In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’m adapting one of my most requested articles just for you… It’s about love.

Some of you may know that I conducted a survey of Free Range UUs a couple months back, and I will be reporting on that in depth here later.  But one thing that stunned me was the number of Free Rangers who have been to our congregations and left, repelled by less than inspiring worship or an exhausting congregational conflict or our issues with power and authority. A significant portion of Free Rangers are former board members who left demoralized under the unrealistic pressures of their role.  A target for all sorts of ugliness.  This keeps me up at night. It makes my heart ache.

Many of our congregations allow bad behavior in the effort to preserve “the inherent worth and dignity of all.”  More often than not, this bad behavior becomes part of the cultural norm: arguing the fine points of final reports at congregational meetings, using candles of joys and concerns for public service announcements, assuming there is one politically correct way to be Unitarian Universalist, triangulating and undermining leadership, using email for heated discussion, and using consensus as a weapon to get one’s way are just a few of my favorite examples. There is nothing worthy or dignified in this behavior. The youth call this kind of behavior “throwing chalices.” A loving intervention and firm, clear boundaries are the way to promote worth and dignity.

Of the many reasons that I am grateful to work with Stefan one is that if I’ve eaten a spinach salad and some is stuck in between my teeth, he is going to tell me. I can count on it.  And when I am particularly snarky on an email or neglect to pull the right people into a conversation, I trust that Stefan is going to lovingly point it out if I don’t see it and then give me the space and freedom to fix it.  Sometimes I’m at a loss as to how to repair a gaff and need help.  I have the support to ask for the help and receive guidance. This culture of safety, respect and constant learning brings out my best.  There isn’t the pressure to be perfect.  Some of us weren’t born with a Manual of Appropriate Behavior and it’s helpful for others to shine light on the parameters when we simply can’t find them through the fog.

Most of our healthy congregations have a Covenant of Right Relations.  This is could be thought of as the Congregational Manual of Appropriate Behavior. Here is a great example of one: Westside Unitarian Universalist Church in Seattle, WA.

There are documents that support a Covenant of Right Relations:

You can find excellent examples from the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Pt. Townsend, WA under Part III of their Operations Manual.

I was leading a workshop this summer, and we co-created a covenant for that moment in time together. Someone raised their hand and asked me unpack the term “covenant” for them.  “Is a covenant a promise you won’t ever break?” they asked.  “Quite the contrary,” I answered.  It’s a promise you can count on breaking because it calls us to our highest selves and we are merely human.  I think the most important part of the covenant isn’t the “how to” but the “what happens when we fail and need to get back on track.”  Ministers and/or Pastoral Care Teams may get involved to help people in their personal discernment of remorse and individual path toward forgiveness.  Many congregations now offer trainings on Compassionate Listening, and many districts have a Healthy Congregations Team, which provides training, consultation and assessment for congregations who wish to embrace healthy communications and proactively deal with conflict.

Addressing conflict is sacred faith formation and a deepening of spiritual maturity. It is serious love.

When I have failed and need to find my way back into right relations I have relied heavily on the Jewish process of repentance, teshuva:

  1. Recognize and discontinue the inappropriate behavior or mistake.
  2. Verbally confess the behavior, action and/ or mistake to the person(s) to who was affected.
  3. Regret the behavior, action and/ or mistake. Evaluate the negative impact this action may have had on you or on others.
  4. Devise a plan to rectify the behavior, action and/or mistake.  Sometimes something cannot be repaired, but you may be able to change a pattern or cycle so that the chance that a repeat offense will take place is minimized.
  5. Then you may (must?) ask for forgiveness from those to whom you have done wrong.

What a process!  I crave this for our religious communities.

This is the hard, loving work of intentional religious communities living into our collective calling. When we live into our best selves as individuals and as a community love and joy are free to stream in.  We don’t have to get it perfect.  But it helps to know what the expectations are and to be given the freedom and support to fix it when we get it wrong. This is real transformational growth.  I want that for everyone.

Happy Valentine’s Day!  Please feel free to share links to the documents that guide your religious community well.

The chalice featured in the picture is from Southern Blackberry Designs.

About the Author
Tandi Rogers
  • Dara Schumaier

    This gets at what I view as the greatest shortcoming of our fine tradition: the lack of a formalized ritual for atonement. We UUs really do need a “process of repentance” and the lack of it has set us up for repeated failures. Every great world religion has such a process of self-examination, repentance, reparations and forgiveness. As a life-long UU, it is my fervent hope that we will take it upon ourselves to further our denominational growth and maturity by developing such a process soon.

  • Jan Parsons

    Thank you for this article. It came at just the right moment for me. I plan to share this with others at my church. We have just adopted a covenant of right relations.

  • joy berry

    Tandi, great article. My fellowship is in the midst of a serious conflict and we are losing members over it. We do not have a covenant of right relations. These are things I am working on in my own humble way from the DRE position (while trying to watch out for “mission creep”, of course!) I am putting together a packet of resources so this is truly serendipitous after our fellowship’s difficult meeting on Sunday and thinking about standing on the side of love, today. I wonder if you have a working link to the first of the “policies” above…e: conflict resolution. It doesn’t seem to work. Thanks so much.

  • Katie L.

    This needs saying, over and over! Thank you. I have seen that happen to board members who have worked hard on something. People pile right on and start carping — forgetting to say thank you. If the person is new to leadership (this doesn’t just happen at church, believe me) and sensitive, they may just walk right out. Either they need to be prepped for the ‘democratic process’, or the church needs to have strong norms of thankfulness and kindness.

    But I have a technical point. I am a new subscriber and I was having trouble placing the blog; and it was distracting me from the message. Who is this eloquent person who is writing about a topic I am very interested in? Perhaps there should be something a little more orienting at the top, or even bottom. The masthead is fairly generic and doesn’t say who you are.

    I finally did find your name in very faint grey but without your title. Then I remembered that I had signed up for your blog. Thank – you. (I hope my complaint was done in an appropriate way :) )

  • Tandi Rogers

    I appreciate your feedback so much, Katie. It feels collaborative. And our hope is that this blog is a collaborative effort. We’ll do some thinking on the mast head — perk it up, make it more descriptive. We intentionally started slow and simple while we get our sea legs.

    There are some tabs at the top of the page. One is “About This Blog” and another is “About This Office.” You’ll find our bios under “About This Office.”

    In faith, Tandi Rogers, UUA Growth Strategies Specialist

  • Amanda Aikman

    This is terrific, Tandi, and happens to be very timely for me, as well. I am seeking an outline of a good process for creating a Covenant of RR in a small church. Any ideas on where to look? Very best, Amanda

  • Julie F

    Tandi, I did not realize it, but maybe I am a Free Range UU. I still attend and support my congregation, but I don’t feel particularly in sync with it. Most of it is my own station in life, with an exhausting and toxic work life and full-on sandwich generation drama. But some of it stems from the very sorts of things you describe in the second paragraph.

    I’ve distanced myself from active involvement in my home congregation partly because I don’t have the spiritual bandwidth for anything more than just being there, but also because we seem functional yet somehow inert. (An exception to this is the very active social justice work around hunger that we do, and that – and a good music ministry – keep me tied in more than anything.)

    On the flip side, I relish and cherish the week of right relations and powerful spirit we have in our Eliot community because we can (mostly) all be on our best game for a week, anyway. But even there, we need to be mindful of cultivating a culture of honesty and kindness.

    Great food for thought. Loving this blog.

  • Marzipan

    We explored this process and created a new covenant. During the process the term “right relations” grated on some folks, sounding too “nanny-ish”. We settled on “healthy relations”. :) Typical UU’s or what!

  • http://www.nkuu.org Frank Mandt

    Good article, Tandi, and very timely. We have found the documents you cited on the Westside UU Church website, and will certainly take a look a what Quimper has to offer. As we are in the midst of creating a new church, we are in the enviable position of not having institutional baggage around this. There may be personal baggage, but we will encourage that to be left behind in a train station locker somewhere, or donated to a worthy cause. It’s quite freeing not to have “but we’ve always done it this way” lurking in the background.

  • Harry-Yrian Fersen

    Please let me know where to buy the beautiful heart illustrating this article…, Thank YOU!

    Best Wishes
    HarryY FERSEN

    • Tandi Rogers

      So glad you like it! At the very end of the article is a mention about the pendant with a live link that will send you straight to the artist.

  • http://jeeperscreepers.com Coleman Weltmer

    I appreciate your sense of humour within your blogs.

  • E Velasco

    “But one thing that stunned me was the number of Free Rangers who have been to our congregations and left, repelled by less than inspiring worship or an exhausting congregational conflict or our issues with power and authority. A significant portion of Free Rangers are former board members who left demoralized under the unrealistic pressures of their role. A target for all sorts of ugliness.”

    I am one of those. The hard work and countless hours I devoted to the church was a life lesson for me…when I was badly mistreated, and realized that I had been manipulated against others and used for a hidden agenda purpose. I left the church, and will be hard-pressed to ever use my talents to volunteer at a non-profit board in the future. While the church did complete its purpose of running off the long-time minister, it also destroyed my belief in the greater good of the community, my family’s spiritual life and created a void in our ability to share our religion. I now belong to CLF, which is great – but it is a shame that I have to consider myself and my family as “isolated UU’s”.