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The church in liminal times

It’s becoming more and more clear that we truly are a church in a liminal time. If we thought that the pre-COVID church was a time of great uncertainly and change, the post-COVID church certainly proved that thesis.

That word, liminal, has been thrown around a lot over the past year. It’s even found its way into book titles and scholarly journal entries. Liminal, in its most basic terms, means finding yourself at or on both sides of a threshold. Like a doorway, as we begin to pass through it, we leave behind something, and what’s ahead, we’re not always certain.

The Church is at this threshold: We know we can never really go back to the way things were, yet we don’t exactly understand what the future looks like either. It causes a bit of trepidation, and so our immediate reaction is to want things the way they once were. Seems more comfortable. But that seldom works.

The world we’re leaving behind has changed, and has changed enough to get us to this very threshold today. We can try to do things they way we’ve always done them, but we would have to selfishly ignore the facts that fewer and fewer people are turning to the Church, and, at the very least, looking at other options.

It’s here that I find comfort in the fact that although the mode may have changed, our mission really hasn’t. In fact, everything around us can change — the culture, the politics, the trends, the consumer mindsets — yet the mission, which is to bring the love of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world (Matt. 28), is still the same.

And isn’t that the most important part of being the Body of Christ in this world?

We have been called — commanded, even — to bring our God-given spiritual gifts and our love to this broken world so that it, too, can do the same and be restored into the image in which it — and we — were first created, all to make God known in this world.

Hymns may change, attendance may drop, new pastors come and go, COVID decimates our attendance, worldly politics divide our congregations, and social distancing and masks take away some of our fellowship. Seasons change. Do we in selfish frustration give up our mission and waste our gifts simply because the landscape has changed?

Throughout the years, the landscape has always changed, just like the seasons. And it’s in these times of liminality that our faith is tested. And if we stand strong in our mission and use our gifts outwardly, then our faith will be strengthened. And so will Christ’s Church in this world.

Recommit yourselves to Christ’s mission, and follow the faith that has been tested and tempered though the ages. God’s plan and promise for the Church has never changed, despite that the landscape has, and always will. Trust in God, live like Jesus, and follow the Spirit, and the Church will increase.

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Christopher Kostyn Passante is Senior Pastor at Mount Nittany Church in State College. He can be reached at cpassante@susumc.org or visit Mt Nittany at MtNittanyUMC.org and on Facebook at Mt Nittany Church.

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