Category Archives: Covenant

Charge to the Minister by the Children


by Rev. Robin Bartlett

The children wrote this charge for the Reverend Nathan Detering on the occasion of the ten year anniversary of his installation at the UU Area Church at First Parish in Sherborn, MA. I think all of my colleagues should read it, because it is a charge to all of us. I think all congregations should read it, because it is likewise a charge to congregations.

Children and youth of the congregation, please stand up. Please stand proud. These are the children and youth of this church. Nathan and congregation: these are all of our children. We share the task of caring for them with one another, don’t we? Ten years ago, they were entrusted into Nathan’s, and the congregation’s shared spiritual care. This is a big responsibility, to tend to the spiritual lives of children and youth. Helping these children grow spiritually demands that all of us grow spiritually, am I right, Nathan and congregation? Children and youth, I want you to raise your hand if Nathan is the only minister you have ever had. I want you to keep your hands raised if this is the only church you have ever had. You may sit down.

I asked the children to charge you, Nathan. Kids and adults, if you don’t know what a “charge” is, it’s a fancy church word that means you get to tell Nathan what to do. This is the only charge that you will hear today, in fact. I think that’s appropriate, since it probably matters most what our children see and know. And as we look ahead to the next ten years, we stand poised on the brink of expanding our children and youth ministry here at First Parish, making room in your shared ministry with the congregation–for a new minister dedicated to these kids. We are able to explore this new frontier because of the ministry you have built here with the congregation in the past ten years, Nathan. So this is what the children of all ages of this congregation have to say to you, and about you.

About “Mr. Nathan”, the kids had this to say:

Mr. Nathan is…
a friend,
“I love you.”
“Nathan is like Merry Christmas.”
“When I picture God, I picture Nathan.” (I’m definitely adding a class on “idolatry” to the RE rotation in the coming weeks).
He’s the minister of our church and a good one at that.
He loves to rejoice.
He loves to come to our church; it’s like his second home. He loves church.

The children are grateful for your ministry; for who you are, and who you are to them. So here is your charge from the children:

The kids think that in the next ten years, you should do more stuff with them; and interact with them more. Come downstairs and play with us, they say. We have lots of cool art activities, and we have fun. We think you should reference things we understand in the sermons more, because we love when you do that, and we listen to your sermons. We would also charge you to use more technology stuff. We think you should take care of yourself: get more sleep, and make schedules. In particular, we charge you to stop rooting for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Most of the children who wrote this charge with me know you as the only minister they have ever had. You have been here for ten years, and for almost all of them, that’s a lifetime. They know what a good minister looks like because they’ve been watching you. Here’s what the children think are the qualities of a good minister—what a minister is–based on what they’ve learned from you, and they want you to continue to embody these qualities for them:

A good minister is generous and kind.
A good minister is funny.
A good minister knows what they’re talking about and believes it.
A good minister doesn’t have a monotonous voice (that’s from your son).
A good minister has a good heart.

This is what the kids know a good minister does, and they want you to continue to do these things well, along with the congregation:

A good minister teaches the people.
A good minister makes sure everyone is safe.
A good minister is a good neighbor just like in the story of the Good Samaritan.
A good minister says goodbye to people before they die.
A good minister helps people with their problems.
A good minister helps people.
A good minister helps people create peace.
A good minister breathes, just like all people.
A good minister uses big words.
A good minister preaches to the people.
A good minister guides people like the northern star.
A good minister teaches life lessons and laughs and always forgives.

So, Nathan: may you continue to guide us like the northern star, helping us and forgiving us while you guide. May you continue to minister, rejoicing, like “Merry Christmas.” May you continue to teach us, and preach to us about things we understand and don’t yet understand, and may you continue to keep us safe. May you continue to know what you are talking about, and more importantly, may you always believe it. May you continue to be a good neighbor. May you continue to take care of yourself, breathe, and laugh. Nathan and congregation, you have been charged by the children.


A 328 Year Marriage

by Robin Bartlett Barraza

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!