Covenant

by Chris Bohnhoff, member of Plymouth Congregational Church

Covenant defines UCC polity and culture. As a way of being church, the way that we center covenant says that the quality of our relationships, with each other and with God, is more important than dogma and hierarchy. In covenanted relationships, each person agrees to hold the other in care and to hold them accountable to standards of right action in the eyes of God. It’s the very center of our life together as the United Church of Christ.

At a meeting of the Ad Hoc Anti-Racism Committee last summer, our Crossroads partners shared the themes that emerged from their one-on-one interviews with clergy of color in the Conference. By this time we had learned about systemic racism and how it subtly (or not so subtly) reinforces white folks’ position at the center of our Conference’s culture and pushes people of color to the margins.

Because we had been looking in history’s mirror for months, it wasn’t surprising to hear about the microagressions clergy of color regularly face, or the isolation and lack of support that they feel. But hearing in their own words how the inertia of hundreds of years of white supremacy culture landed on our colleagues — the leaders called by our congregations to lead them in Christ — brought us to a collective grief that we continue to sit with.

But the raw, truth-telling words we heard in that August meeting made it plain how far we are from our covenantal aspirations. And following the modeling provided by our clergy of color, one by one, we on the committee reflected on our own sense of being in covenant. And one by one we told stories of disconnection from our Conference. I, for example, talked about my process as a Member In Discernment. As a cis straight white middle-aged man serving on the Board of Directors and feeling just about as known as a seminarian can reasonably expect to feel, even I have sometimes felt alone in this ordination process. I experience that the system is set up not to be in deeper relationship, but that expects a candidate to pull themselves up by their spiritual bootstraps and find their way. This is a tall task even for a person with privilege, but every day I witness my seminary classmates, many of whom are queer and/or of color, and I know that their isolation is much greater than mine. I know how it causes them to question themselves and whether the UCC can be their home. I also know the size of our loss if they do leave because the UCC isn’t living up to its side of the covenant.

Our clergy of color’s reflections are a symptom of a larger challenge: how can we more fully live into our covenant with everyone in our Conference? How can the radical belonging named in the UCC’s founding documents continue to move from an aspiration to a reality? This is the work. And by attending to covenant with those on our margins, maybe all who feel isolated, no matter their social location, will benefit.

Note:
At the March 2 Minnesota Conference UCC Board of Directors meeting, a proposal for a new Committee to Dismantle White Supremacy was accepted and moved forward for Conference vote at the Annual Meeting in June. The Adhoc Anti-Racism Committee will be working in concert with the Conference Nominating Committee to put forward a slate of nominees for the new Committee to Dismantle White Supremacy, if this resolution passes. If you feel interested in serving on the committee as described here, please contact Jane McBride.

Read more about the proposed bylaw change

© Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ | 2023