The Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo is a self-described fan of covenantal agreements. The executive minister of the United Church of Christ's Justice and Witness Ministries likes them because the agreements live on and outlast leadership, which was part of the reason the UCC's Collegium of Officers sought a covenantal agreement with the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns.
"We come and go as leaders, but the relationships last," Jaramillo said.
Jaramillo and the Rev. James A. Moos, executive minister for Wider Church Ministries, took the lead on behalf of the UCC national officers and asked the Coalition for LGBT concerns for a more formal covenantal bond this spring to strengthen the historic work that both have done in some 40 years together.
The covenant also helps the UCC and the Coalition understand the responsibilities of both parties, Jaramillo said. "They're (covenants) really for clarity. They guide us through what we're going to be, and what we're going to enter into with each other."
"We work best when we work together," Moos said. "The covenant with the Coalition grows out of deep sense of commitment and the common call of mission."
The Coalition, which tracks the UCC's Open and Affirming (ONA) churches, and the LGBT ministries of the national offices have been partners for quite some time, said Andy Lang, the Coalition's executive director.
Since the Coalition, founded in 1972, is an independent non-profit organization, the ONA program isn't funded by the UCC's national offices. Instead, the Coalition has to raise funds independently, which it has done for the last 30 years.
"The Coalition focuses on growing the ONA movement. That is something we offer to the wider church," Lang said. There are more than 1,000 ONA churches registered with the Coalition, with a goal of reaching 1,200 in 2014.
With the UCC transitioning from multiple boards of governance to a single United Church of Christ Board at the end of General Synod in July, the time was right in calling for more unified work, and maintaining open relationships with constituency groups. Moos said the Collegium could slowly move into covenantal agreements, which are not all that common, but nonetheless instrumental in "working with other faithful people because we believe it is our calling to work as one within the UCC."
Justice and Witness Ministries has covenantal agreements with three centers for social transformation -- the Franklinton Center at Bricks in North Carolina, Centro Romero in Southern California, and Pilgrim Firs in Washington state. Franklinton Center focuses on justice advocacy, leadership development, and issues affecting the marginalized, oppressed, and poor. Centro Romero supports outreach with local communities, schools, churches, seminaries for justice work around immigration and border issues. Pilgrim Firs focuses on environmental justice and the steps individuals, churches and communities can take to influence earth care policies.
Jaramillo said the covenant with Franklinton Center at Bricks began the basis for moving forward in the various relationships. "Each one is different, and specific and distinct to the relationship," she added.
Under this specific agreement with the UCC Coalition, the national officers will "continue to promote and support ministries throughout the whole church … as they relate [to] LGBT/[same-gender loving] inclusion and justice advocacy, while the Coalition will continue to assist UCC congregations by growing and supporting the ONA ministry at the national, local and conference settings," the document reads.
The covenant will likely be reviewed annually, and altered as needed so that both sides can best support each other's ministry.
The UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns is also moving its offices from Pilgrim UCC, a historic church in one of Cleveland's oldest neighborhoods, to the national offices in downtown Cleveland, but Jaramillo said that the move wasn't influenced by this covenant.
"Since this new Collegium came together [in 2011], we're doing more work on common conversation committed to blurring the boundaries in national ministries and planning together," Jaramillo said.