But Why Does Our Congregation Need a Covenant? Do We Have to Have One?

Covenant words by James Vila Blake on parchment paper

Unitarian Universalists are a covenantal, not a creedal, Faith. There is no belief requirement, or creed, that you have to say to join us in community, even though there are beliefs that we would consider to be outside the boundaries of our faith. There is, however, a requirement for how we wish to be together, treat one another, and do the work of building Beloved Community together. Our covenants are the way in which we practice our religion together, and they are aspirational descriptions of how we want to be in the world. Our covenants are also ways of norming the culture of our congregations toward love, inclusivity, and kindness. When a person joins a Unitarian Universalist congregation, they sign the membership book. What they are actually doing is signing the covenant of the congregation and agreeing to consensually enter into this holy promise about how we will be together and co-create Unitarian Universalism.

Two of our staff members, Kathy McGowan and Nancy Combs-Morgan, have offered us additional reflections on the importance of covenant in our congregations. If you would like information or assistance in creating or articulating your congregational covenant, please reach out to your Southern Region Staff.

Why Covenant? By Nancy Combs-Morgan

Our Unitarian Universalist congregations need covenants to outwardly reflect their heartfelt expressions of how they seek to be a faithful community of care. Think of circles of covenants within a broad, aspirational, congregational covenant, akin to resting bowls of care, one within the other. Without intentional, mutually created, multigenerational, aspirational, congregational covenants, that rest within the overall covenant for the entire community, there truly isn’t a clear, guiding expression for the breadth and depth of your community. As the talented leaders at Courage of Care consulting have expressed …it takes courage to co-create a culture of care…we take care of the “me” and “we” by doing our best to honor, attend to, and anticipate the needs for ourselves and others…we honor the inherent worth, dignity and belonging of each person, affirming our individual and collective capacity to positively shift in the direction of greater care, understanding, justice and compassion.

No, you do not have to have circles of covenants within your all embracing covenant, but when you do seek this type of collective expression, which serves as a faithful reflection of how you are actually doing, then you have heightened the possibility of an embodied and creative expression of our covenantal faith.

Why Covenant? By Kathy McGowan

“Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn't matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again , come , come.”― Jelaluddin Rumi

As Unitarian Universalists, we hold our relationships at the center of our faith tradition. Because of this, how we are together is most sacred. Our promises of how we are going to be, are held in our covenants. Our covenants are our aspirations of how we are going to make ourselves and the world a better place.

As a spiritual community it is our work to aspire to be better so that the world can be better. Sometimes we fall short. As the Rumi poem says “Though I’ve broken my vows a thousand times, come yet again come.” This is one of the things that I love most about this faith is that it asks us to come, yet again, back into covenant.

We live with multiple covenants all the time. Some people have many covenants within their congregation and some are aware of only one; beautifully written and said during worship. People also have covenants that they created outside of congregational life; wedding vows would be an example. We can also live a covenantal life without having anything written down or said at all.

If you are truly willing to live a life of reverence and respect beyond yourself, then you can live a covenantal life. If you strive to have healthy relationships and intentionally attend to them, you know when you are out of covenant; you know when something is wrong, when something is broken, when you are out of right relationship. It is up to each one of us to pay attention to these most sacred bonds and to do our part to aid in the healing of any brokenness.

The value of creating and stating covenants is that they help us to stay on our aspirational path. They remind us of the things that we hold most holy. They help us to understand when we are out of covenant, it is our responsibility to come, yet again, back into right relationship.

This is how we teach Unitarian Universalism. How we are together, is the faith we live and therefore the faith we teach to others. Because we are human, we make, break, and remake our covenants. What is important is to pay attention.

About the Authors

Natalie Briscoe

Natalie Briscoe is the Lead of the Southern Region's Congregational Life staff team.

Kathy McGowan

Kathy McGowan has been on the Congregational Life Staff for the Southern Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association since 2013. In that time her areas of focus have been in systems thinking, theology, conflict, intercultural sensitivity, and staff supervision. She is one of the primary...

Nancy Combs-Morgan

Nancy Combs-Morgan has been immersed in Unitarian Universalist faith development for 26+ years, including 6 as a Director of Religious Education, and 20 years on UUA district and regional staff.

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