“Working for a spirit of unity while maintaining the unity of the Spirit.” This is a phrase that my peer in Illinois Conference, Chuck Neufeld, uses as he ministers as the conference minister in that setting.

All of us recognize that we have different beginning points for many of our decision-making efforts. We also have differing experiences that influence our priorities and emphases. But as Christians, we also have the same center for our life together — Jesus Christ. If Christ is our center, then, as the writer to the Ephesians says in Chapter 4:1-3, “I…beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” With Christ as our center we have the possibility of being charitable toward one another, even when we disagree. We have the possibility of being united even though some of our beliefs and practices may not be uniform.

As plans unfold for the national conference next summer in Phoenix, there continues to be an evolving understanding of the climate toward immigrants in the state of Arizona. Nevertheless, there is a spirit of unity being exhibited among the Hispanic portion of our church as they approach this opportunity from differing vantage points. Some will be refraining from attending out of a fear of police profiling. Others may attend to voice their disapproval for the way immigrants are being treated not only in Arizona but elsewhere in this country.

And there is also a spirit of grace and generosity being offered by our Hispanic brothers and sisters toward the rest of the church in the differing ways that people are deciding on whether or not to go to Phoenix. Plans are being made for possible alternate gathering sites for some who may want to participate vicariously (through live feeds of portions of the meeting) in scattered locations. There is the acknowledgement that we see this opportunity very differently. We are making decisions according to our Spirit-led convictions. At the same time we are seeking to maintain the unity of the Spirit by making our differing decisions as part of one church.

Could it be that this experience at being the church when we passionately disagree could be a template for other occasions when we do not immediately see issues from the same perspective? Can we give one another grace to continue to be our Christian brother or sister even when our actions are so widely different? The unity of the Spirit is not something we aspire to — that is a given, a gift from God. But our part is working for a spirit of unity while maintaining the unity of the Spirit. If God has given us the unity of the Spirit, can we do no less than pledge our best efforts toward maintaining that God-given gift? Grace and peace to you as we work together on this noble effort!