As a church in the 2020s, one of the things we need to realize is that we are living in changing times and uncharted territory.
Phyllis Tickle, in her book The Great Emergence, suggests we are living through religious, economic, technological and political changes of a size and scope we have not seen since the Reformation. Others define our time as VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous). This acronym was coined during the Cold War, but seems equally applicable during COVID-19!
Over the month of March, some of the clergy and I attended a series of Friday morning webinars by Susan Beaumont, a church leader and author of How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going. She uses the word “liminal” to describe how we are somewhere between the old and “the possibility of something yet undiscovered.” To live in liminality can be disorienting and disconcerting. The unknowing is uncomfortable and so we sometimes rush to quick resolutions or “solutions” instead of doing the true, soul-searching, spirit-infused work of discernment.
In my first few months as bishop, there have been a few times when people have asked me, “What is the plan?” “How will we know we are going to survive?” “What are we doing to do about … ?”
These questions are real, but we must all realize that we are in a liminal season and in uncharted territory. There is no map. Instead, what we have is the compass of our faith, of our tradition and of God within.
Priest and contemplative Cynthia Bourgeault writes that “we have within us a compass pointing to the magnetic north of God.” I find this image to be helpful. When we stop long enough to reconnect with God, our source and our centre, we can and will find our bearings. This does not mean that the path ahead will be easy. There will still be mountains to climb, rivers to ford, dark and lonely nights in the wilderness, and new communities and people to encounter on the way. The journey will no doubt still be difficult; it will still be longer than we wanted; it will still test and try us. But it will not be in vain, and it is not a journey we undertake alone. The risen Christ walks with us.
In the months and, dare I say, years ahead, please journey with me in the uncharted territory that is the church and the world in the 2020s. Let’s avoid the temptation to look for easy answers and quick solutions. Let’s not pretend we can “conquer” this uncharted territory. Let’s try instead simply to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). Let’s follow Christ’s path of humble service, remembering his words: “Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.” (Luke 17:33)