During the past several months, I have been reading about discernment and change in institutions, like the church. One of the buzz words in the clergy world is “LIMINAL.” A liminal season is when we are in-between the familiar, known, predictable world we’ve lived in, and the unfamiliar, unknown, unpredictable future that is ahead of us. It’s when we are betwixt and between the old ways of life that are coming to an end and the new ways of life that are beginning to be discovered.
Our lives are also punctuated by liminal seasons. One of the examples of a liminal season is pregnancy. That’s a season for parents of transitioning from being a couple to becoming a family. We can make all the preparations in the world, but we still can’t know what parenthood really involves and requires until what we have been watching and waiting for is brought to birth. Graduations can propel people into a liminal season. The first few months or years of retirement can be a liminal season.
The scriptures are full of liminal seasons – the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for 40 years between their former life as slaves and their future life in the promised land, the Israelites in exile for 70 years in Babylon before returning back home, the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness between his baptism and the beginning of his public ministry, the three days he spent in the tomb, the 40 days of his resurrected earthly presence. As author, Susan Beaumont suggests in her book “How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going”, God does some of God’s greatest work with God’s people in liminal seasons.
Clearly, the COVID-19 pandemic has us all in a liminal season. It’s becoming clearer that we won’t get back any time soon to “the way things used to be” – however much we might want to go back there – but it’s also not yet exactly clear what “the new normal” will look like. We are in-between. We are in a “thin place,” as the Celts would say… a liminal season.
It can be very frightening for us to be in this liminal season, very frustrating and disorienting, and we are all experiencing the anxiety of this time. But liminal seasons can also be very energizing. It can be a time for trying new things, for experimenting, for re-imagining and re-envisioning, and for more flexibility and fluidity than perhaps we’ve experienced before.
That’s where we are in our nation and our world. That’s where we are in our communities, with our schools, our businesses. And that’s where we are as a church. I don’t have a crystal ball as to what our “new normal” will be as a church. We’ve been doing our best to keep things going as close to “normal” as well as we can for as long as we can, but we are beginning to realize things may look very different whenever we emerge out of this liminal season into whatever the “new normal” is, and that we might be in this season for quite some time.
Liminal seasons have their own timetable. They operate on their own schedule. There’s no telling how long this season will last. I’m praying it won’t be 40 years or 70 years like it was for the Israelites. But however long we are in this liminal season, let’s try to make the most of it. To paraphrase an old saying, “when God gives you liminal seasons, make lemonade!” So, let’s work together, pray together, talk together, to discern together what God may be envisioning for us whenever we emerge from this liminal season. I hope that you will join us for worship, Sunday School, Task Force meetings, Bible Studies and Service opportunities as we enter into the Fall.
PS – Let me also invite you to join us for our two final Tricentennial Events of 2021:
- Sunday, September 5: Worship & Concert with David LaMotte
- Sunday, October 3: Worship & Lunch at Adelphia Restaurant