07 April 2013

Hopeful signs of liminality

Alan Hirsch uses the terms liminality and communitas. I was interested to check how much 'liminality' I could find in church life today, particularly in and around my own local area of west Cambridgeshire. I found more than I had expected which is really rather encouraging.

Big hearted lyfe
Recently, I've been working my way through Alan Hirsch's excellent book, 'The Forgotten Ways'. Amongst much else he explores what he calls 'liminality and 'communitas'.

Liminality is being involved around the edges of what we consider normal in western church life. It's a matter of taking risks, pushing the boundaries in terms of reaching the hungry, the abandoned, the spiritually lost.

For those in places like China or the Muslim world it may mean facing danger or even death. Alan Hirsch uses terms like ordeal, danger, marginality and adventure.

Communitas is the sense of comradeship that comes from sharing liminal experiences with others. It's deeper and more urgent than the typical community life we have in the western church. We cannot achieve communitas just by drinking coffee together or going to meetings.

(Scroll to the bottom of the post for short extracts from the book defining these two terms.)

This sparked my imagination and I wanted to identify examples of liminality in my own life and the lives of those around me. Here's what I came up with (in alphabetical order). Some of these examples are very local, most are from the UK, all but two are things I've been involved in personally.

Be the light - Chris Duffett provides a list of ideas for creative evangelism. Many of these involve some degree of liminality by getting us out of our comfort zones. Take a look through the list, are there some ideas here that you and a small group of friends might try?

Ben and Catherine Taylor - Not content to just sit around and let the world go by, Ben and Catherine in the West of England are involved in church life with a difference, lots of liminality here I think!

Ben and Hannah Dunnett - Hannah is an artist, Ben is a musician. They challenge and encourage us all by making the most of their talents. Take a look at what they have on offer and ask yourself if you might buy some material to use in inventive ways to reach those around you.

Beth Foster - Beth lives in the USA and used to have a great blog. She seems to have removed it (I hope temporarily). In it she described how she had been led to review what she did as a believer and to slim it down to the real essentials. She made some notes on how this was going. Although you can't  now read these for yourself, she also left some great comments on several of my posts. Take a look at this one (you'll need to scroll to the bottom to see Beth's comments).

Big hearted lyfe - Some great material and helpful suggestions for doing Bible study and personal development in a public place. This could be one way to experience a form of liminality! Have a go, see if you can encourage others to join you. This idea comes from the Bible Society.

Donna and the children - Donna lives in Nottingham and amongst many other things has explored church with children. This was not an obvious or easy thing to do, but she saw the need and the opportunity and just went for it. Another good lesson for all of us.

Ffald-y-Brenin - This community is pushing out the boat with houses of prayer. Read part of their story here on Journeys of heart and mind. This is no ordinary retreat centre, liminality is not in short supply!

Food bank in St Neots - There are plans afoot to start a Trussell Trust food bank in the town. Many of the local churches are cooperating. It's a great thing to do and will bring together people from different backgrounds as well as increasing contact with people needing some help. I've begun collecting and have delivered a first donation to a local church that's already passing on help to those in difficulty.

Free hugs - Some friends, Tendai, Mark and others, have been trying out some of those 'Be the Light' ideas at the top of this list. I joined them once for a 'free hugs' session in the Market Square and will be getting involved again.

Krish Kandiah - Active in work with students, as an author, pastor and as a sought-after speaker, Krish Kandiah is different. He is inventive, active, and always willing to push the boundaries and take risks.

Newforms Resources - Pete and Marsha Farmer are involved in a lot of hard work, much of it centred around Newforms Resources. This is an organisation they created as an umbrella for training, meetings and books aimed at encouraging missional expressions of church in the UK and, increasingly, Europe and beyond.

Paul and Jenny Shortman - Jenny is an old friend from years ago. She and her husband Paul have been very helpful in a Free Church not far from here. They encourage, work at all sorts of jobs, and Jenny often writes for their magazine. It's always good, edifying stuff. Maybe this is not so much on the liminal side of life, but it's way beyond the normal range of what we'd call community. Humble work done well and done for love. They are a good example to us all.

Pete Stamford - Pete runs annual camps for ages eight to sixteen. From small beginnings using scout camp grounds he is now running multiple camps and other training events each year from a dedicated site at Moggerhanger in Bedfordshire. Everything depends on CRB-checked volunteers - lots of them. Missional in nature, aiming to reach young people and their parents, Pete has faced and overcome many difficulties along the way.

St Michaels Without - This Anglican church in Bath, Somerset, has changed itself in interesting and delightful ways. Both the physical structure and the lives of the people have been adapted to better serve the local community. Take a look at their website to find out what they're been up to.

TryPraying - This idea began with a group of ordinary people in Edinburgh, Scotland. Now they are publishing booklets encouraging non-believers to experiment with prayer. The whole thing is imaginatively and beautifully executed. Who would not want to be involved?

Conclusions - Few of these ideas are fully 'on the edge', but most of them have elements of liminality significant enough that I can share them in this article. There may be other people in St Neots getting out there and engaging in the great commission. I certainly hope so.

Taken together, these may be early glimmerings of life and growth in the church in the UK. And as people engage in these ways and involve their friends, so communitas may start to develop. I imagine a time, not far off, when church will be completely transformed where I live. Yes, Father, bring it on; we are so ready for this!

Liminality and communitas - Extracts from 'The Forgotten Ways', Alan Hirsch's definitions of liminality and communitas.

Liminality ... applies to that situation where people find themselves in an in-between, marginal state in relation to the surrounding society, a place that could involve significant danger and disorientation, but not necessarily so.

Communitas ... happens in situations where individuals are driven to find each other through a common experience of ordeal, humbling, transition and marginalization. It involves intense feelings of social togetherness and belonging brought about by having to rely on each other in order to survive.


Questions:

  • Are you taking risks in your life as a believer?
  • Do you agree that shared danger can lead to a marvellous sense of togetherness?
  • Can you find needs and opportunities in your village, town or city?
  • What are you doing about those needs and opportunities?

See also:

1 comment:

  1. Christopher DrydenApril 11, 2013 at 4:55 PM

    Thanks very much for this post, Chris - lots of food to digest and see how it can apply where I'm at. Much appreciated.

    ReplyDelete

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