Other religious bodies have a creed, that is there is a statement of belief which binds us together. In Unitarian Universalism, we have principles and purposes which affirm what is commonly believed among us—and you do not have to believe all of them to be in sympathy with our purposes and able to find your religious home here. So what holds us together? In a single word: covenant. As one article from uua.org puts it:
- 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. (https://www.uua.org/leadership/learning-center/governance/covenant)
Covenants are the promises and commitments that we make to one another. They can be informal, as in a group of friends who understand that they should defend and attend to one another or they can be more formal such as our Covenant of Right Relations at MDUUC. Our covenant represents two sorts of commitments—those about how we need to live together in a healthy way and those which bind us to our larger sense of our faith.
Covenants change over time and evolve. For example, religious communities are now much more aware of the dangers of programs for youth and children and the need to provide spaces to minimize the risks of harm. We also now understand that having set policies are more inclusive than informal networks because they privilege those who have connections with those who have run things in the past and make it hard for new leaders to emerge.
Covenants are easy to say and often hard to put in practice and we are seeing that in our community today. At the February 6 Minister’s Class on Counterweight Values for Our Times, we will examine some of the history and the conundrums of a religious community bound together by covenant.
With gratitude, Leslie