We haven’t crossed the threshold yet.
The week before our fire (early April 2021), Karen arranged for a book group to read Susan Beaumont’s How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going: Leading in a Liminal Season. Readers planned to gather from all over the country to discuss church leadership in the strange days of first-wave COVID. Some of you intended to be a part of that discussion.
Then our house fire hit. Karen and I no longer could host. We figured we’d just postpone a couple months until the details of cleaning and reconstruction were resolved.
Instead, we discovered the sad reality that post-fire work is not remotely straightforward. Our living arrangements and our workdays have been upended by the new responsibilities of riding herd on insurance representatives and contractors. Our lives have perfectly illustrated the nature of liminal times and of the discussion group we no longer had time to lead.
But providence works in funny ways. The fall arrived. I could not attend the western fall conference for presbytery leaders. But I could attend the one in the east—so last week saw me at a retreat center outside Baltimore…at a conference led by…wait for it…Susan Beaumont…on the topic of…wait for it…liminality.
Flying across the country and staying at a retreat center for four days made me nervous. Life is fragile right now, and COVID surged after I had booked my trip. But Karen encouraged me to attend anyway. I’m glad I did. So now, to break the habit of “three-point Presbyterianism,” here are two timely takeaways from the conference:
First: Good liminal leadership may not look like what we normally regard as good organizational leadership. (You can’t plan or strategize your way through a liminal season.) Rather, good leadership includes curiosity, openness to what might be, and a lot of “I don’t know…I wonder…”
Second: Liminality does end—eventually. Patience and spiritual discernment will give us eyes to see what wants to emerge next, so long as we don’t try to force it.
Just as in the world around us, and just as in the wider denomination, Los Ranchos is in a time of deep uncertainty. In 2020, we recognized that something needed to change, but we didn’t know how. We did sense that the Presbytery needed, from well before the pandemic began, at least some tweaks and maybe a major overhaul.
That need, at least in part, drove the formation of the twenty-seven-person administrative commission that met during the summer of 2020. It came out of a sense that both the pandemic and the presbytery’s structure needed addressing.
But, as Rev. Beaumont would say, rushing to resolution risks ruining what wants to emerge. The work of the 2020 AC led to some good outcomes. But its conviction that immediate problems needed to be addressed immediately also brought significant, and unproductive, heartburn.
Rushing to action is a common temptation for any liminal season. But God will work mightily in such times if we orient ourselves according to the fruits of the Holy Spirit—especially those of peace, patience and self-control.
We haven’t crossed the threshold yet. We are still in a pandemic that comes along once in a century (let it be no more frequent, please). We don’t yet know what church on the other side will, or should, look like.
But even while we have been destabilized, we have not been wasting this waiting time.
The Strategic Task Group that began this winter is moving slowly. With patience and steady work, it has the potential to achieve deep change within Los Ranchos for many years ahead—especially if we attend to God’s timing.
If I had read Susan Beaumont’s book last April, it would have been a fine exercise. But perhaps it wasn’t yet my time. Perhaps, in the last analysis, God prevented me from engaging the material until the time was right.
And that brings me to one last point. All our maneuvering and planning are only as timely, useful and meaningful as God’s Spirit allows. “Unless the LORD builds the house…” (Psalm 127). Can we trust that God remains at work, even when all we see is uncertainty?
Pondering and praying—and thinking of you with much love—
 The PC(USA) mid-council fall conference was once known as the “Polity Conference.” Then it became the “Mid-Council Leaders’ Gathering.” As of this year, it currently lacks a name because of the changing nature of working partnerships within the PC(USA)—another illustration of the (yes, liminal) era in which we live.
Photo of Rev. Susan Beaumont used with permission.