That Mysterious Thing Called COVENANT
“That’s insider language that people don’t understand,” commented one person in a meeting. “I don’t even know what that thing really means,” said another. Both United Church of Christ members were referring to the word and concept of covenant, and the fact that it meant very little to them was just a bit horrifying to me as Conference Minister. Why? Because covenant lies at the very heart of who we distinctively are in the United Church of Christ.
Article III of the UCC Constitution lays it out this way: “Within the United Church of Christ, the various expressions of the church relate to each other in a covenantal manner. Each expression of the church has responsibilities and rights in relation to the others, to the end that the whole church will seek God’s will and be faithful to God’s mission. Decisions are made in consultation and collaboration among the various parts of the structure. As members of the Body of Christ, each expression of the church is called to honor and respect the work and ministry of each other part. Each expression of the church listens, hears, and carefully considers the advice, counsel, and requests of others. In this covenant, the various expressions of the United Church of Christ seek to walk together in all God’s ways.”
In other words, we’re truly in this together. We choose to be in relationship with one another. We’re intentional about nurturing the ties that bind us and seeking each other’s counsel. We are mindful in our daily living that we are intimately interconnected, that what one part of the community does impacts another part. We love one another and offer grace even when we don’t agree. We know to the core of our being that we are better and stronger together than we could ever be alone, that our ministry is multiplied when we are joined in spirit and purpose. That’s the stuff of covenant.
I was both stunned and delighted when I caught this headline recently from conservative op-ed columnist David Brooks: “How Covenants Make Us”. Brooks was making the argument that, amid a basic emphasis on the individual in our country and a general fraying of the social fabric , we need covenant to hold us together and give us a sense of identity. He refers to Marcia Pally’s new book “Commonwealth and Covenant” and reflects: “A contract protects interests…but a covenant protects relationships. A covenant exists between people who understand they are part of one another. It involves a vow to serve the relationship that is sealed by love: Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay. Your people shall be my people.” (Sound familiar? Take a look again at the Book of Ruth, chapter 1.)
In the United Church of Christ, we love to point toward the autonomy each part of the church has, our freedom to act independently from one another without “top-down” edicts that demand our compliance. Yet such autonomy only serves the Body and Mission of Christ effectively if it operates within a broader context of covenant. We stand stronger when we lean on each other for support and lean in to the love of God made manifest in this glorious web of covenantal relationship. And we see that connectedness as blessing, not burden… as possibility rather than liability.
How do you experience covenant in our life together in the Minnesota Conference? How does your congregation practice and nurture covenant? What might we do differently in the Conference to shine a light more brightly on this covenant we share across all the settings of the United Church of Christ?
Let us celebrate the gift that is ours in covenantal relationship. And may the magnificent love of God in Jesus Christ truly be the seal that binds us together.
In this together,
Reverend Shari Prestemon