Love is the spirit of this church. That is a true statement. Ours is a non-creedal church, meaning what binds us together–what connects us–is not a statement of belief. Rather, what connects us is a way of being together with one another in community. And, love, it strikes me, is a pretty fine way to endeavor to be together. We openly affirm that it is more important to love alike than to think alike. So, rather than trying to agree on a doctrinal statement of belief, we try to cultivate a loving community. As we embark on the pledge season, we have been reflecting on the nature of covenant around here.
We recite this covenant every week:
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.
We talk about covenants and covenanting a lot without spending a lot of time exploring what we mean by the word. We have a covenantal theology—a theology in which our commitment to the holy is lived out in relationship to one another. This is sustained through hard work, commitment, and with the need for a lot of humility and forgiveness.
Possibly the covenant that we are all most familiar with is the marriage covenant. We covenant with another person (and often, with God and all that is holy) to walk together in love for a lifetime, keeping promises to one another through the bitter and sweet things this world throws at us and our relationships. A lot of us know that this is intimate, back-breakingly hard work—living with someone who is not you. About half the time, it is actually unsustainable work, and some of us break our covenants irreparably.
Well, our church has sustained itself and its covenants for a long time—longer than most of us can imagine. Our covenants, I’m sure, have been broken and broken again, but never irreparably. Can you imagine? This community of memory and hope is 328 years old. Three hundred and twenty-eight years old. Pause with me to reflect on a 328 year marriage. Can you imagine being married—cultivating a relationship of love and compromise and hope and dreaming—for 328 years? Think about what this might entail; what relationship issues one might encounter; how one might weather all of those storms and sustain all of those good times. Imagine all of the leaders and the deaths and the births and the promises and the failures and the quarrels and all the soaring joys.
And then imagine trying to manage all of those relationship issues—together with people you would never choose—in a flawed institution you did not create. Imagine trying to negotiate and renegotiate your goals and marriage contract and vows throughout CENTURIES—helping one another try your best to speak the truth in love. Imagine trying to be a family for three hundred years—a family that quarrels and breaks up and comes back together, and changes and grows and almost dies, and is reborn again. A family who weathers storms and deaths and who creates new babies, and builds new homes, and tries to keep a roof (and a steeple) over its head. A family that raises its kids as best it can; figuring out new ways to be creative in that endeavor as the family grows or shrinks; or the times change, and new things have been learned. We are a centuries old church family, and we have only survived by acting as parts of one body—convinced of our ministry in the world, nurturing the uniqueness of each individual of the body, while remaining unified not in thought or belief, but in Love.
We have managed to do all of this while at the same time remaining deeply committed to the Democratic process; without centralized authority; without creedal tests. Our marriage is time-tested and strong, and like every good marriage needs constant creativity, re-negotiating, communication and a whole lot of fun to last and thrive.
May we affirm the Love that has sustained us in memory and hope, and may we honor our founding ancestors by committing to each other anew year after year. A toast to 328 more years together. Mazel tov!