Director of Faith Development's Messages
Last week was Heritage History Sunday at church. And as we head into the Thanksgiving season, abound with prayers of gratitude and plans for a multitude, it is apt to consider some more Unitarian Universalist history. I will take this opportunity to connect this to the robust goal that the Governing Board set forth for the congregation this year – covenanting.
Our Unitarian Universalist polity was born 27 years after the Mayflower brought hearty passengers to a new land. In 1648, in the city of Cambridge Massachusetts, delegates came together to make some agreements about how they would order their lives both as particular religious communities and as a community of congregations. And thus born the the Cambridge Platform, our guiding document for how we Unitarian Universalists uphold freedom and accountability. By this definition of our Unitarian Universalist history and polity, it is not an option for a congregation to be a lone ranger, which must mean that we do not cater to individuals. We we encourage collaboration and partnerships. For this, we can be very, very proud.
Our congregation is in the midst of exploring and embodying what this means for us and how it may be manifested. Unitarian Universalist is a covenantal, not creedal religion. This means that while we draw on the six sacred sources of our living tradition for wisdom, inspiration and meaning, our living actions are what becomes our central theology. This is unique.
When we consider how our living actions help taken care of the sacred vessel that is community, we quickly learn that we need to get closer, listen harder, talk more gently but surely in order to create a living, guiding document by which to live. Our living actions and our written commitments to keep each other a healthy and vital part of the community is covenanting. The written part is our covenant. We tell children that to covenant with one another is to make promises to each other.
In his 2008 address at a Florida Revival Service, Unitarian Univeralist minister Rob Eller-Isaacs said that if we want a revival, if we want our faith to come alive, then we must promise three things:
• Promise to find and keep your balance through personal spiritual practice.
• Then, promise to learn to be intimate in small groups, so that you are able to go deep quickly with strangers.
• And when, by personal practice and deep conversation your heart is broken open, when compassion takes root in you ….then…. promise you will find a way to bless the world.
And according to Eller-Isaacs, all this will result in:
• a disciplined life of contemplation, spirituality or prayer for sustenance and self-reflection
• the ability to be intimate and honest in small groups and
• effective leadership for positive change
This is what we need to ask and promise and do ourselves – stay awake and alert and engage in deep, universal questions; and do the work. We are a covenantal not creedal religion, which means that we covenant with each other – we show up.
To be sure, this is a continuing paradigm shift from independence to interdependence, from individualism to relationalism. Although the Unitarian Universalist Association is a “community of autonomous congregations,” we are by definition bound to each other, from one age to another, from one congregation to another, from many congregations to the world we live in.
Sometimes history is verbose and dense. And so we translate.
As the Director of Faith Development, I have the honor of covenanting with staff and lay leaders and children and youth and each of you. Sometimes this covenanting is very intentional and methodical. It is written down and we take time to make sure that the words reflect authentic intent. The covenant is then used as a powerful compass, checkpoint, anchor, a reminder of sacred agreements that reflect a shared expression of how we want to be together.
Covenenting as a living action is as seemingly small as when someone you love expresses concern or even upset with some part of church life, you can suggest who would be best to voice that concern directly. We remind each other that a conversation that continues a bit too long and in a negative frame can do more harm not only to the church but to the very people in the congregation.
We call each other to our best selves. We call each other to be willing to be vulnerable so that we can know better how to become stronger. We learn to embrace imperfection because that’s where we find truth. I encourage you to look for your place in community to be in covenant. It is all around you. If this feels new to you or far away, take a few steps towards a group that you can be a part of.
Herein ends today’s history lesson. Study hard and you’ll be ready for life’s pop quizzes!