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Covenanting For Excellence in Religious Education

An Overview of the Process

Background

The word covenant has broad meaning. It is traditional religious language that refers to a "solemn agreement" or "promise from the heart." The roots come from the covenants of the Hebrew scriptures, and later in the Christian scriptures, as a means of describing the relationship between God and God's people. Covenantal relationships were established by early Protestant congregations and their clergy, including Unitarian congregations. Today, our association of Unitarian Universalist congregations covenant together to affirm and promote a set of principles and purposes that represent the core values we share. Many of our congregations enter into covenantal relationships with their ministers.

Developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association in the early 1990's, Covenanting for Excellence in Religious Education is a facilitated process between a religious educator and a congregation for purposes of identifying a set of mutually agreed-upon commitments. In its current incarnation, this covenantal process considers present expectations of the congregation and outlines mutual hopes for the future of the program. It may be used as a tool for growth and deeper understandings for the congregation and religious educator, with identified resources, mutual commitments, and support systems. It can specify results expected and how these results will be achieved. The covenant should be a living document that represents more than a list of objectives and aspirations; it reflects a commitment to ongoing congregational transformation. A covenant reflects the quality of the relationships involved, rather than the contractual dimensions of employment.

Process

This is the first major revision of the Covenant for Excellence in Religious Education process since its inception. Along the way, the process has been adapted and improved by including the wisdom and insights of experienced facilitators. This facilitator handbook will include many of the materials generated by these facilitators over the past decade.

The Covenant process is a part of a professional development "career cycle" of religious educators in a congregational setting. This career cycle includes:

  • Search process and hiring.
  • Start-up process for newly-hired RE Professionals within three months of hire.
  • Facilitated "Collegial Dialogue" between Parish Minister and Religious Educator.
  • Facilitated Covenant process approximately one and a half years after hire.
  • Follow-up assessments at regular intervals.
  • Ongoing professional development and goal-setting.
  • Exit/Transition process upon departure/retirement from a position.

Setting the stage for congregational change and transformation, a Covenant for Excellence in Religious Education deepens and strengthens the bonds of Unitarian Universalist community through intentional commitment to the common vision, awareness of faith development, and growth and change.

The covenanting process is conducted by trained facilitators, and includes the religious educator, parish minister and other church staff, lay leaders, and other interested congregants. It involves individual and group theological reflection and exploration of the congregation's history and culture, clarifying and prioritizing goals and expectations, articulating a common vision, and celebrating the accomplishment in a special service.

Context

A Covenant for Excellence in Religious Education invites us to place lifespan religious education and faith development at the center and heart of congregational life. In this context of religious community, all aspects of congregation life are interconnected and are affected by the changes in priorities and ways in which leadership is shared.

Maria Harris, esteemed religious educator, offers us the philosophy that everything we do is educating religiously. Harris views the entire course of the congregation's life as its curriculum, the context for its life-long creative and educative processes. Within this framework of Congregation as Curriculum we can identify five central aspects of Unitarian Universalist faith communities:

Social/Community—the people and relationships of the church, pastoral care networks, social events and community celebrations

Social Justice—service projects, social justice activities in the wider community

Worship—worship services and rituals practiced in the congregation

Learning—the more formal learning context of Religious Education classes, workshops, adult programs, as well as the informal learning that comes from engaging in the other aspects

Leadership—opportunities for all ages to learn and practice leadership skills; also the coaching and mentoring practices of professional staff and congregation leaders in empowering others

The Covenant for Excellence in Religious Education process is a steppingstone in the larger process of congregational transformation. Once created, the covenant is intended to be a vital and sacred part of an intergenerational faith community—a true "promise from the heart."

For more information contact recredentialing @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Tuesday, April 16, 2013.

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