This is a promising, yet challenging time. Congregational consultant Susan Beaumont describes it as a “liminal time” – where we begin to imagine beyond the pandemic but are not there yet. She writes, “You cannot resolve liminality by planning your way through it. You must learn your way through it. Guide your leaders through cycles of observation, experimentation, adjustment, and iteration.”
This liminal time clamors for creativity and innovation. Yet many of us arrive exhausted, grieving, and traumatized, with the well of creativity nearly dry. Perhaps embracing simplicity could guide us to the creativity and nurturing we most need.
Recently, I met a friend who I hadn’t seen since October. We’d taken walks together throughout the pandemic, being careful to practice social distancing. Now we’re both fully vaccinated. Still, we paused to ask and consider whether we could hug. We decided we felt comfortable and wow, did that hug feel good! This made me realize two things. First, the importance of going slow and savoring the small things that are again possible. Second, we may all need to “relearn” and practice consent even for the simplest gestures of sharing community.
This is where Susan Beaumont’s recommendation to focus on learning, experimenting, observing and adapting is most helpful. It invites us to start with simple changes or simple efforts so people can learn together. For many congregations, worship is the most complicated to make safe, inclusive and multi-platform. In that case, start with something simpler. Outdoor gatherings with masks and social distancing for families and small groups for adults and elders may be fun and sensible initial undertakings.
Many of you are already experimenting. We’d love to hear what you are trying. Please share your efforts with your regional staff so we can learn from each other!
Know that every congregation has different needs and realities. Take approaches that make sense for your people, staff and context. This is a time to support, not to judge. Let us learn from each other, mindful that circumstances vary greatly. Let us be flexible and compassionate as we go.
Even as I write this, I am keenly aware that vaccine distribution has radically improved circumstances in North America and Europe. But the situation in other places is devastating, particularly in India. We hold our siblings in faith and partners in India in our prayers. May we not let privilege undermine our commitment to the well being of our neighbors around the world. As long as this remains a global pandemic, conditions can again change everywhere. We must remain dedicated to equitable vaccine distribution, and do everything we can to halt the spread of the virus in our own communities.
Navigating this liminal time and the need for creativity in the midst of trauma and grief is grueling. It is easy to feel inadequate and to judge our efforts and each other harshly. (Believe me, I know!) And, I also know that you all are doing incredible, life saving ministry. You are a blessing to your communities and to our faith! May you find ways to savor simple joys and pleasures that feed your spirit. For you have and continue to give so much. I am grateful to each of you.
Yours in love,
Resources for Action, Guidance and Reading
- The UUA’s Holdeen India Program is providing COVID response funds to our partners in India. Make a donation online.
- We’ve created a new page with Guidance for In-Person Singing. Once local conditions allow for gathering, the key factors for safe communal singing are a combination of good ventilation, distancing, vaccinations and masks.
- Read Susan Beaumont’s article on the subject of “liminal space.”