What do we mean when we say that Unitarian Universalism is a covenantal faith? It points to our history as a faith focused on the quality of how we relate with one another. In 1648 The Cambridge Platform gave expression to the way congregational churches are intended to work. Institutionally, we emerged out of these early New England Protestant churches.
As Alice Blair Wesley explains: “For the authors of the Platform, free churches are groups of people who have covenanted to “walk together,” as they are called by God to do, in the spirit of mutual love. [..] The congregationalists understood the Bible to be mainly about the free and covenantal social practice of love.”
Joining our church means joining our covenant. It means being intentional about the promise we repeat each Sunday: “To dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, and to help one another.” Yet what does that mean in practice? What does that look like when we actually come together answering the call of service, attempting to act in the spirit of love?
There is no boilerplate answer. To make it real, to feel ownership, and to have it be a tool that has actual impact on how we relate and how we stay accountable, each group needs to develop their own covenant, a covenant sensitive to the group’s purpose, setting, and dynamics.
Our small-group ministry groups (aka Covenant Groups) all have covenants geared toward helping them create a space for deep and intimate sharing. Our youth group has a covenant with a similar purpose yet expressed in their own way. Take a look at the wall in Room 6 and ask a youth what they mean by “Don’t Yuck My Yum.” 🙂
In December, our Board of Trustees updated their covenant (or check Room 8/9 for a copy). And our staff team just spent several weeks developing a Staff Covenant that speaks to our interactions with each other and with you, the congregants.
Of course, having a covenant is not inherently useful UNLESS we are willing to hold each other accountable when someone steps outside the bounds of the promises that were made. That’s when it gets interesting and challenging. It takes courage to name what could be uncomfortable – for the individuals as well as the group. People are able to hear feedback in different ways. What works for you (e.g., a blunt comment in front of the entire group) may not work for someone else (who may depend on a gently phrased “suggestion” in a one-on-one conversation a few days later).
Regardless of what works, the goal remains the same: to restore relationship so we can continue to “walk together” and pursue the “social practice of love” – at the personal level (healing & helping) and in the public sphere (justice & service).
Let me know if you’d like help with creating or updating covenants for your group(s).