This week I have been blessed to be reading a book titled, “How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going” by Susan Beaumont. The Subtitle is Leading in a Liminal Season. The liminal season is that in between time of life. General Presbyter Daris Bultena asked me to read it as he said it was a good exposition of his leadership style and understanding of the world.
As I read the book I picked up on how important it is for us to understand that we are all in a liminal season as the church and a society. The liminal time of life as Beaumont explains is a time that comes in between separation and reorientation. As the church we have all experienced what she calls separation. Our identity and status has been stripped from us and all that previously defined us is pretty much gone. We no longer hold power and sway in the culture as we used to. Reorientation as she defines it is a “reforming period in which a person, group or social order adopts a new identity.” Page 3.
The Liminal period is where most of us find ourselves today. She defines the Iiminal period as:
A disorienting period of non-structure or anti-structure that opens new possibilities no longer based on old status or power hierarchies. New identities are explored and new possibilities are considered. Pg. 3
Of course this isn’t how we normally see this time. The liminal time is most often experienced in the most negative ways. At best it is a wilderness time that we suffer through at its worse it is a time where we tear each other apart. The liminal time is in fact a time that is challenging, confusing and upsetting. Yet we experience liminal times regularly. Things end all the time. What we do with that in between time is what matters.
More times than not, our uneasiness with the in between time causes us to rush to action on the future or to try and recapture the past. We have all seen this when a pastor leaves a congregation. The first thought on everyone’s mind is, “when do we get a new pastor.” This is a completely normal response to loss and the upheaval it brings. Every person and organization want stability and peace. Still, if all we do is rush to a “solution” we miss an opportunity.
It’s in that liminal time of opportunity that we find ourselves as the church in the world. We know what we have been and we want to discover what we shall be. Discovering that future self cannot be found unless we embrace a positive approach to liminal time. She says this:
Liminal seasons are also exciting and innovative. The Promise of a new beginning unleashes creative energy, potential and passion. All truly great innovations are incubated in liminality. God’s greatest work occurs in liminal space.” Pg. 2
One of her first positive points of liminal time gives me courage and hope. She holds that during liminal periods Communitas can emerge. “Communitas is a Latin noun referring to an unstructured community in which people are equal.” Pg. 15 As the old passes away new realities emerge. In particular new relationships that start from a new place without perceived power structures and hierarchy. As the church we are finding that the old ways are crumbling or have crumbled into ruins and we want to rebuild the temple once again. If we embrace the liminal time we can instead allow a new communities to emerge and new ethos of interrelatedness to develop.
That of course sounds great…. A new vibrant community is something to get excited about, isn’t it? Of course it is exciting but our fear of the unknown and the comfort of the past stands in our way. What do we need to do to begin to embrace and grow in the in between time? The answer is the same that has been given time and time again but we often forget. Trusting that God is in the liminal space is the only way that this can become more than just a horrible time before death. God has worked in so many liminal times; the wilderness after Egypt, the desert following Jesus’ Baptism and of course our time now in Christ. Our Christian life is often explained as a time where we live in the already but not yet kingdom. Jesus’ kingdom has been established through his life, death and resurrection but we are in between the full manifestation of that kingdom. Our whole life and faith is based in liminal time. If that is the case surely God is working in the midst of the church’s liminal experience.
What is your internal experience of the losses the church has experienced?
Are you ok being “in between” the past and the future?