As Unitarian Universalists, we value the inherent worth and dignity of every person and we celebrate the rich diversity that exists among us. Yet our church functions within the wider culture that surrounds us, the default culture, which may not share our values or articulate them as clearly as we do.
The culture that currently surrounds us can be a challenging one in which to live. Who among us has not felt belittled or misjudged in our lives at some point? While experiences of personal conflict are a natural part of life that can help us strengthen our character as we overcome them, there is historical evidence (see Rendle, below) to indicate that societies cycle through levels of civility related to their historical context. In American culture, the post WWII “Greatest” generation stressed order, consensus and security that required high levels of civil order; whereas the Baby Boomer generation stressed individual expression and exploration. Later generations are more reliant on electronic communication, bringing change to our cultural norms about relationships and conduct.
Every church reflects the surrounding culture of its day and yet some churches, because they are aware of it and because they intentionally tend to it, maintain a higher level of civility and connectedness than that of the cultural default. These churches create a space where people feel safer and freer to be themselves and more effectively share their greatest gifts. UUCR has fared very well throughout these generational changes, creating a strong, loving community, and yet there is also history here from past and recent times when UUCR has experienced difficult and controversial periods when healthy disagreement and rich diversity of opinions gave way to bickering and division. These times have been especially difficult to weather because we did not have in place an intentional and formal process to express ourselves, understand the viewpoints of others and ultimately return to right relations.
The Governing Board has been exploring the process of formal Right Relations Covenants. These are used to create a more intentionally and specifically articulated civil culture – a more loving community. The Board itself has a covenant, as does the Core Staff Team, the Faith Development Committee and the Pastoral Care Team. Covenants are also being developed in churches throughout our denomination and will be the main focus of the 2013 UUA General Assembly when representatives from all UU congregations gather in Louisville, Kentucky.
This year the board is taking the next logical step in living our Unitarian Universalist principles by leading the congregation in the development of a UUCR church-wide Right Relations Covenant. Unlike a bylaw or a policy, a covenant is not a rule enforceable by a higher body. It is a promise that we create together and make to one another. And unlike a law, a broken covenant does not require compensation or punishment; it requires earnest inquiry, forgiveness and recommitment, further strengthening the covenantal bond. A covenant will enable us to reap the energy inherent in our differences for creative purposes instead of letting that same energy diminish and divide us. As UUCR continues to grow in terms of our numbers and influence, the existence of such a covenant can serve as a way to welcome new people into our community with clear statements that enable us to share with them our strong history and living commitment of a loving community that learns and grows together during our times of strife.
To inform our work, we are reading a book by Gilbert R. Rendle called “Behavioral Covenants in Congregations – A Handbook for Honoring Differences” and researching the experiences of other churches. We have formed a Covenant Task Force that is working with the Safe Congregation Committee to reach out to various groups and committees in order to listen to and share our stories and to seek input on this congregational covenant. On February 3rd, Reverend Tim will be preaching on Covenants and we will be hosting a Deeper Dives discussion after the services to gather your input. We will also be holding larger meetings for anyone that we have not been able to engage through a group or committee. By the end of the year we plan to draft a covenant upon which everyone will be invited to provide feedback. In the fall, we will host a worship service during which we can celebrate and adopt our finalized covenant. In this way, we will have started a conversation upon which we can build over the years about how we can best create loving community and what it means to be a part of one.
Imagine if such a conversation existed in our world at large? What if everyone in the world felt safe, loved, valued and understood to such an extent that they could freely give all the wonderful gifts they have to offer? Imagine the challenges we could overcome as a global community. Imagine what we could create together.
With deepest respect,
Your Governing Board: Tracy Sopchak (President), Jane Jolkovski (V.P. Programs), David Oakes (V.P. Finance), Matt Wilson, Robbie Kohn, Christine Lusk, Christine Thomas, Andy Furst (At Large), Chad DaGraca (Treasurer), Theo Noell (Clerk), Rev. Tim Kutzmark (Minister), Betsy Tabor (Intern Minister), Anne Principe (Director of Faith Development)