Some thoughts from the Presbytery Leader…

“Do we know how to do this?” was a frequent question this last year as we moved towards the big NJ Presbytery transition.  Probably…maybe…not sure.

Because we had never done this before, last fall the Newton Presbytery Leadership and Committees/Teams agreed to read the newly published book How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You are Going: Leading in a Liminal Season by Susan Beaumont.  We knew that as the NJ Presbyteries transition emerged and we became part of a larger presbytery, we needed to have some collective learning and language on how to move into a new season of being the church. We had no idea where the transition would take us or how to get there.

The liminal season starts with the ending of something and the beginning of the next thing; but it’s a foggy path. The next step could be in any direction. This threshold of a new

Threshold of something new

beginning is where we found ourselves as we anticipated this year being a transitional year moving from being Newton Presbytery to a “new thing”.

Little did we know we would be thrown into the deep end of a Liminal space and experience.

Liminal Seasons are challenging, disorienting and unsettling, according to Beaumont.  Yes, that is the reality in our churches, workplaces, schools, homes, and communities. Liminal seasons are threshold experiences which will call into question our traditions, raise uncertainty in our future life and offer only unclear destinations, if any destination at all.

As we finish the month of March unable to go about our familiar activities and maintain our comfortable schedules, our disorientation resonates with our experience of entering this time and space of Liminality.

Beaumont writes that Liminality is simultaneously dangerous, alluring and sacred. The danger is that during that time anxiety rises, motivation falters, attendance drops, old weaknesses and habits emerge, personnel is overloaded, and the organization may become polarized.

However, in the alluring and sacred space, Communitas has the opportunity to emerge. Communitas is the unstructured community where a common humanity emerges in which all members are equals.  When we are emerging into a new way of being community, we are free to experiment and learn. Stronger leaders and new ways of being church may emerge   (pg 15).

Liminal spaces then, can be the thin spaces where the presence of the divine is tangible and real.

When we embrace the liminal space, according to Beaumont, we lead with Presence.  When we welcome the position to move forward, not retreating or wrapping ourselves in “old ways” or traditions, we lead with Presence.

Presence is deep listening that is focused on where we hear God. Presence is taking risks, moving forward and embracing the unknown. Presence is getting on the “balcony” and looking at the big picture that is God centered.

The Liminal space calls us to tend to the soul of the institution. I had a hard time trying to understand what the soul of the institution was, but Beaumont helped by listing what the soul of the institution was not.

The Soul is not the collective voice of leadership, the culture of the organization, the spirituality of the organization or the movement of the Spirit. All the things we would quickly say the soul is or should be.

“The voice of the soul has an intuitive sense of integrity, coherence, and elegance. It responds to beauty and to wonder.” (pg 50 -51)

As we enter a new week of lockdown or social distancing or whatever it is today, the liminal space continues to be a path that is foggy and shrouded. Uncertainty, anxiety, fear, depression, and sadness may feel like the only path forward. Where is the voice of the soul of our faith communities?  Where is the beauty and wonder to which we can respond?

“…but we[d] also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us,…” (Romans 5: 3b -5)

The voice of the soul is speaking hope.  Endurance produces hope.  The soul is hope. Hope is the integrity, coherence and elegance of our faith and our community life. Hope responds and maybe defines, beauty and wonder.

During this early time of our liminal season, let us tend to the soul, let us nurture, abide in, promote and give voice to the hope that is and has been and will continue to be the core and soul of our faith.