Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Love Connects Us: A Program on Living in Unitarian Universalist Covenant for Grades 4-5

The Treehouse Rules

The treehouse was built on the congregation's grounds over three Saturdays in September, using donated lumber and the donated labor of the families who attended the church and other adults who wanted to help with the project. Even the kids got involved—especially those age ten and up—by pitching in and helping in any way that they could during the construction.

And it was a fantastic place to be once it was completed, with a window that faced the nearby playground, a rope ladder to climb up, and a slide to exit. While everyone was happy that the treehouse was there after all the planning and construction, it soon became a problem. When too many kids wanted to enjoy it at once, their different ideas about how to use it came into conflict with each other.

The younger kids got a thrill out of running races through it, hurriedly climbing up the rope ladder, rushing through the treehouse to race down the slide over and over again, one after the other. But the older kids wanted to hang out in the treehouse after the worship service ended, playing games like jacks and cards. One day, a second grader racing by interrupted the fifth graders' game of cards for the third time. That was it. A fight broke out, with name-calling, pushing, and some tears.

Some adults demanded that the treehouse be off-limits until the children learned to cooperate with each other. Other adults protested that their children had special rights to use the treehouse because they had helped to build it. The Religious Education Committee had meetings about a policy for use of the treehouse. They were getting ready to report to the congregation's board of directors with their findings. Meanwhile, the minister considered bringing in a consultant from the District to address the conflict, which had now spread through the entire congregation.

But while the adults were arguing, holding meetings, and creating policies, something happened. The children who had been temporarily banned from the treehouse started talking to each other and looking for ways they could all use the playhouse together. A few of them remembered the covenants they had created in their RE programs the year before. They suggested a covenant could be created for how the kids could use the treehouse. So they sat down and talked about why they liked the treehouse and what made it fun. They discovered ways they could all enjoy their treehouse in the way they wanted to. They came up with a covenant which laid out how they would be in the treehouse and how they would respect others who were also using the space.

Just as the adults were starting a congregational meeting to adopt a policy for use of the treehouse, some church leaders looked out the window. They saw the children cooperating with each other and using the treehouse without conflict. A teenager was dispatched to the treehouse to discover what "rules" the participants had come up with, and when she reported back to the adults at the congregational meeting, the announcement came that the participants had created a covenant with one another.

The adults were humbled. Some sheepishly glanced at their church covenant, framed on the wall—hanging there and mostly forgotten. The congregational meeting was adjourned. The adults went on their way, reminded of the power of covenants, working together to find a solution and the commitment of people in right relationship with one another—all because of the treehouse rules.