Boundaries and Covenant

By Connie Goodbread


When we lean into creative conflict, doing our best to create courageous space, we must understand that it can’t be accomplished without setting boundaries. I would never suggest that anyone should put up with any kind of abuse. In loving relationships people should know one another’s needs, fears, hopes, vision, how we each like to be treated, what we long for – so that all may flourish. In loving relationships people need to set boundaries and accept the boundaries of those we love.

The first step of creating courageous space, where we can see conflict as a time of opportunity and creativity, is in the theological foundation and discipline of Unitarian Universalism. Covenant is the first discipline. Therefore, we must understand what Covenant is and is not. Covenant begins with us individually recognizing the values we hold most dear, the values we wish to hold ourselves accountable to and amplify in the world.

Covenant as Discipline looks like:




Trust and trustworthiness

Before Covenant can be alive between me and thee – it must be alive in each. Therefore, Covenant is a values-based vow we make to creation and ourselves about what we value most. These deep values are what we call ourselves back to when relationships and situations are difficult. We hold ourselves accountable to these values. Once Covenant lives inside of me – inside of you – then, and only then can we make it live in the holy space between us. Once it lives between us, it binds us one to another.

Once it is alive between the people of the community, it is alive in the community, and it binds the community together.

Covenant is a vow of our hearts. In community we share our heartfelt values, come to a common understanding of the values we share and create a Community Covenant grounded in our shared values. This Covenant we make together - keep together - break together - and fix together. Covenant helps me first to bring myself back into relationship before I ever ask others to come back into Covenant. Covenant is staying at the table – a willingness to be transformed by the reality of others.

At the Associational level the Covenant is the Seven (Eight) Principles and is found in the values suggested in the work of the Article II Commission.

Here is a Covenant I wrote grounded in Rev. James Luther Adams’ “Five Smooth Stones:”

With hope for a bright future - I come in trust.

With love in my heart for all of creation - I come in humility.

Seeking justice for all, marginalizing none - I come in open-mindedness.

With courage - I come willing to be transformed.

With great joy - I come to bind myself to you,

so that together we can do what I cannot do alone.

This is the Covenant I try to live into every day. It is the Covenant I fail at and call myself back to over and over. These are the values I wish to amplify in the world. I hold myself accountable to these values.

In order to live into this sacred promise I must set boundaries, discipline myself, stay present, be honest, be kind, set limits on behaviors that diminish me - and I must be willing to be transformed. I must be trusting and trustworthy. I must take responsible for myself, forgive and ask for forgiveness.

There will be those who argue in favor of freedom of speech and sometimes even freedom of behavior. One person’s freedoms end when they infringe upon the freedoms of another. People can and will say hurtful things. Once said, others have a right to set boundaries around the language or behavior that is painful, harmful, that diminishes them, “others” them, bullies, or gaslights them. No Covenant binds us to that kind of behavior. When this kind of behavior shows up, it needs to be interrupted. I love you, but this behavior must stop.

Now is the time for us to come to a deeper understanding of what it means to be on the path – practicing the discipline that is Unitarian Universalism.

I thank all that is holy, every day, for the partners I am bound to, so that together we can do the work that none of us can do alone.

About the Author

Connie Goodbread

Connie Goodbread is serving Unitarian Universalism as HOPE for Us Conflict Engagement Team Director. Connie served as Co-Lead of UUA Southern Region for three years.

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