Unitarian Universalism is a covenantal religion. East Shore is working to develop a covenant of right relations. Today we explore the history and the impact of covenants on religion, communications and individual relationships.
“I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between the earth and me. And it shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shalt be seen in the cloud and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh” (Genesis 9:13-15).
A covenant for all time-
What is a covenant? Why does this scripture matter- to Christians? To Jews? To us?
A covenant is a pledge- a vow- a solemn agreement that is binding to all parties. It is the basis for lasting relationships. People wed with vows- communities establish agreements more binding than law by establishing covenants- There is a depth to the word covenant that has more authority than law because of the relational component to the agreement- a covenant is more than rights- or legality- it is about relationship- it is about love- it is about forever.
Unitarian Universalism is a covenantal faith- East shore Unitarian Church is a member congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.
“We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, do 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 to 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 being of which we are a part.”
When this congregation was formed over 60 years ago, it mattered that the founding members declared themselves a member congregation of the UUA- there was a promise, a belief that the principles and purposes of this covenantal tradition meant something- would hold East Shore Unitarian Church to some greater purpose- and connection
The rainbow is not designed so much for human benefit but for God’s. God said that the rainbow would make Him remember His covenant with humans. To send no more floods…. That is how covenants, how vows work- in the hard times they remind us of our highest aspirations, how to recognize good, how to confront evil, and how to become the kind of people we want to be.
Conrad Wright, a Unitarian Universalist historian and theologian wrote, “Our faith holds that we are responsible for the quality and vitality of our human community and the web of all life with which we are connected. Further the community assessment process seeks to work toward the development of a covenant for community action built upon mutual understanding and commitment. Our liberal religious community is grounded in covenant (not rule or law or creed).”
We have been talking about Right Relationship for months and everyone keeps asking what is Right Relationship? Well, right relationships differ depending on the relationship. Yahweh to the Tribes of Judaism, ministers to ministers, Employer to Employees, or members to members of a faith community. Covenants define right relationship for the community that makes the covenant. So we are in the process of defining right relationship for us- and when we have our covenant- it will be our definition of right relationship. We are asking each other right now what it is we will say “Yes” to- establishing the bar to which we will all rise….
In 1550, Robert Brown, inspired by the reformation, drew on the Biblical image of promise-making between Yahweh and Hebrews to propose a revolution in church life. “Churches should come into being,” he said, “as a covenant among persons. Not through common assent to a doctrine or through sacraments administered by priests hierarchically arrayed and apostolically descended. Instead, people should join together themselves by mutual agreement to walk together, to keep the commandments, to choose their ministers and teachers to put forth and debate the questions to learn the truth and to welcome the voice of protest, complaint and dissent.” Brown hoped there would be a church in which people would mutually agree “that any might protest, appeal complain, exhort, disprove, reprove…watch for disorders reform abuses and debate matters
Our Unitarian and Universalist traditions were shaped by that vision long ago. We have inherited who we are. We have fallen into communion with the feisty, free spirited Puritans of four hundred and fifty years ago who advocated for freedom of religious conscience. We have fallen into communion with the people who believe revelations is not sealed.
We have fallen into communion with the sweet spirited Universalist of old, rejecting the notion of God as a tyrant ruling by the threat of Hell who named God as a gracious, creative presence, who saves all through the power of love. We have fallen into communion with the deep feeling Transcendentalists insisting that religion cannot be found in the dry bones of the past but must be discovered first hand. We have fallen into communion with the Iowa Sisterhood and all those women and men who have argued and advocated for the rights and full humanity of women. We’ve fallen into communion with the all embracing mystics who see truth manifest in the diverse religious traditions of earth’s people and mysteries revealed in the trees and stars. And…. we have fallen into communion with the courageous humanists who dare to lift up the dignity and strength of human beings, the power and importance of critical reason, in a world that prefers the abrogation of human agency and uncritical obedience to false gods.
These historic covenants remind us we are not our own- we arrive here carrying forward the legacy of human beings struggling to name and hold what is right and good to remember and fulfill the covenants that have been passed down though us.
It is important for us to remember that we are shaped by their “Yes””, by the stories of those who believed in a free church. What they defined be ours to carry forward. Our freedom to define right relationship for ourselves, to write a covenant relevant to our times, – we are not isolated beings but connected, in mystery and miracle, to the universe, to this community and to each other.
What gift- what expectation has been passed down to us? What is it we will promise each other? To what do we, here, now, say Yes?
What is it Bob Gedney- and Bob Garthwaite and all the founding members of this congregation had in mind when they formed ESUC? What do they ask of us? What is theirs and for us to carry forward?
What they dreamed- be ours to do…. A covenant for all time-
I believe they founded East Shore Unitarian church to assure a place where children and their families would have a place to grow and learn in a free and responsible way. I believe their vision continues here each Sunday. When we walk into this sanctuary – when I ring that bell- when the prelude is played- we are all here to be opened- to be inspired-
Let the covenant we create with one another reflect our commitment to keep faith in the source of life knowing that we are not our own- earth made us.
Let us covenant with one another to keep faith with the community of resistance never to forget that life can be saved from that which threatens it.
Let us covenant with one another to seek an ever deeper awareness of our source of being- and inspiration- faithful to what we believe
even when our hearts are broken by our failure or the failures of others. Even when we done all we can and life is still feels broken.
The 21st century story of this congregation, and Unitarian Universalism may be that in fulfilling our promise, we are providing a pathway for many of the world’s people conflicted by faith and ethnic difference, to move toward a new understanding of how all peoples can truly exist together in faith, freedom and peace. What they dreamed- be ours to do…. let us carry the vision forward with a covenant for all time-