Trying to think about life and how God makes it full

Liminality and Communitas

Last weekend, I spent a wonderful day with my friends of Fellowship Afloat Charitable Trust (FACT). These are the crew who taught me to sail, and over the seven years I’ve known them, have become an important part of my life. The reason I spent the day with them, was that they were having their annual Away Day and they wanted me to have some input into their development as an organisation.

There are three main groups that make up FACT on a day like that: the Trustees, the Staff, and the Year Volunteer Staff. So I needed to ensure that I was engaging with all three groups throughout my session. But that was really good, as it actually gave the impetus for what I wanted to do, and what I thought was going to be a helpful way for them to engage with what they’re actually doing.

I drew heavily on material from Alan Hirsch’s new book, ‘The Forgotten Ways’; in particular, the chapter on ‘Communitas, not Community’. Here’s a quote from Alan’s book that I think is a good summary of what liminality and communitas is about:

‘…maturity and self-actualisation require movement and risk, and that adventure is actually good for the soul. They all teach that a deep form of togetherness and love is found when we emabark on a common mission of discovery, when we encounter danger together and have to find each other in the process in order to survive. We find all these elements in the way Jesus formed his disciples as together they embarked on a journey that took them away from their homes, family, and securities (be they social or religious) and set out on an adventure that involved liminality, risk, action-reflection learning, communitas, and spiritual discovery. On the way their fears of inadequacy and lack of provision faded, only to be replaced by a courageous faith that went on to change the world forever.’ (pp.240/1)

I wanted the FACT crew to engage with the concepts of Liminality and Communitas as I think that’s what they’re intuitively doing as an integral part of who they are and how they operate. But I didn’t think that they had the concepts or the language to articulate effectively that that was what they were doing. Once you’re tasted Liminality and Communitas in how you live and operate, nothing else comes close to really living. I’ve experienced it myself in the work I’ve done in NZ, Australia, and in London’s East End. But as a curate I’m struggling, as curate life is too safe.

Below, I’ve put the notes that I used for the day, including the resources, in case you wanted to have look.

Intro of me

Small Groups: (play music while they’re talking)

Year staff

  • What are your common feelings and experiences in your first 3 months at FACT?


  • What are your common feelings and experiences when:
    • Year staff leave at the end of the season
    • When the new crop of Year staff arrive


  • What’s at the front of your minds at the start of each season?

Liminality and Communitas

Rites of Passage:
Story: African example of boys living with women, then kidnapped by men and taken into bush.

  • Blindfolded, roughed up, circumcised, and left to themselves for up to 6 months.
  • Can only live on what they hunt and gather.
  • Men visit once/month for mentoring and debriefing.
  • Boys begin to find each other in mutual reliance, before moving onto next phase.

This finding each other is called communitas.

Comradeship born out of humility, ordeal, transition, and marginalisation.

  • Liminality is about a transition process accompanying a fundamental change of state or social position.
  • The boys are becoming a communitas of men.

If the boys emerge from the experience, they are reintroduced to the tribe as men – no longer boys.

The unsafe, risky, transitional process of liminality produces a deep sense of communitas that is transformational in the lives of the group members. (draw diagram from Hirsch p.221)

Communitas and community

  • Tends toward safety and security and equilibrium.
  • Is very prone to ‘the community for me’ taking over.
    • What’s in it for me?
  • Institutional church probs
    • Huddle and cuddle
    • Youth groups keep kids safe
    • ‘niceness’


  • Tends toward risk and danger and uncertainty
  • Is more about ‘me for the community and the community for the world’
    • Being engaged in something bigger than yourself (Diagram from Hirsch p.236)
    • Is about doing something
    • Being reliant upon God and others – completely.

Story: Me and Woody doing schools work in Oz

The Bible and Communitas
God seems to reveal himself most especially in times of extremity, when life is difficult.

  • Noah
  • Abraham
  • Moses and the Exodus
  • David
  • Babylonian Exile
  • Jesus and the disciples
  • Paul in Acts.

Read these stories as you think about the concepts of liminality and communitas.

  • Dangerous stories of faith
  • Peoples’ lives were on the line
  • Their lives were changed

The great stories don’t happen from a place of safety and security; they happen in the midst of adventure, risk, and danger.

  • LOTR
  • Narnia – safe!?

“The ship is safest when its in port. But that’s not what ships were made for.” Paul Coelho.

“Christians are safest when they’re in church. But that’s not what Christians are made for”. Me

Watch Band of Brothers. Disc 6: The making of BofB: first 8.5 mins.

List examples of where you notice when they’re talking about Liminality and Communitas.

Catchphrase: “They depended on each other, and the world depended on them.”
Groups: mix up Trustees with Staff and Year Staff.

Talk about FACT, and where you see and experience:

  • Liminality
  • Communitas.

So what?

Equilibrium (surfing the edge of chaos, p21)

  • Brings stagnation and death
    • Goldfish, zoo-raised animals
  • But there are also times when its needed (discernment required)

Change (surfing the edge of chaos, p30/1)

  • Inter-tidal zone most creative for mutation
  • Body’s genetic renewal programme every 7 years
    • Utilise new members for renewal

Equilibrium enforcers (surfing the edge of chaos, p,32)

  • Pay lip service to new ideas
  • Like to keep things the same.


Trustees as ‘disturbers of the equilibrium’

  • Have vision
  • Call vision into the present
    • MLK
    • Jesus and Lord’s Prayer

Year staff are the new genetic material

  • You will ‘see’ things fresh as outsiders
  • You will have ideas about how things could change
  • Find way to articulate your ideas

Staff are the Equilibrium Enforcers

  • Be aware of how you like things to stay the same
  • Your challenge is how to manage from the future without unnecessarily protecting the equilibrium.

Managing from the future, by engaging with a vision beyond your current knowledge and resources will put you in a state of liminality that will produce communitas so that you will be changed, and you will go on to change history.
The Forgotten Ways – Alan Hirsch
Surfing the Edge of Chaos – Pascale, Millemann, Gioja
The Shaping of Things to Come – Hirsch, Frost
Emerging Churches – Gibbs, Bolger
Band of Brothers DVD, Disc 6 – first 8.5mins of “Making of…”
Music CD

CD player
Whiteboard/flip chart/pens


January 27, 2007 - Posted by | communitas, culture, god, jesus, liminality, mission, religion


  1. great! glad you found it all useful RevT. Lotsa love AH

    Comment by Alan Hirsch | January 29, 2007 | Reply

  2. Hurrah and thanks for putting your notes up, will help greatly with the further digestion and cogitation needed after a day like last Saturday! And at last am allowed to distrub the equilibrium! Thanks for all your hard work, it was an awesome day… now, perhaps some notes on how to get the church to pay for a Harley would be also be useful….

    Comment by Ruthie E | January 29, 2007 | Reply

  3. Thanks Tony – it was an inspiring day. Hoping you’ll stick with us as FACT evolves and spawns, and new people move into key positions during the coming years. God has blessed us with a slice of watery heaven on the edge of east coast.

    Comment by David Hillyer | February 1, 2007 | Reply

  4. Just discovered this piece, very helpful comments as I work out the shape of ministry in isolated places where people are forced by circumstance or desire to live in a town/ camp which is not of their normal preference, it’s not home and never will be.It is a liminal place and yet the church and those who adhere to it in these out of the way places so often focus on community values and structures they thought were good, ideas from back hom, and they wonder why somrhting different is happening. The communitas thought is enlightning. first picked it up in Frosts book, he got it from is mate Hirsch. I am keen to see how it might work out in other places where groups of people are sort of exiled in un familar territory. I wonder how this applied to the people of God in Exile? the new church couped up in Jersalem not knowing what to do but to form a community which is broken open by chapter 8 Acts and they once again become a missional group, on the move. Is this Communitas?

    Comment by Brian R | December 19, 2007 | Reply

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