A Comprehensive Guide to Congregational Covenants
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.
Congregational Covenants can take many forms and reflect the needs and best wishes of a variety of groups—from church committee members to staff groups to how members of an entire congregation agree to be in right relationship with one another.
Creating and agreeing to a covenant can be an extremely effective tool for building a foundation of trust. By creating shared expectations around the behaviors we want to cultivate, we come closer to creating the beloved community. A covenant is also the positive expression of healthy behavior, so that leaders have more clarity in identifying and responding to disruptive behavior.
The Science of Covenant
If Unitarian Universalism’s crux were reduced to a few points in space and time, they would be those potent moments just before and just after we keep promises, or break them. The power of those moments is simple, shocking, and science-based.
We have the opportunity to rearrange the brain, physically rearrange the brain through certain practices like covenant. If we choose to do that in concert with someone else, or by ourselves, in a programmed way, way we are doing self-directed neuroplasticity.
The Theology of Covenant
Our choice to organize around our promises among ourselves and with that which invokes our ultimate commitment is our greatest strength.
Process Theology and the notion of Creative Interchange is one framework to understand covenant. Developing practical spiritual practices to live in covenant can create space for sacred conversations and authentic living.
UUA Studies about Theology and Belonging:
- Engaging Our Theological Diversity UUA Commission on Appraisal
- Belonging: The Meaning of Membership UUA Commission on Appraisal
Creating and Practicing Covenant
In creating your congregation's own covenant, you might start with a question:
- "What does the Beloved Community feel like in practice?"
- "How do we want our members, friends and visitors to feel when they encounter our congregation?"
- "How do we live our UU values, starting with one another?"
You can then move on to the question:
- What do we need to promise one another in order to create that kind of community?
Covenant can be as simple and as deep as you want to make it. The important part is living into it. Here are some suggestions:
- Invite members and friends to sign the covenant
- Post an attractive banner with the covenant
- Post the covenant on your web home page and social media accounts
- Recite the covenant during Sunday worship. (Some congregations have a liturgical version for this purpose when their covenant is lengthy or detailed.)
- Your Congregational Life regional staff is a terrific resource when you are doing covenant work.
- Talk to neighboring congregations about their covenants
- Also useful is Gilbert R. Rendle’s Behavioral Covenants in Congregations: A Handbook for Honoring Differences.