PEP Newsletter

Ideas For Your Parish

      ____________________________________________                                                                                               November, 2021

Neither Here Nor There

            Susan Beaumont has written an intriguing book entitled, How To Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, Leading in a Liminal Season (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019).  By liminal she means, “Seasons where something has ended, but a new thing has not yet begun. . . . Liminal seasons are challenging, disorienting, and unsettling.  We strive to move forward with purpose and certainty.  Instead, we feel as though we are trudging through mud, moving away from something comfortable and known, toward something that can’t yet be known.” (p. 2)  In transitions, it is the middle phase of being in a limbo that is fraught with chaos and confusion, but it is also a time of great creativity and new possibilities.

The Role of the Leader

            As the photo suggests, people may feel as if the sky is falling, but the leader is there with a bright white umbrella, holding the group together, providing assurances in the midst of fear, a beacon of courage despite a loss of direction.  Beaumont states, “When the identity of the organization is in flux, some parts of the old identity have died.  New passions and skills are emerging.  Leaders must attend to these shifts, naming what has ended, clarifying what is arising, resourcing what seems to be emerging.” (p. 114)

Uniting Into One

            Throughout the United States, Catholic parishes are consolidating because of changing demographics and a shortage of priests.  No longer is it possible to maintain the status quo.  A “liminal” season is being forced upon leaders and people alike, resulting in anger, confusion, denial, apathy, rebellion and rejection.  How the pastor, staff and leaders respond to different cultures coming together is critical.  Tasks for the leaders include:

  • While acknowledging the gifts of each culture, emphasizing what they have in common is essential. This includes identifying such assets and attributes as welcoming, serving, growing, celebrating, caring. These are characteristics that all parish communities try to maintain and develop.
  • Sharing stories about each place’s origin, history, triumphs, failures, pastors, defining moments is important. This is best done in small mixed groups, perhaps with a group facilitator or recorder.  “When we are between an ending and a new beginning, when we are neither here nor there, when we aren’t certain what to do next, we turn to our memories to make meaning of our experience.” (p.97-98)
  • Leading people through the “in between time” means providing reasons for the change. “In the absence of meaning and purpose, people become fearful.  Fearful people will attach themselves to anyone who promises to reduce their anxiety.  Often, this involves attachment to one who promises a return to the past.” (p. 113)  Reminding people again and again why this is happening reduces the fear and anxiety.
  • A good leader not only names what must be left behind, but points out what is coming to life, what new avenues are opening up for them. “Leading a congregation whose identity is shifting is difficult work.  The process is an exercise in attending and surrendering. . . . We surrender the loss of that identity without fully knowing what will replace it. . . .  We attend to what is emerging as we walk forward in faith, trusting that a new identity is unfolding.” (p. 116)  A leader who is aware of this movement is critical in keeping the gaze forward towards new possibilities rather than backwards to what is no more.  
  • As a new future begins to emerge, good leaders look for ways of engaging people in new and exciting activities and projects. “Innovation happens naturally when we empower people to solve problems they care about, when we let go of our obsessions with right order and proper channels, and when we let everyone have equal access to information and communication channels.  When we let go of our need to feel in control of what happens next, remarkable things begin to occur.” (p.147)