When I hear the words “best friend,” there’s one person I think of first, and then a few others. The first names are childhood friends with whom I’m still in touch. There was something about us: we were soul mates. We laughed at the same things. We groaned at the same things. Then there was how we treated each other.
Relationship. A friendship that “sticks” for a lifetime doesn’t mean that we always agree or that we have the same talents or that the friends of our friends like each other. There can be awkward moments. But the friendship sticks.
The relationship of friendship is based on the initial connection, frequent proximity, shared experiences. It’s not, so much, intentional.
Adults who are members of a free faith community make friendships within that community. But there’s something more going on. In a Unitarian Universalist congregation, we enter into relationship with intention. We covenant.
A covenant is about relationship. As members of a Unitarian Universalist congregation, we make promises to one another to live our values, the Seven UU Principles, in our relationships with one another and with the world. This relationship is not friendship, though we make friends.
Our covenantal relationship is an intentional effort to gather people not all of whom will “stick” as friends but, because of the shared values, can “stick” as a beloved community.
In September, as we return to our routines at summer’s end, we renew our covenant together during the ingathering ceremony, when the mingling of waters symbolizes the mingling of our gifts and needs, our joys and sorrows, our passion and our reason. The water we bring may be from far away or from the kitchen tap. Like us, each drop is diverse and has its own story. Just as we combine these waters intentionally, we combine ourselves in covenant.
It seems like such a simple thing. The Seven Principles, officially reviewed and renewed every generation, suggest paths of ethical conduct, encourage a search for meaning, and affirm the importance of embracing both each person’s difference and their ultimate worth.
Yet there is a deep complexity to this covenant. Our promises, our intentions, are what bind us—not shared doctrine or shared theological beliefs Our covenant gives each one of us freedom, while linking us with a bond greater than friendship. Greater because this bond isn’t based on being a soul mates or multiple shared experiences; instead, it’s based on an intentional commitment to a way of being in relationship. Covenant.
May we do it well and make it contagious.