Covenant – A Reflection for Eliot Church
What do these things have in common:
- Sunday School this winter
- the United Church of Christ
- congregational meetings
- the stories of God & Abraham and Sarah, Hannah and Samuel?
That’s right: they are all connected together with the idea of Covenant.
When we baptized D. in December, we made covenant promises to him, as a community, and we recited God’s covenant promises to him. This winter, our kids will learn about the great Biblical covenants. But covenant making and covenant keeping is not just a Biblical idea – it grounds the structure of our entire United Church of Christ, and grounds the way the Eliot Church of Newton, UCC functions as a community. As a congregation we are not hierarchical, we are covenantal. That is – we make decisions together, prayerfully – and we promise to live together in peace. As a denomination, the UCC is not hierarchical, it is covenantal. Every local church makes autonomous decisions but has a sacred commitment to the whole denomination. And in return, every congregation contributes to and benefits from the strength of the whole UCC.
Sidney Fowler says it like this: “What is it that holds people together even in the midst of all kinds of differences? When folk in the United Church of Christ talk about how they relate-to God, to each other, other churches, other religions, even creation-they often use the word “covenant.” It’s God’s good glue that keeps us together. Covenant is a holy promise of devotion that is shared. When that glue sticks, God forms a bond of unity that is pliable and dynamic, not rigid or unresponsive. Unity is a result of a covenantal way of life and an amazing gift of God.” (from What Matters to You Matters to Us: Engaging Six Vital Themes of Our Faith) Now, this really matters: it means we at Eliot are independent – but bound together with other UCC churches. And that means that even while we are autonomous we are deeply strengthened by being in the UCC. We can do more together than we could ever do apart – and we have a commitment to the welfare of all our members and of our denomination. Even more: we have a commitment to fulfilling our covenant promises to God as we worship, learn, serve our neighbors and protect creation.
Why this long word on covenant, at this moment? Because January and February bring a wonderful confluence of events in worship and Sunday School that all relate to covenant – and we are asking you, as part of your covenant with Eliot Church and the UCC – to be part of these events. In Sunday School, kids will learn Biblical stories of covenant, and then during our service projects in January and February they will be giving back to their covenant community by hosting a Fellowship Hour, and making Valentines for elders. On January 25 we have the honor of hearing the Rev. Jim Antal, Massachusetts Conference Minister for the UCC, preach in worship and join us for conversation afterward. Rev. Antal will tell us about the goings on in the wider church here in Massachusetts and nationwide – and he will bring his perspective on climate change, and what the wider UCC and other local churches are doing to address climate change. In particular, he will tell us of the movement toward Divestment from fossil fuel companies. The national setting of the UCC has passed a resolution to divest and the national setting has now asked us (asked, not told – remember the covenant model!) to consider divestment on the local church level. Jim Antal has been in these conversations from the beginning and can give us his perspective. On February 8, I will be Installed in worship as your Associate Pastor, and we will have the honor of hearing Associate Conference Minister Rev. Wendy Vander Hart preach. An installation is the moment when the association, at the request of the local church, confirms and celebrates the covenant between pastor and congregation – and the local church reaffirms its covenant ties to the wider church.
It is a season of covenant at the Eliot Church. It is a season to remember what God has promised us and what God has called us to. It is a season to remember the strength we know through this covenant community and our wider church connections.