Liminal spaces are those places and times that exist on the boundary of what has been and what is to come. They are places and times of transition, of waiting, of not knowing. In a recent blog post, church consultant, coach, and spiritual director Susan Beaumont wrote: “We are still in liminal space. Reopening our buildings and regathering the congregation physically will not resolve our disorientation. We are still stuck between something that has ended and a new thing that is not yet ready to begin.”
Church, we are in liminal space.
We are in a time of transition.
We are not just in between COVID and not-COVID.
We are in between the church of what was and the church of what is yet to be.
Those who study congregational life have different thoughts about what is next, but they all seem to agree on one thing: church will never be the same. Regathering will not mean we go back to life exactly as it was pre-COVID. We don’t yet know what the post-COVID church will look like.
In March of 2020, when the stay-at-home order was issued, we shifted quickly to a form of virtual worship we hoped would be accessible to most people, “Worship from Home” resources with prayers and links to pre-recorded elements. Over the summer, as case numbers dropped, we surveyed the congregation and learned that we had different preferences and comfort levels when it came to worshipping virtually or in-person. In October, we began offering monthly Vespers services on The Point. In November, we started worshipping together “live” on Zoom while still sending “Worship from Home” resources every Saturday, as well as mailing sermons weekly to those who wish to receive them. Throughout the pandemic, we have done our best to create worship options that meet a variety of needs. Still, we are aware that indoor in-person worship is what many miss most.
Soon after the pandemic began, we formed a Regathering Committee to plan for our return to indoor worship, thinking it would be coming soon-ish. Now, finally, in May of 2021, we can begin to imagine it happening. There are still guidelines and practices we will follow to keep everyone as safe as possible—smaller numbers, physical distancing, no congregational singing, no lunch after worship. It will be good to return to our sanctuary, but it will not be like it was before. But the bigger question we face in this liminal space is this: is worship exactly as we did it what we want going forward?
I don’t know. You don’t know. We don’t know.
So, we’re going to experiment. We are going to try different things and learn from them. As Susan Beaumont notes, “[we] cannot resolve liminality by planning [our] way through it. [We] must learn [our] way through it…with cycles of observation, experimentation, adjustment, and iteration.” We aren’t sure yet what that will mean, but we know we will continue to have an opportunity to worship together each week. We’ll continue to keep you updated with what’s happening by your weekly e-news email.
Liminal spaces are challenging, uncertain, and sometimes uncomfortable. And they are also full of possibility, promise, and opportunity. As we navigate this liminal space together, I ask you to attend to God’s Spirit as it moves in and around you. I ask you to hold your church leadership and staff in prayer as we continue to wrestle with what comes next. Through these prayers, through God’s nudging, the future will slowly be revealed. And together, we will continue to “be the church” and “ignite hearts everywhere with God’s love,” in whatever ways God leads.
With you on the journey,
Pastor Mary Sue