On Covenant & Right Relationship
Love is the doctrine of this church, The quest of truth is its sacrament, And service is its prayer.
To dwell together in peace,
To seek knowledge in freedom,
To serve human need,
To the end that all souls shall grow into harmony with the Divine-
Thus, do we covenant with each other and with God.
— Arranged by L. Griswold Williams
I am currently preparing several assessments of this church year: my Annual Report to the Congregation, the self-evaluation that I do every year, and the evaluation I make, along with the Committee of Ministry and the Board of Trustees, of the state of our shared ministry. Consequently, these appraisals have left me doing a lot of thinking about the important ideas of Covenant and Right Relationship. In all honesty, these two concepts are regular, perhaps even constant, areas of concern and contemplation for me; not only because they are central and unique to church life, but because their purpose and durability were challenged this year, as they are every year.
Now, one might think that these terms, Covenant & Right Relationship, are trite, or merely religious jargon. Perhaps others see them as partial, non-binding, even arbitrary guidelines—to celebrate and uphold when times are good.
Yet, as your minister, called by you to serve and to share in this covenant of ministry, and also provide “spiritual leadership and initiative, for assistance in setting and articulating …vision.” So, I need to be clear: I believe that as concerns church life, the living ideas of Covenant and Right Relationship are not simply sanctuary virtues; garments to be worn during “spiritual” moments and discarded at times of interpersonal challenge, during the conduct of business, or when dealing with outsiders and employees. Perhaps that is when they are most needed.
That being said, I do not mean that we need shirk any of our responsibilities to each other, or forget our obligations to keep the building and grounds safe and maintained. It does not mean that we should let vendors or renters or contractors violate agreements with us, or vandals destroy our property without seeking legal redress if they do. Right Relationship does not mean that, as supervisor of the staff, I can choose to ignore when someone is doing a good job or, conversely, excuse behavior that would require correction, or lead to termination. As your minister, I would not be honoring the covenant between us if I never challenged you to step up and live by your better angels, out of fear of the risk or a desire to protect the status quo. Church covenants tend to defy the status quo.
Nonetheless, to look at Covenant and Right Relationship as replacements rather than complements to more common instruments such as contracts, policies and the law, or to look upon them as signs of weakness, is to misunderstand what they represent, and how they must function, in a church. Covenant is our manner of being in relationship with each other; and, necessarily, it greatly affects how we must treat our neighbors, how we stand in service to the larger community and how we care for our earthly home. Right Relationship is not simply some goal that we are shooting for, but rather a guide, suggesting the means by which we can return to behaving as we would wish; a return to our covenant of mutuality; to respecting others and treating them with the same dignity as we would wish to be afforded. As a covenantal church, with a responsibility to reflect our shared principles, in whatever context that we are representing the KUUC, our standards must be higher than the way of the world, business as usual.
Think about how you go about living your commitment to our covenantal religion. How does it affect your contributions of time, treasure and talent to the KUUC? How has it deepened your personal values? What impact does it have upon your behavior; at work, in the marketplace and at home? How has it affected, or perhaps complemented, the causes you support or have chosen not to support? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these questions if you would be willing to share them.
Whatever your conclusions, I assure you that this a worthy exercise to try; especially when undertaken in the spirit of open-minded enquiry and self-care, rather than in judgment or self-reproach.
After all we aren’t the kind of religion that is full of judgment and immutable laws. Instead, we are a religion that makes covenants, that asks each of us to honor our conscience and each other, to arrive at our own beliefs, and freely walk the responsible path toward truth and meaning.
Yours in Faith and Fellowship,
“After all, what are any of us after but the conviction of belonging?” Wallace Stegner
One the great crises of our time is homelessness. Homelessness, we know, is more than simply not having a home, or the money to pay our bills, or the necessary social service support to negotiate reentry to a society to which those without a street address quickly lose their connection.
Yet there are greater problems, problems that affect the homeless but extend well beyond the fact of homelessness, connecting everyone; though moreso those on the margins of our society. Those problems are hopelessness and the feeling of alienation, spiritual maladies with real world symptoms.
It is easy to see hopelessness and alienation in our world, among rich and poor, black and white, learned and uneducated, political or not. Immigrants who have gained citizenship, who have lived and worked in America for years, feel insecure walking the streets and suspect they are not welcome where they go. Many young people feel hopeless as they look at their employment options and consider their college debt. Surely, you don’t have to be young or born in another country to feel alienated—the epidemic of drug abuse, reaching across the generations, income levels and color lines is an indicator of that. The fact is that many people do not feel like they belong in their own country, due to their ability to “compete” in an economic system based on winners and losers, because of color or gender, sexual expression, age or ability.
We, the KUUC, may want ask ourselves some questions as we clarify our values and conceive of a mission worthy of our people and principles:
- What is the nature of our welcome to the world? Do we make people feel like they belong in our community?
- What is the nature of our community? Do we treat each other kindly without avoiding difficult challenges or sweeping conflict under the rug?
- What is the nature of our commitment? Do we work as individuals and as a community to understand and live our shared values and principles?
- People are suffering. Many people feel shut out of “the system”; many feel demoralized and persecuted because of their skin color; many feel despised because of their difference from the status quo; many feel the unbearable pain of being alone in the world.
Is there anything we can do to help? Do we dare to change the world? If we help one person who walks in our doors, in some way we help all people. When others are welcome we too feel less alienated and more clearly see our place in the human family.
With heart and in hope,