Writing and Approving the Covenant
Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Habakkuk 2:2b – 3
How to go about writing and approving the covenant will depend on each congregation. Some congregations are more formal and procedural while others are more informal. The following process is a suggested method. Either use it as is or adopt it to incorporate what will best work with a particular congregation’s culture and style of operation.
Here is a overview of the process. Details of each step are below.
This phase could take some months and should not be rushed. Members will engage in worship, prayer, and Bible study on these topics. They will embark on new experiences and friendships that cross lines of class and race. They will explore personal choices and lifestyles that impact economic justice.
In a materialist culture where the economy is dependent on consumption, this journey will take many members of the congregation into unfamiliar territory. Some may need time to reflect, consider, and live into new ways of seeing and living. Some will want to explore new thoughts and feelings within a supportive group environment. The idea of working to change economic structures may be threatening to some. Fears, doubts, and questions must be addressed before the congregation can make a decision about its future.
Once the issue of economic justice is addressed through worship, learning, and discernment, the planning committee can request your church governing body to approve the writing of an economic justice covenant.
Simultaneously, the committee must provide opportunity for the congregation to explore what becoming an Economic Justice Church might mean. What will be different if the decision is made to be an Economic Justice Church? What will the congregation commit to do if this decision is made?
The focus of conversation may already have started to shift from “Should we become an Economic Justice Church?” to “What would it be like if we were an Economic Justice Church?” Ultimately, before making a decision, the congregation must consider this question: “What will it mean to be an Economic Justice Church in this place, at this time?”
These steps can help to facilitate these conversations:
- Host a series of conversations about this topic before or after worship with everyone invited to attend at least once.
- Ask existing groups – the women’s and men’s groups, committees, youth and young adult groups – to add this conversation to the agenda for their gatherings.
- Make sure that the suggestions that result from these conversations are recorded. They can be incorporated into the Covenant.
The planning committee can write the covenant itself, or select a writing committee. The covenant can be a revision of one that already exists or entirely new. In either case, base it on your congregation’s insights and concerns. Include the ideas that have surfaced in the conversations about what this will mean for the future work of the church.
The covenant could be short or long, detailed or more general. You might want to write a covenant that is timeless, as applicable in five or ten years as it is today. If so, the covenant might express the congregation’s commitment to write and approve a more specific statement, a “work plan,” each year or two about how the covenant will be implemented over that time period.
Other elements that might be included in the covenant:
- A key scripture passage or passages that the congregation found meaningful during the discernment period and a short commentary on the passage
- An acknowledgment that the church is called to do justice, particularly economic justice, in a world of abundance where so many are poor
- Stories, facts, and information that make the case for taking action on economic injustices
- The brief history of the congregation’s prior and ongoing involvement with issues of economic injustice and previous actions and stances taken by the congregation
- A description of the congregation’s “call” to get involved in this issue in a new or deeper way
- Policies for dealing with the salary and benefits paid to the church’s employees, and the way contractors are hired and treated
- A statement of the congregation’s commitment to be an Economic Justice Church.
- Statements defining what this will mean going forward – how will the life of the church and the lives of members be different as a result of this decision
Finally, once all the essential elements of your covenant are included, short and simple is probably better than longer and more complicated.
You can view covenants of congregations that have become Economic Justice Churches.
Take the first draft to key people, ministries, and committees in your church for review. Once their comments are incorporated, a second draft can be widely circulated for input from members of the congregation and all church committees and bodies.
Once a first draft is written, provide copies for review to key people (pastor, moderator); ministries; and committees, including the congregation’s social justice committee; and consistory or governing body.
Prepare a second draft that incorporates their feedback. This draft can be widely circulated for input from members of the congregation and all church committees and bodies. Go to the meetings of the youth and young adult groups to get their input. Visit the junior and senior high Sunday school classes. Go to meetings of the women’s and men’s groups to get their feedback. Visit with the missions committee, trustees, and deacons. Share it with other special groups and committees.
Incorporate comments received into a final draft.
At this point, the draft covenant is near its final form. In some congregations you might want to seek approval from the church governing body one last time and obtain its consent to move toward a decision on whether to become an Economic Justice Church. Select a tentative date when the congregation will make its decision.
Widely disseminate the written version of the draft covenant. It can be printed in the Sunday bulletin on a number of Sundays, and in a monthly newsletter. Copies can be available in the fellowship hall and narthex.
Then engage the congregation in conversation about it. This could happen in you-all-come gatherings before and after worship or during the evening. Seek out places to share the covenant and the plans for what it will mean for the congregation and its work in the world.
At this point, hopefully, the content and form of the covenant should be set and changed only for reasons of grammar or editing improvements. But if substantive changes are needed, another draft can be created and again shared for feedback.
Alert the congregation to the date when the decision will be made to become an Economic Justice Church. This decision could be taken by voting, consensus, or whatever decision-making method the congregation typically uses. On the Sunday selected for the decision making, gather in a congregational meeting. Collectively read the covenant. Then a motion can be made to adopt the covenant and the decision made.
Plan to post the covenant in a prominent and highly visible location. Also add the designation “An Economic Justice Church” to signage, church letterhead, the Sunday bulletin, and other places both as a witness to the world and to remind the congregation of the commitment it has made.
The planning committee has two more things to do as its last official acts. First, be sure that a group is elected or appointed to begin implementing the actions called for in the covenant. See Living Out the Covenant. Second, share with Justice and Witness Ministries the news that your congregation is an Economic Justice Church and send a copy of your covenant to JWM by e-mail or calling (toll-free) 1-866-822-8224, ext. 3700. Your church’s covenant will be posted here.