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Liminal Time

Last week I wrote about one of my favorite things - gardening.  I love this time of year when I can actually get my hands in the dirt and prepare the soil for seeds or starts, anticipating the harvest season that will start in a few months.  I also talked about the inherent "death" that is part of any gardener's reality.  

This week I want to talk about another part of the life/death cycle.  It is the space of liminality, of ambiguity and disorientation that happens between the clearly growing or dying times.


in American English(ˈlɪmɪnəl ; ˈlaɪmɪnəl )


1.  Relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.

2.  At a boundary or transitional point between two conditions, stages in a process, ways of life, etc.

“Liminal” used in a sentence: We are in a transitional and liminal time: this makes everything unsettled and awkward, and most of us feel tremendous unrest and a sense of urgency.

Liminal times are often fraught with reactivity because we want to know where we are, to locate ourselves on solid ground.  The impulse to move through these spaces as quickly as possible is visible in how we expect new parents to return to work within a few weeks, if not days, of giving birth.  This is true for those who are grieving as well. If employers have bereavement leave it is usually not more than 3 three days for an immediate family member and 1 day for everyone else. 


Birth, death, moving, retiring, marriage, divorce, empty nesting, and so many other liminal times are too often ignored for their gifts of new awareness and transformation that are only available in these disruptive times. This is why all religions have rituals that acknowledge the power of these moments. They are all rites of passage that invite us to become more than what we ahve been in the past.


This congregation, like so many others, has been in a liminal season for many years now.  Some would say it began when Gayle McDougal retired.  Others would start the clock with Janet Parker’s departure, or even Yael Lachman’s.   The Covid Pandemic certainly created a liminal time for us all! On a meta level, the end of Christendom, which has been happening since the 1970's, has meant those of us who still find value in being a part of a church community have been in a near constant state of disruption for 50 years.

That's a lot of liminality!

I just want to acknowledge how hard it is to live in a prolonged state of not knowing. Our nervous systems are not designed to live in the cortisol-soaked spaces of fight-or-flight, disruption, and ambiguity for extended periods of time. And yet we know that flexibility and adaptability are mind sets we can adopt to create ease and flow in the face of the unknown. Part of that mindset, as I have said before, is being willing to grieve the losses even as we adapt and flow. We can grieve and celebrate at the same time!

On a more personal level, you and I have been in a liminal space for two and a half years now. We have been walking through this intentional interim season together, Canoeing the Mountains, and creating new structures that will support whatever comes next. In some ways you have passed the liminality of our time together and created relationships and mechanisms that feel sturdy and capable of going the distance.

AND, we are still in the season of unknowns, of disruption, and ambiguity. There is still work being done and capacity being created so we can leave the liminal zone and move out into uncharted waters with as much of a course plotted as is possible in times like these.

The last piece of congregational work is at hand and the Council is preparing to lead the last round of Cottage Meetings based on the book Being Church in a Liminal Time. They will offer four opportunities to be in dialogue around the three images that the authors use to talk about where Mainline/historic churches like ours find themselves today. You will have an opportunity to wonder about where we might be in the Remembering-Letting Go-Resurrecting triangle, and discern the kind of pastoral leader who would best fit for the season ahead. Knowing where you are is the most important part of knowing who you need to move faithfully forward as a part of Christ's Body alive in the world today.

I hope you will participate in one of the Cottage Meetings and fill out any surveys, read any information, and participate fully as we complete this work that makes room for new life, joy, and grace. And may the God who is always with us in these unsettled and ambiguous times be present in your life in a comforting and transformational way.

With unambiguous love and hope,

Pastor Robin

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1 Comment

Janet K
Janet K
May 03

If you stay, I think we could all build a beautiful garden

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