Love is the Doctrine…. To This We Covenant

Aug 16, 2020


Please join for the second interactive service about the words we say each Sunday. “What is a sacrament? What does prayer mean to you? How can we find truth when we can’t agree on facts? How does these words align with our mission?

East Shore Unitarian Church Covenant      

Love is the doctrine of this church.      
The quest for truth is its sacrament, and service is its prayer.
To dwell together in peace, to seek knowledge in freedom,
To serve humanity in fellowship, thus do we covenant.

From Katie Edwards

I like our Covenant. The words doctrine, sacrament and prayer may seem a bit churchy” to some, but I think our covenant gives a nice spin on who we are as Unitarian Universalists while using language often heard in non UU churches. I believe a visitor to our church might find some comfort hearing the words of what we want to be at our core through our Covenant. I could expand on all the lines in our Covenant, but my favorite is the first “Love is the doctrine of this church”. I grew up attending Christian churches and found it mostly positive. The Bible verses about love spoke to me, for example: “love your neighbor as yourself “ (Mathew 22:39). To me God is pure love. Many of the doctrines in the Christian faith don’t work for me so much anymore, but as a Unitarian Universalist, I like the idea of having our doctrine be as simple and as profound as Love. Our doctrine of love is the essence of who we are. We can accomplish so much goodness in this world with more Love. Love is the doctrine of this church or I like the term Love is my Religion –  taken from one of my favorite songs by Ziggy Marley – here’s some of the lyrics:

Love is my religion
All my days I’ve been searching,
To find out what this life is worth
Through the books and bibles of time
I’ve made up my mind
I don’t condemn, I don’t convert,
This is a calling have you heard
Bring all the lovers to the fold,
‘Cause no one is gonna lose their soul
Love is my religion,
Hey you can take it or leave it,
And you don’t have to believe it
I don’t want to fight,
Hey let’s go fly a kite
There’s nothing that we can’t cure,
And I’ll keep you in my arms for sure
So don’t let nobody stop us,
Free spirits have to soar
With you I share the gift,
The gift that we now know
Love is my religion,
Well I’m done searching now,
I found out what this life is worth
Not in the books that I find,
But by searching my mind.

From Mike Radow

Brian Doyle describes running from and tiptoeing back to religion. He forged a blend of his pagan Irish ancestry, indigenous wisdom and the catholic. One member at ESUC told me a lot of UUs come from churches they found too structured, and were ‘oppositional and defiant.” I don’t know if that’s true, but I do see that fierce independence of our first UU principle nosing its way in and then I hear Katie’s words about feeling at home in part because of familiar language. I see how her history explains her views, in part.

I come to this church, the words of this covenant, with no religious training. In 1st grade in Kentucky kids asked “what’s your church?,” turns out I didn’t have one. I was a nothing. My parents finessed the question… and religion remained a mystery, still does. When I got to East Shore the covenant felt like a garble of church words, hard to memorize, harder to conceptualize.

I asked Rev. Steve where the words came from. There are about one zillion versions. Here’s one by Rev. Alice Blair Wesley
We pledge to walk together
In ways of truth and affection,
As best we know them now
Or may learn them in days to come
That we and our children may be fulfilled.
And that we may speak to the world
In words and actions of peace and goodwill. (Alice Blair Wesley)

That’s more my style, completely worldly. There are more, like #473 in the hymnal if you are keeping score.

Love is the spirit of this church, and service its LAW!
This is our great covenant
To dwell together in peace
To seek the truth in love
And to help one another

I am not suggesting we spend any time discussing a change, even if I have preferences. They all urge us to strive together for the betterment of all, just as the people did in Amanda’s story of the black stone. But whether I’m running from a church, or landing softly here, or wondering if I fit in, something brings me here. Maybe it is, as Doyle says, the desire to speak about “that for which we have no words, deep wriggle of genius and poetry and power and wild miracle.”

Naturally, I got to wondering about our religious backgrounds. Seemed like a substantive, personal topic but still safe, in a church setting. So let’s take a little poll.

I’m in that last group, all I knew of sacraments was what I taught to hundreds of high schoolers over the years. This great translation, of the council of trent. “If anyone sayeth such and such is a sacrament, let him be anathema!” I never wanted to be associated with any such thing. But our sacrament is a quest for truth, not a pretending to have it. Dang. I have to look, take some effort, and what truths. There’s the truth of scientific knowledge, and even that is questioned by climate deniers and the like who build policy out of make believe. And there are other truths too….the truth of a poem, or of a friendship.

Prayer?? Again, strange. Never made sense…to what was I asking or hoping. If I’m looking for answers, I take a long walk. The service part I get, and weeding my own garden somehow feels different from pulling weeds at church but it doesn’t seem like prayer any more than reading the news carefully seems like a sacrament.

THESE WORDS sit better with me now, parsing it out for this service helped. I see that the remarks about fellowship and service ring true. The urging to keep thirsting after knowledge makes sense too. But really, my ah-ha moment wasn’t about the covenant at all, but about how we might deal with our differences. Katie found the words warming, I found them off putting. Within this congregation we have much bigger differences.

But once I knew how Katie came to those differing views, or you to yours, I can more clearly see our full humanity and be in community. After all, the important point is that we have a covenant at all. We’ve made, and reaffirm an agreement to stay together and in particular ways because we will have different beliefs in spite of different opinions. That’s pretty cool.

This covenant aligns closely with our mission. That is why we are here, to fulfill our hope to Practice Love, Explore Spirituality, Build Community and Promote Justice. So may we do.