Our ministry theme for this month of September is Covenant. Covenant used to be a loaded word at Silver Spring. When I first arrived no one was willing to use it. While most UU churches call their small group ministry ‘Covenant Groups’ we called ours Inreach Groups for that reason. One of the early steps recommended was to make a covenant of understanding between the church and myself, but the leadership at UUCSS decided it wasn’t a good idea to do that soon, and so we postponed it for a few years and finally did one jointly between myself and the church and then-DRE Mandy Keithan and the church.
All of this was because there had been some failed covenanting in the past that people were still hurting from. The failed covenanting was so impactful, people just couldn’t go there again – and didn’t – for years. Eventually though, they could. We did the best we could to process and form the covenant I mentioned above between myself, Mandy and UUCSS members – and it felt good to people. It felt right. In that covenant we all promised to do our best to support our relationships, to fulfill our roles to the fullest we could, and to offer each other forgiveness when we got something wrong or let each other down.
That covenant was important not only for what it achieved explicitly, but also because it started UUCSS on a path of re-engaging in covenant, meaning in covenantal engagement with each other, and in covenantal behavior. A little while later people were ready to make a Member-to-Member covenant, a promise between and among the members and friends of the church. That covenant was longer, and it took longer to form. It hangs now in the foyer outside the sanctuary, a place where most UUCSS members and friends can readily encounter it, next to our sacred space, a reminder to us all what we know we owe each other as people of faith.
As a lifelong Unitarian Universalist I’ve always been grateful for this faith that is by its nature always contemporary and relevant. I didn’t have to drag my faith into the 20th and then the 21st centuries – indeed there are times it has pulled us, including me, into the now. Covenantal relationship is part of how and why that happens. Covenants have a necessarily dual-nature; they are about what we know, and they are also about what we take on faith. You can’t covenant with an utter stranger, and you don’t need a covenant if there will be nothing unforeseen before you.
I only have two covenants in my life – my vows to my husband, and my pledges to my church. There are times it’s good to be reminded – that we need to be reminded – of what we have promised each other, because it’s easy to slide into something less, something more self-focused, something that will ultimately bring us out of covenant if we let ourselves forget it. Covenants are reminders, containers, not for who and how we wish we could be, but who and how we have promised to be. If they are merely aspirational, they are not real.
This church has much in its wake that has leaned on and relied on its covenants. We have much in our present, and our future, that require our covenants. I’m grateful for the covenants in my life, and for the continued living into them that keeps me as I need to be. When we keep them, they keep us.