BLOG: VOICES FROM CEDAR LANE
In October 2017, Cedar Lane voted to adopt a new “Covenant of Right Relations.” Jim Anderson, then Board president, explained that this new document was intended to address two basic questions: “How will we live together when we don’t understand each other and we don’t agree?” and “What promises shall we make about how we want to be and what we want to do together?”
This covenant is not a list of rules—do this; don’t do that. It is a principle-based description of a mutually agreed-on standard of behavior. It summarizes, in general terms, a commitment we make about how we will treat each other and those who come into community with us.
Cedar Lane’s covenant is anchored in the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism. It asks us to “bring our best selves to every encounter,” to “assume the good intentions of others,” to “listen to one another mindfully,” and to “communicate with one another directly, with respect, honesty, and compassion.” The emphasis is on respect, kindness, and generosity.
In March of this year the Board followed appointed a “Right Relations Task Force” and asked it to develop a process that would make the Covenant of Right Relations a reality of congregational life. This Task Force recommended the creation of a “Right Relations Education Team” that would keep the covenant, and the issues it addresses, in the forefront of CLUUC’s attention. The Board agreed.
The team’s first task is to dig deeper into the concept of “covenant,” a religious/political idea with a long history. In the seventeenth century our New England ancestors established the Cambridge Platform, a document that formed the basis for “congregational polity,” a new democratic system of church governance that contrasted with hierarchical supra-national systems like the Roman Catholic Church and national systems like the Church of England. In the Cambridge Platform, the “company of saints by calling” entered into a “holy covenant” or voluntary agreement to become members of a particular local congregation, and to abide by its rules. The goals were mutual edification and the public worship of God.
Unitarian Universalists today point back to the Cambridge Platform as our founding document. However, we belong to a very different theological world. We would not refer to ourselves as “a company of saints.” We don’t share a common understanding of God: some of us are theists, some agnostics, some atheists. We pride ourselves on welcoming diversity and freedom of thought. So it is understandably hard for us to create a covenant that will leave room for so much freedom.
But we must. If not, we will cease to be a community. We must get “back to basics,” and reaffirm the principles that we hold in common, the ideals that will enable us to work well together. We believe the Covenant of Right Relations is a good start.
Next time: How do UUs understand right relations?