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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wednesday Festival: Bridge-Time

Today's featured post turns to a page in the parish newsletter of Katherine E., a UCC pastor recently stepping out into that shaky-feeling place that most of us refer to as "interim ministry." Read on for a new vision of that inevitable time in the life of a congregation:

Katherine says on her blog:

It's been a wild ride recently at my church. Our senior pastor resigned just four weeks ago; his last day is this coming Sunday. After he leaves I'll be the "bridge pastor" at least through December. After that, well, I'm still in limbo about what my role will be, but I remain confident that All Shall Be Well, All Shall Be Well, and All Manner of Thing Shall Be Well.

The Welcoming Prayer is helping, that's for sure.

....................................It's always about trust, isn't it?

Here's what I wrote for our November newsletter:


As we enter together this “bridge-time” after our much-loved Dave’s departure, we enter a time both of sadness at the end of his steady leadership and, hopefully, some excitement about this new era in the life of First Congregational.

“Bridge” is an engaging metaphor. Unlike “interim” or “transition,” a bridge is concrete. Remember those images of the collapsed portion of I-35 in Minneapolis/St. Paul a few years ago? I kept thinking how similar to an earthquake that must have been. What a terror to feel those tons of solid, unmovable steel and concrete start to give way.

Of course, unlike a highway bridge, this bridge-time in our community is upheld by something more than concrete, steel, and human engineering. We cross over knowing that God is with us, in fact, leading us to this new era. Holding on to that awareness of God’s presence will certainly steady us on a journey that will probably feel a bit rocky at times.

Theologically, bridges remind me of liminal space, a term often used in describing worship and rituals. When we worship and somehow sense an encounter with the divine, we allow ourselves to suspend our involvement in “normal” time and space and move into God’s time and space. We inhabit a threshold during those moments, a threshold between what’s familiar and not-familiar, between the ‘old’ which we know and the ‘new’ which is not yet clear to us.

Liminality is said to dissolve the boundaries of one’s sense of identity. College years, for instance, can be a liminal space in which one moves from adolescence to the first stages of independent adulthood. Although I think our identity here at First Congregational is secure—we’re one of the few churches in this city that truly strives to embody the Gospel as ‘radical hospitality’ to all persons—it’s also true that one’s identity is never fixed. A hardened identity only squashes the movement of the Spirit. Perhaps this bridge-time can be a moment in which we further explore our self-understanding.

bell hooks ia a feminist, author, and social critic. She makes an important point about liminality:

“It's interesting—the way in which one has to balance life—because you have to know when to let go and when to pull back.... There's always some liminal space…in between which is harder to inhabit because it never feels as safe as moving from one extreme to another.”

And she’s right, of course. Liminal space, like standing on a high bridge, can be unnerving. What resources do we call upon to endure the tension between the old and new? What do we want to accomplish during this difficult time on this steady, and perhaps at times unsteady, bridge? How do we know when the time is right to move forward? and how do we access the courage required for that movement?

It’s an uncertain time at First Congregational. Writing about the liminal time of twilight, in-between day and night, poet and philosopher John O’Donohue put it this way:

When near the end of day, life has drained

out of light, and it is too soon
for the mind of night to have darkened things,
no place looks like itself, loss of outline
makes everything look strangely in-between,
unsure of what has been, or what might come.
In this wan light, even trees seem groundless.

Too true. As someone on the Cabinet recently remarked, to some extent we seem “muddled.” Well, perhaps “muddled” isn’t such a bad place to be for now. Perhaps it’s the perfect place to be—for a season, anyway, for as O’Donohue continues:

As far as you can, hold your confidence.
Do not allow your confusion to squander
this call which is loosening your roots in false ground,
that you might come free from all you have outgrown.
What is being transfigured here is your mind,
and it is difficult and slow to become new.
The more faithfully you can endure here,
the more refined your heart
will become for your arrival in the new dawn.

While I certainly don’t think for one moment that our ground has been “false” or even that we need to “outgrow” anything, I do think it’s usually true that bridge-time between pastorates can energize a “loosening” movement that can free us for the “new thing” [Is. 43] that God is always doing in our midst.

Liminality can be a time for seeking further clarity regarding our mission—how might our mission evolve organically from who we are? In the coming weeks and months, perhaps what’s called for is some intentional time for discerning God’s voice in the midst of this risky and quite beautiful bridge-time.

With you on this new adventure,



Where are you standing today? Are you on a bridge or on solid ground? If the former, can you see the end of the bridge ahead...and who is on the bridge with you? Share your thoughts in the comments; if you want to link to a blog post, do it with this formula: <a href="the url of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a> For a complete how-to, click here.


  1. This is a helpful post. I'm on internship. My supervisor and I are also involved with a church that currently does not have a pastor. The concept of liminal space reminds me of some of Parker Palmer's writings.

  2. oh, definitely on a bridge. but, there are lots of friends and prayers joining me there. lovely post, Katherine, well written and so pastoral.

  3. I'm glad I got to read this from Katherine. Well done.

    I'm on a well-worn path getting ready for a new road.


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