I am sitting at my desk a couple of days before Christmas, thinking about the very short time I have left with you! The holidays will fly by. Soon after I will begin a month of unpaid leave. (February 15th – March 15th). By the time I return your Ministerial Search Committee will be close to announcing whether or not they have a candidate to be your new settled minister. And at the end of June, I finish my work here.
So what is left to do? I believe a major project is the creation of a congregational covenant of right relations. UU commentator Walter Herz wrote, “We are individual overachievers and institutional underachievers.” He didn’t mean it as a compliment! One way to create a stronger institution is to be intentional about our connections to one another. An explicit covenant is essential to a healthy life together in faith.
A decade ago I served on the Commission on Appraisal as we undertook a study of the meaning of membership in our movement. We noted that community had become something of a catchword in American religion, yet many people who expressed a yearning for spiritual community wanted nothing to do with organized religion. “The reality,” we wrote “is that you cannot have one without the other, and it is part of the church’s job to lead people to that discovery.” I still assert that is the job of this and every congregation to lead its members to the discovery you need to make some promises to each other and ask some things of each other and hold yourselves and each other accountable for your words and your actions. A covenant is a promise that will give form to your shared life in faith; a promise that will insure that in this flawed, imperfect, all too human community you can, together, be better than any of you could hope to be alone.
“Covenant is the central unifying promise or commitment that binds a religious community together in voluntary loyalty. It grows from an affirmation of shared needs, values, purposes and principles. As such it is rooted in the past, in the tradition of the congregation, and reflects the embodiment of the promise through history. It is a promise made in the present, with implications for the future” (Source: UUA Extension and New Congregation training materials.)
Are you ready to bind yourselves together in voluntary loyalty? Beginning on Sunday January 25th the Transition Team will ask you to reflect on two questions that will form the basis of your shared covenant. “What promises would you like people here to make to you in order for The Unitarian Church in Westport to be a safe place where you can grow your soul?” And, “What promises are you willing to make to people here in order for The Unitarian Church in Westport to be a safe place for everybody to grow their souls?” Their words may differ from mine, but the essential sentiment will be the same.
The Transition Team will use several methodologies to gather your answers and identify commonalities before presenting you with a draft covenant for your affirmation. This covenant will be a powerful tool that will allow you to welcome new members into this dynamic community. Nobody will have to guess at the ground rules; nobody will feel excluded. Being explicit about your expectations of each other is a practice of radical hospitality. The covenant will also be a powerful tool for establishing a healthy relationship with your new minister.
As the New Year begins, I encourage all of you to consider what you would promise each other and what you would ask of each other. The answers will lead you into a healthy and happy New Year, which is what I wish for all of you.
In the Interim,