Covenant is Foundational to Congregational Polity
Covenant is the silk that joins Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations, communities, and individuals together in a web of interconnection. The practice of promising to walk together is the precious core of our creedless faith.
“Covenant” is both a noun and a verb. It can be a written agreement among individual community members promising to behave in certain ways, and it can mean to engage in mutual promises with Spirit, with other people and communities.
Covenants within UU congregations and Communities
Some congregations and communities don’t have written covenants, which can make it hard for people to understand and practice how community members aspire to be together, and hard to know what to do when those aspirations fall short. In this way, covenants are like holy signposts that help a group of people know where they are headed and how.
Here are some examples of covenants that members of congregations or communities make amongst themselves:
Covenants of Right Relations, which often clarify expectations for individual behaviors in our communities:
- Westside Unitarian Universalist Congregation (Seattle, WA)
- Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Church (Cedar Park, TX)
- Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley (Berkeley, CA)
- Williamsburg Unitarian Universalists (Williamsburg, VA)
- James Reeb Unitarian Universalist Congregation (Madison, WI)
Covenants of Purpose, which often clarify collective purpose and vision:
- Universalist Unitarian Church of Peoria (Peoria, IL)
- Harvard UU Ministry for Students (HUUMS)
- Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens (Athens, GA)
- Allegheny UU Church (Pittsburgh, PA)
Covenants among Unitarian Universalist congregations and communities
Every congregation has covenanted to “affirm and promote” our “Principles and Practices” and to promise “one another our mutual trust and support.” Beyond these mutual commitments, which each congregation makes when it formally joins the Association, it can be hard to know exactly how congregations and communities are called to steward their associational covenant.
Here are examples of how some congregations honor this larger covenant:
- engage in Standing on the Side of Love justice efforts
- participate in pulpit or choir swaps with neighboring congregations
- learn and worship alongside other congregations by participating in district or regional programs (see your district/regional website for more information)
- provide direct services to other congregations by paying Fair Share dues to our Association and to districts/regions
- ask leaders from other congregations for advice and support
- send delegates to our Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly
- attend installations and ordinations at area congregations
- Writing a Covenant Workshop
- The Cambridge Platform (free book on Google)
- The Lay and Liberal Doctrine of the Church: The Spirit and the Promise of Our Covenant by Alice Blair Wesley (free download)
- Behavioral Covenants in Congregations: A Handbook for Honoring Differences by Gilbert R. Rendle (Alban Institute)—includes a process to create your own congregational covenant
- Interdependence: Renewing Congregational Polity: A free report by the Commission on Appraisal, Unitarian Universalist Association, June 1997
- Safe Congregations Handbook