We are living in liminal space.
I don’t know exactly when I heard the word “liminal” for the time, but it has become a word that I keep coming back to since. For those that may not know, the “limen” is the space between things. The frame of a doorway is the limen between rooms. Threshold could be another word for limen.
A liminal space is then the place or time in between things.
Experiencing liminal spaces or times can be as simple as walking through a doorway, or it can be as long and complex as re-training for a new job or moving to a new city or being in palliative care.
Two people engaged to be married are experiencing a liminal time. Seminary was a liminal experience for me. Puberty is a liminal space. Being on the road or travelling is a liminal experience. And as people of faith we believe death is liminal time.
One of the key characteristics of experiencing a liminal space is that you have to give up parts of who you were before, and you take on the burdens and responsibilities of who you are becoming, without yet receiving the benefits, advantages or authority.
An engaged couple, for example, relinquishes the freedoms of the single life, while (maybe truer in days gone by) has to wait for the benefits of marriage. A seminarian ceases to be a lay person, and takes on many of the responsibilities of being a clergy person, such as preaching and teaching according to the dogma of the church, conforming to a certain standard of ethics and a certain lifestyle. But they must wait until ordination for the authority and ability to serve a congregation independently and preside at the sacraments.
As we have been talking about for a long time, the Church is – we are – in a liminal space. We are transitioning from what we once were in some big and transformative ways. The relative stability of what churches and pastors looked like between 1950 and 1999 is falling apart. The bustling hubs of community that many congregations once were, with full pews, overflowing Sunday schools, strong choirs and much beloved Luther League youth groups is no longer possible or likely to return.
But we haven’t arrived at what we might become next. This means we haven’t discovered the benefits and advantages of the new thing yet. We carry the burdens of doing Church together in smaller and more resource-scarce ways, but we haven’t yet realized what the good things are or the upside of this new thing we are becoming.
As we gathered for our visioning meeting last Sunday, I could see that we are bearing the burdens of this liminal space. We are recognizing that things are changing and Church won’t be the same going forward. But I also saw hope and excitement for opportunities that might come. “What could be” is still uncertain and hazy, but there seems to be promise and possibilities.
While it seems that promises and possibilities aren’t a lot to go on, they are the core of the stories of faith that we tell week after week and year after year. Because with God, a promise means everything. God is a God of promises, whose word brings us hope and who has travelled the pathways that we walk.
Wherever we end up, I am looking forward to navigating this liminal space with you – together.