 9:30. We're hoping this provides a sense of comfort during this difficult time.

Lastly, call us if there is anything that you need. Be wise. Be careful. Work from home. And remember that you are not alone. We are with you in Spirit. God is with you in every breath. Be well.

Rev. Stephen Welch