Several years ago, I taught a Sunday School class for 10th graders. For a semester, we played a game. First, we pretended we were creating a Unitarian Universalist high school. We asked the youth, “what would this high school be like? How would it be different than – and the same as – your current school? What would the curriculum be? How would the rules be made, and what would happen if they were broken? Would there even be rules?” After that, we pretended to create a UU city, and asked many of the same questions: “What would the laws be? How would money be handled? How might it be different than, and the same as, the cities we live in now?” Over the following weeks, we continued this conversation, going on to imagine a UU state, then country, then world.
It occurred to me recently that right now, Summer Institute is the closest thing I, and many of us, come to living in an actual UU community like the ones my class and I envisioned. Of course my church is a UU community, as is my region, but SI is the one of the few communities where Unitarian Universalists live, sleep, eat, and play together, day after day, even if for a short amount of time. And just as my class had the chance to create our, albeit imaginary, communities from scratch, so too do we have an opportunity to envision how our time together, our lives together, our relationships together, will work.
As you probably know, Unitarian Universalism is a covenantal faith. We may not all agree about what we believe, but we work to agree about how we will be together. Up until now, the SI community has, of course, already been striving, just as we as individuals strive, to live by our shared principles. However, the ways that we have agreed to be together have been largely implicit, rather than explicit. And sometimes unwritten agreements are not enough.Sometimes, what we as individuals think everyone agrees to, isn’t actually the case. There were times, when I was leading that class, when I made assumptions about the choices the youth would make but they surprised me. We needed to state our assumptions if we were going to create our communities together.
A covenant is how we can make these implicit agreements into explicit agreements. It is how we acknowledge that we are responsible to each other, how we promise to live in right relationship with each other, and how we lay a path to return to right relationship when we fall out of it.
If you attended the last World Cafe in 2015, you probably remember starting the process of writing a covenant for Summer Institute. The working title was “Beautiful Covenant”. We are going to continue that work at the two World Cafe sessions that will be held this year. Renee Ruchotzke, the wonderful UUA staff member who lead last year’s World Cafes and will lead this year’s as well, recently sat down with Carol Dobbins, SIPC member, to further review the ideas and thoughts that came out of last year’s Cafes, and refine them into a draft covenant for discussion this year. They will present this draft, and at the end of the two World Cafes of 2016, we hope to emerge with a draft covenant that can be presented to the whole community for approval.
The first session will be on Monday at 3:15 and the second will be on Tuesday at 1:30, both in First UCC Church. They will be different from each other, so you are invited to both, but are welcome to attend just one if that is what works with your schedule. These are community wide events, all ages are encouraged to attend. And please don’t feel like you need to have been coming to SI for years and years in order to contribute – we very much want to talk to first-timers as well as thirty-timers.
So if you have ever wondered, “what would it be like if everyone was a UU and we created entire communities, not just churches, built on our UU principles?” well, it turns out you’re already in one. And now is your chance to be a part of a deliberate conversation about what that means, and what it can look like in the future. Please join us. There might even be chocolate.
Gina Phillips, SIPC 2017 Chair, and Liz Bright, SIPC 2016 Chair