This month’s column from the Healthy Congregation Team will focus on Covenants. You may have heard about the church’s Covenant of Right Relations, which the congregation created and approved in 2005: https://bbuuc.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/BBUUC-Covenant-of-Right-Relations-.pdf
This covenant is published in the church’s annual report and is referenced at the beginning of each annual meeting, to remind people of how we hope to conduct the business of the church, a process that can sometimes provoke feelings of anxiety and tension among Members.
One of HCT’s long-term goals is to update this existing covenant since it was created 15 years ago when the church was comprised of different personnel and was a much smaller congregation. It is important that the congregation eventually undertake the work of revising this important document so that it resonates with a different group of Members.
Beyond the church wide Covenant of Right Relations, every year the new Board and Council Members adopt their own Covenant to guide how they interact with one another and make decisions. RE classes also create their own covenants. In forming our own HCT team, we created this Covenant: https://bbuuc.org/hct-covenant/
What is their purpose of creating covenants, besides just trying to make people be nice to one another? At the UU Congregation in Seattle, their covenant is visibly posted near their entry way and “calls members to listen attentively, express gratitude, value confidentiality, ask for help, respect different opinions, and ‘acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes.’” https://www.uua.org/interconnections/143004.shtml
When tensions rise and disagreements are shared, it is important that a group recognizes the need to experience these uncomfortable moments in a healthy way so that interactions do not get out of control. Instead of yelling to a fellow congregant “You’re out of covenant!”, the Fox Valley UU Fellowship in Appleton, WI found it is a more practical strategy to gently call people back into covenant. Rev. Roger Bertschausen explains they use their covenant in this way: “We don’t hold it up and say, ‘You’re not doing this,’ but rather, ‘Are we living up to this?’ In a healthy system the only people we can change are ourselves.”
In general, covenants are a great tool to adopt and employ in a variety of settings, not just at church. Perhaps you can create one within your family or other organizations of which you are a part. But, keep in mind that covenants are only as useful as they are accepted and followed. Disagreements and conflicts among people are normal and we should not fear when they occur. Keeping emotions in check, respectfully listening and disagreeing, and assuming positive intent in others are all essential in maintaining covenants.
For more information, please visit the following websites:
Madeline Sims, Member of the HCT