Three dioceses of The Episcopal Church in Wisconsin are one step closer to merging into one regional body, which could be finalized at the denominational level next year.
The Episcopal dioceses of Milwaukee, Fond du Lac and Eau Claire each voted separately last Saturday to approve a resolution to make a final vote to merge during the 2024 Easter season.
The measure is sometimes called a “reunification,” as the three regional bodies were descended from one diocese created for Wisconsin in 1847.
According to an announcement from the Episcopal Wisconsin Trialogue, the resolution passed the Eau Claire annual convention with 91.5% of the vote and the Milwaukee annual convention with 92% in favor.
For the Fond du Lac annual convention, the regional body leadership held a roll call vote for the resolution, with 61.2% of the diocese’s lay delegates and 76% of its clergy voting yes.
“Each diocesan convention met on the same day in different locations. The Diocese of Eau Claire voted first, followed several hours later by the Diocese of Fond du Lac and, shortly thereafter, the Diocese of Milwaukee,” explains the EWT.
“The final vote on reunion will take place next year at a special joint convention in late April or early May. If the reunion is approved, the dioceses will ask for the consent of both houses of General Convention in June.”
The resolution allows for the Trialogue Steering Committee to continue its work in pursuing the unification of the three dioceses, with a final reunification plan expected to be completed next February.
According to the EWT website, talks for a reunion of the three dioceses began in 2021, with a steering committee convening task forces to better explore the issue last year.
Fond du Lac Bishop Matt Gunter said in an April 2022 video that “the world is changing” and “the Church, as we are right now, is not ready to engage with the realities and the people shaped by them.”
“We need to adapt,” Gunter said. “With two of the bishops of the dioceses in Wisconsin retiring at the end of 2020, we have an opportunity to take a fresh look at how we are organized.”
“To become one diocese, not just to create a bigger version of what we have been, but to look at what it might mean to reconfigure ourselves and organize ourselves as a diocese, so that we can be about mission.”
Last year, the mainline denomination approved the reunion of the Episcopal Church in North Texas, formerly known as the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, and the Episcopal Diocese of Texas.
That merger came after the Anglican Church in North America secured control of The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth after many years of litigation, resulting in ECNTX losing much of its financial assets and historic buildings.
These reunifications are coming as the Episcopal Church has been experiencing a yearslong decline in baptized members, regular worship attendance and member congregations.
According to a report released last month, the Episcopal Church had approximately 1.58 million baptized members and 6,789 member congregations in 2022, both smaller than the 1.678 million baptized members and 6,806 member congregations reported in 2021.
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