When a Beloved Community Changes…

by Lisa Allgood, Executive Presbyter

So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul—Then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil.           —Deuteronomy 11:14

It’s September.  That month that, if you’re like me, you still feel the need to go do something new – that nerdish excitement left over from starting school at this time every year.  Back East, we never started until after Labor Day.  So even now I feel the tug of needing to learn something new, go somewhere new – or at least buy a new pack of #2 pencils. 

And of course in the church world, it’s traditionally been the start of a new season for us as well.  Back to Sunday School and choirs, getting ready for Homecoming and Harvest celebrations, pre-planning for Advent.  People back from vacation with ideas and energy to get going, ready to re-engage in their church community.

September is a season of transitions of all kinds – not really summer any longer, but not yet fall; days getting shorter but still warm in the evenings; plans beginning to form but not yet time to implement them. And still that insistent tug that things will change, are changing.  As they always do.

This year, as we enter that season of anticipated change, I know we’re all wondering whether or not “normal” is back – are we through this interminable liminal time of transition after COVID?  Will membership bounce back?  Will the church ever be the same?

And the answer is – no.  Because liminality by definition leaves us in a different place than where we started.  And the church’s liminal season started way before COVID – way before racial unrest or political polarization, before climate crises and the beginning of a redefinition of the institutions we thought we knew. We are in the midst of a societal and cultural redesign – and if the church is to emerge strong and relevant, we must find new ways to be church, to serve the people around us – not just the ones within our walls. To spread the message of the radical love of Christ and the Father through the Holy Spirit.  If it truly is the Good News, how can we not share it broadly? 

As a biologist, I know that a critical rule of nature is “adapt or die”.  We as the church must learn to be different and yet still faithful if we are to adapt and thrive.

Richard Rohr reminds us that faith is the ability to stand in liminal space, to stand on the threshold, to hold the contraries, until we are moved by grace to a much deeper level and a much larger frame.  The Scripture above reminds us that He is faithful to us in all seasons – including the uncomfortable ones that emerge during and after a liminal season.

Jesus came to fundamentally change the way we understand and interact with God – not through obedience to rigid rules and doctrine or to an establishment, but simply knowing we are His Beloved, His Community, and so respond in kind by sharing that amazing love and grace.  All over the place.

If this liminal time leads us there, then we are fulfilling His commandments.

So Beloved Community – let’s learn, together, to be a loving church, a curious church, an expansive church, an experimenting church.  To be a church that is always testing to see where the Spirit is leading us, where God is already working, and let’s join in there.  Let’s be innovative!  What cool new thing could we try even if only once?  Let’s be a church of joyous discovery – what new way of worship brings praise and gratitude in this season to a new level?

The next three blogs will cover our New Worshipping Community – its theological underpinnings, but also the amazing amount of excitement it is generating in Northside, with partner non-profits, and even (TEASER!) in a PCUSA theological seminary.

Yes, the liminal space is disorienting.  What a wonderful way to embrace the art of possibility.

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