As with my relationship with lay leaders, I believe that the shared ministry of the church must be grounded in covenant. In professional leadership, this is tangibly expressed through a few key tactics. First, it is important that we commit ourselves to a covenant of right relations, refraining from unhealthy triangles and agreeing to lift up one another's work in our conversations within our own and other Unitarian Universalist congregations. Second, it is important that we have a clear sense of our respective roles and responsibilities, and that we each understand how our contributions contribute to fulfilling the mission of the congregation. Finally, the maintenance of these tools - covenants of right relations and clarity in role and responsibilities - must happen through routine trustful communication, through the business of staff meetings and phone calls, through sit downs and run-throughs. It is, as with everything, a practice.
We are partners in creating Beloved Community - which is not only the destination, but the path we walk in getting there. Our work together is grounded in covenant, and as a result, the health of our congregational relationships remain always the priority, more than achieving any particular outcome.
My ministry seeks to help each person imagine their service to the congregation as a part of their spiritual practice and faith development. There are not always clear problems or clear solutions, and so we must be creative and curious as we seek to understand and respond to the evolving and complex situations inherent to religious community. We must create space for questions, help imagine under-explored areas of inquiry, and hold space for what remains to be learned and examined as we move forward together as a religious community.
This space is possible not only because of the relationships we hold within the congregation, but also because we are in relationship with other Unitarian Universalist congregations, and with the District staff. These partnerships ensure we remain aware of best practices and lessons learned from others, and remind us that none of us face these challenges on our own.
My theology is covenantal.
Primarily, this means that I make meaning in the ultimate sense by way of relationship - relationship across time, across space, relationship between and among all life, and the greater thing which we might imagine as the sum of all of these parts. I understand all life as beautifully and inescapably interconnected.
Second, a covenantal theology attends to the reality that inherent to life is our capacity to break these relationships, and our need and yearning to try again in mending and making them anew.
Third, it means that my theology is constructive - that is, it is always seeking to make new meaning, to construct useful metaphors for the way life is unfolding before us, and to be open to how we can partner with truth and creation as it is always being revealed.
And finally, it means that I am aware of life as both a blessing and a responsibility - that just as we receive we are called to give, just as we experience goodness, so must we share it, called in our great blessing to build the Beloved Community.
My ministry draws regularly from our Unitarian and Universalist historical traditions, which often locates me in what many consider a Christian vocabulary, although I am comfortable with religious language of all kinds. I am capable of ministry, dialogue and relationship with a wide variety of theological positions - I currently work with strong atheist humanists as well as theist Christians, and everything in between. Across these differences, I invite us to meet each other first in our hearts, and then later, with our heads. Rather than theology first being a matter of analytical debate, I invite us to consider it a place of feeling, a place where we can offer each other and the world our whole hearts. There is always a time and place for analysis and debate, but often if we can start with our hearts, these debates can be community-building rather than relationship-breaking.
As we encounter these differences, I invite us to practice hospitality - in our worship settings, in our religious education classes, in our social settings. To me, this means remembering that even if something is not for you, our shared value of hospitality allows us to delight in its capacity to serve your neighbor.
Still, these practices are works-in-progress in us all, and I include myself in that. Our covenant asks of us something even more basic: that we just keep showing up, keep trying to love each other, love ourselves, love the world. So as we encounter differences in our congregations, this is my most basic response - I ask that we all keep showing up, keep trying to love in these ways, and know that each day is a new opportunity to begin again.
"None of us alone can save the world, but together, that is another possibility, waiting."
Rev. Gretchen Haley is a Unitarian Universalist minister, mom, partner and friend, trying her best to love this beautiful, broken world.