As Unitarian Universalists, we subscribe to a non-credal religion. That is, you do not have to subscribe to any particular set of beliefs in order to join us. Instead, as the UUA explains, we are a “covenantal” religion, a religion based on promises we make to each other. Thus, the statement of our seven guiding principles is prefaced with the language of covenant:
We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote:
The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations;
Acceptance of one another and encouragement o spiritual growth in our congregations;
A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
Respect for the interdependent web of life of which we are a part.
The principles themselves are aspirational and fairly general. They call us to do our best to honor each other, to live justly and lovingly in the world, and to be mindful of our deep connections with the web of life. There is not much in those principles, however, to help us figure out just how we might carry them out in practice. These days, many UU congregations are developing congregational covenants that address this issue and promote a higher level of mindfulness in our day-to-day interactions.
The Lakeshore UU Board adopted a covenant for itself about a year ago as a first step toward initiating a covenant planning process for the congregation as a whole. Its preface spells out the purposes of engaging in this act of covenant-making.
A Covenant of Right Relations is a set of guidelines to create our welcoming, respectful, safe, and vibrant spiritual community. Our fellowship is guided by our covenant of the seven principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association. This Covenant of Right Relations is our community’s foundation for creating and maintaining a loving and safe congregation. These guidelines offer specific ways that we can foster loving and dynamics relationships within our community while also encouraging broad and diverse exploration of our individual beliefs and spiritual paths. These guidelines can also help to reduce conflict, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings that can occur when people speak passionately about subjects important to them.
To covenant with one another is to engage in the spiritual and everyday practice of loving better. Although this document expresses our written promise to each other, our true covenant lives and breathes in our actions. In times of growth we will use it to deepen our bonds with one another; during times when we are loving well, it will inspire us to love better; and in times of conflict, we will use it to guide us back to togetherness. We expect this covenant to be challenging, but we also expect it to inspire us to strengthen our relationships and deepen our sense of community.
This is a living document, which must ultimately reflect the spirit and understanding of our entire community. As the Lakeshore Unitarian Universalist board, we are undertaking to adopt this document first for ourselves and adapt, refine, and revise it as we are moved to do so.
This year, we are moving on to engage the congregation as a whole in a covenant-making process. Covenant development is necessary a consensus project. In the end, a covenant drawn up by a congregation must reflect everyone’s beliefs about how they wish to affirm, promote, and carry out the spirit of our seven principles. In creating our covenant, we ask ourselves questions, such as, “How do we wish to be treated by others in our community?” and “What actions can we take to promote justice and compassion in the wider communities of which we are a part?” or “What steps can we take to live more gently on the earth?” and “How do we model the beloved community?” Our answers to these question provide the specifics of our mutual covenant, our promises to one another and ourselves.
We are only in the beginning stages of the project at this point, so do stay tuned for further developments!