When will we be worshiping inside of our church?

The First Lutheran congregation council has been wrestling with this question for several months now, and we still don’t know much about moving back inside the church. While we have sought reliable information from local and national health officials, we have decided to delay moving services back inside due to lack of guidance from health officials. We should rely on science, not on what others are doing. Just because malls, stores and restaurants have opened, it doesn’t mean that we must reopen. And very, very few churches have reopened for indoor services.

We know, according to health officials, that fresh outdoor air, face masks and social distancing seems to be about the safest way for groups of people to gather.

We do have special considerations due to the way our building is built. Part of the current science isn’t settled yet on whether having ample fresh air inside a building to minimize virus transmission is an adequate substitute along with face masks and social spacing of those inside a building for safe gatherings. We do have lots of space inside where we might be able to do social distancing with face masks, but we don’t have an air conditioning and/or heating duct system. Exhausting stale air from our sanctuary and bringing in fresh air is a big problem without a good answer. The ceiling fans in the sanctuary basically move the existing air around without bringing in fresh air. The windows in the sanctuary are small, and really don’t do much in exhausting old air and bringing in fresh air. If we had a duct system, it could be used or modified for exhaust air and fresh air exchanging, but there is not such a system in our building.

Due to the inability to change the stale air with fresh air inside, we need to move very slowly until such time health officials tell us that there is little to no concern about stale air inside a hot water heated church building with very small openable windows in the sanctuary area. Outdoors has plenty of fresh air. That is not the case indoors. We could meet in person outside until it gets too cold in the fall, if we wish to do so. It seems that is the best of the very few choices we have available to us now. We don’t expect to have any new guidance anytime soon. Nor do we expect to bring live services indoors anytime soon.

That brings us to continuing outdoor services.  We did have a worship service out in the courtyard last Sunday and it was hot and sunny that morning.  You can see a recording of the July 5th worship service HERE at our website.  

We have investigated the possibility of putting up a canopy or canopies (a larger tent without side walls…only a roof to provide shade from the sun). Such a canopy system could be used outdoors well into the fall, if necessary. A canopy system would cover about a 20 x 40 foot area, which is most of the courtyard and it would allow us to practice social distancing for a worship service with up to about 50 attendees. Prior to the stay at home orders, 50 attendees would have been a very large number of members and guests at First for a regular worship service.

There are two paths we could follow for installing a canopy/tent at First. One is to rent and the other is to buy. The rental charges to deliver, set up and tear down a 20 x 40 tent/canopy would be about $600 to $900 per week or about $1000 to $1500 per month depending on which available rental style would work on our site. That cost does not include the cost of city permits of about $50 per session.

If we were to buy canopies/tents and put them up ourselves, the cost to buy the tents is about $350 for a 20 x 20 foot version at Menards. We would need 2 of these tents to meet our needs, and they could be set up for several months, if we wished to do so. They could also be taken down and used for other events when needed in the future. We would also need to purchase anchoring materials for these tents (about $100-$150) and would still have the city permit cost of about $50. So all totaled, we would have just under $1000 for a canopy set we would own. The city of West Allis seems to want to work with us and have a way to charge a one time tent permit fee of $50 or so for the rest of the season. Click HERE for a link to the canopies under current consideration.

The cost for installing a canopy/tent is something we didn’t plan for in our current budget, just as many of the other minor modifications and technology purchases we have made during the past few months to continue making available recorded worship services and to hold group meetings online. This one is a bigger one, and we are looking for comments and for additional financial support from members to make an outdoor worshiping experience as comfortable and pleasant as possible.

One additional thing you should know. When we were painting the orange dots on the lawn indicating 6 foot distancing marks, a neighbor stopped by and asked what we were doing. We explained we were setting up for an outdoor Sunday service and she showed interest in attending. When we were taking down the equipment from last weekend’s service, a passing motorist pulled up and asked if we were holding church again. We explained that he had just missed the outdoor service. Again, he showed some interest in attending a future service.

A tent on the church lawn would certainly be an attention-getter for neighbors and passers by. And if we added a sign hung from the tent announcing future service times, I think we may have a few neighborhood visitors attend future outdoor services.

So, what do you think? Should we proceed with raising funds for a canopy system purchase while planning to hold services outdoors for the next few months and/or until we have clear guidance on indoor worship from health officials? We would love to hear from you!

First Lutheran Executive Committee

Heidi Leiser, President

414-771-4469 (phone or text)


Colleen Siarnicki, Vice President

414-852-2097(phone or text)


Lori Marquez, Secretary

414-531-1063(phone or text)


Dave Grulke, Treasurer

414-688-6895 (phone or text)