My brothers and sisters, clergy and laity – the beautiful people of Wisconsin – I invite you to discern with me now: what is the will of God for the Wisconsin Annual Conference? What does God dream for us? Where are we heading as the body of Christ and the faithful people of God?

Allow me to share with you some of my own thoughts and discernment since our wonderful time together at the School for Ministry.

When I reflect on God’s dream for Wisconsin, I see us living together in harmony with each other, and with the land – which bears fruit abundantly. It is an excellent stewardship of relationships and resources. Many differences are present, but what we hold in common is an unwavering commitment to serve one another and God. There is great longing to find God’s love and grace in each other, creating a healing space for us, so that we might share our abundance and give life to others. It is a place defined by respect, dignity, civility, and mercy. It is a place of justice, compassion, and peace.

Don’t we all want that? Aren’t we all willing to work together to make such a dream real? M. Scott Peck wrote a book called The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace. In it he described four stages of community making: pseudocommunity, chaos, emptiness, and true community. Briefly, in pseudocommunity, people are pleasant to each other, but avoid conflict at any cost. Individual differences are minimized, unacknowledged or ignored. Intimacy and honesty are buried under platitudes and generalizations. In chaos, differences surface that cannot be ignored. There is a lot of finger-pointing and choosing sides. Leadership futilely cry out “can’t we all just get along,” but no one is willing to budge an inch, and the same fights are fought over and over. The result of this is emptiness – or biblically, wilderness. In the emptiness of wilderness we purge ourselves of our preconceptions, our prejudices, our ideologies, and our need to control. We let go of ego and agenda, and finally come to the place where we can say with Jesus, “Not my will be done, O Lord, but thine. People get in touch with their own personal brokenness, fears, failures, and selfishness.

Once people empty themselves and open to meet and treat others as equals, true community emerges. Individuals find their place in a synergistic whole; together, as body of Christ, we are greater than the sum of our parts. Through the real sacrifice demanded by emptying, we engage in kenosis as Paul writes of Jesus in the second chapter of Philippians. We find unity in Christ. As baptized and beloved children of God, our differences lose the power to divide us, and we become who God intends us to be. No part of the body any longer says to any other part “you don’t belong.” The vision of 1 Corinthians 12 explodes forth birthing a new reality.

Christ, my friends, can never be divided. Even when broken, it is like an arm or leg. With proper care and attention, it knits and heals and becomes even stronger than before. This is where I believe we are as we “Imagine Wisconsin Anew.” The Wisconsin I see is a model and a witness to the whole world of what true community is. Our differences do not have to be liabilities. They are only powerful in negative ways when we approach them this way.

During my sojourn on the Santiago de Compostela I spent time dreaming dreams and seeing visions. I felt very much connected to the beautiful people of Wisconsin – not just some, but all. I know we argue over things and we see some things very differently, but still we are one in Christ. We must find a way to live the reality of our oneness, not seek ways to break apart.

Even if our denomination cannot live into God’s dream, I know that great good will come through our sacrifice and suffering. Our God is a God of resurrection and new life. God will restore all things. Even should we die with Christ, we will rise again with Christ. So I am calling us all to discern together God’s will for our life – to believe Jeremiah’s word that God has a future and a hope for us, for our good and not for ill. It is a risk. We have walked a long time in chaos, and if we are ever going to reach true community we must risk the wilderness and give up getting our own way. But it is worth it, and God will guide us every step of the way, if we will only trust God to do so.