Worship In-Between Two Worlds


Considering how we do worship in a culture of generational differences requires biblical understanding, prayer, sensitivity, discernment and even sacrifice. Attempting to fuse congregants immersed and even born into a post-modern world with those still longing for the comforts and familiarity of a modern world usually increases the divide.

The transition to post-modernity was a comfortable progression for some, while others are still trying to hold on to the recognizable tenets of modernity. So conflict often arises as both worlds attempt to find common ground.

Since the membership of most congregations includes a cross-section of individuals from both worlds, which world do we choose when planning and implementing worship?

The longing for what was of one generation and the hope for what could be of another generation may be causing both to miss worship in the in-between.

Anthropologist Arnold van Gennep identified and examined patterns of transition and renewal within communal systems. In his study, van Gennep referred to this season of social transition as the Rites of Passage.[1] As a living organism, a community of faith passes through developmental transitions as a natural progression of the life of that congregation and as a reflection of the surrounding culture.

Victor Turner continued van Genneps’ study by refining an understanding of the rites of passage as a time of separation from what was known to a transitional or liminal stage that would ultimately lead to a reaggregation or reincorporation.[2] The word liminal originated from the Latin word, limins, meaning threshold.[3]

In his book on worship transformation, Timothy Carson wrote, “Liminal reality is that space and time that has broken with prevailing structure, whatever that may be. Precisely because it is positioned between the structures of life, it holds latent power for future transformation.”[4]

Liminality is the place where we find ourselves in our present culture of worship in the in-between. One of the struggles of this stage is determining how to balance the desire for complete abandonment of the past with the desire for holding on to those foundational touchstones.

Worship balance will be realized when a congregation understands how to embrace transformation as developmental rather than rejecting it because of hesitancy to change, while at the same time welcoming its rich worship history as formative to present and future practices rather than viewing them as archaic.

Although the liminal stage can be a time of uncertainty, it can also be a time of hope, expectation and even unity. While we are trying to figure it out…we are trying to figure it out together.

Turner referred to a special camaraderie that can often develop among those sharing a liminal stage as communitas.[5] The spirit expressed in this Latin noun is the harmony within a community based on its common purpose, not necessarily on its common practices.

Encouraging a spirit of communitas enables those who are sharing a liminal stage to develop a community of the in-between. This relationship “creates a community of anti-structure whose bond continues even after the liminal period is concluded.”[6]

The reaggregation necessary for worship balance may never occur until both worlds figure out how to get along in that in-between. If we aren’t getting along on the journey, then how can we expect to get along once we arrive?


[1] Arnold van Gennep, The Rites of Passage (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1960); referenced in Timothy L Carson, “Liminal Reality and Transformational Power: Pastoral Interpretation and Method,” Journal of Pastoral Theology 7 (Summer 1997): 99.

[2] Victor Turner, “Betwixt and Between,” quoted in Carson, “Liminal Reality and Transformational Power,” 100.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Timothy L. Carson, Transforming Worship, (St. Louis: Chalice, 2003), 60.

[5] Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (New York: Aldine, 1969); as referenced in Carson, “Liminal Reality and Transformational Power,” 101.

[6] Ibid.


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