First Unitarian Congregational Covenant

First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia 

Congregational Covenant and Covenantal Behavior Policy

Congregational Covenant (adopted 1/23/2022)

As part of our commitment to loving kindness and justice, we seek to build and sustain a community that nurtures our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Recognizing that the growth of this community requires intentional dedication, we covenant together to: 

  • Act in ways that acknowledge the inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Honor the differences that each of us brings, recognizing that our individual paths collectively shape our community and the wider world;
  • Communicate with generosity, attentiveness, respect, and honesty, knowing that listening leads to learning;
  • Respect each person’s boundaries of mind, body, and spirit;
  • Commit to a culture of loving accountability, where we work together for restoration when harm has taken place; 
  • Contribute to the growth of our community with our participation, our words, our public commitment, our gifts, and our money, as we are able.

May it be so.

Covenantal Behavior Policy

Each congregant is expected to uphold our Congregational Covenant within the context of their individual relationship with the First Unitarian community. Through the Covenantal Behavior Policy, we affirm the belief that our congregation must maintain a safe atmosphere where we welcome everyone with warmth and openness, and with broadest possible access. When any person speaks and/or acts in ways that break our covenant, we commit to addressing that speech and/or action firmly and promptly.

How do we define behavior that breaks our covenant?

Behavior that breaks our covenant is defined as words and/or actions, whether in person, online, or otherwise, that can be summarized as one or more of the following:

  • Dangerous: The behavior is a threat or perceived threat to congregants and/or church property.
  • Disruptive: The behavior interferes with church functions and prevents other members of the community from engaging fully with those functions.
  • Alienating: The behavior is likely to drive away or insult existing congregants, and/or constitutes hostility towards congregants based on identity.

What actions should be taken in the event of covenant-breaking behavior?

Congregants who witness or experience covenant-breaking behavior are encouraged to assess whether or not the situation requires additional support from church officials and/or committee members. When the behavior does not threaten safety, or when the behavior is limited to an isolated incident or remark, it is appropriate for congregants to respond on an individual level to covenant-breaking behavior, voicing concerns directly in ways that foreground respect, honesty, and loving accountability. 

If congregants who witness or experience covenant-breaking behavior, or who have had a behavior incident reported to them, believe that this behavior requires additional support to safely and/or adequately address it, they should report the incident to any of the following: the Lead Minister, the Minister of Faith Formation, a staff member responsible for a group, a member of the Board of Trustees, or a member of the Committee on Shared Ministry. The church will not retaliate against anyone who brings forward a complaint. While First Unitarian cannot guarantee absolute confidentiality, we will make every reasonable effort to maintain confidentiality by disclosing the identity of the individuals involved only on a “need-to-know” basis and as necessary to investigate and resolve the complaint.

If covenant-breaking behavior is occurring and an immediate response is required, this should first be undertaken by the Lead Minister and/or the Minister of Faith Formation, if available; an usher (if the behavior occurs in person during worship); the Chat Chaplain (if the behavior occurs online during worship); or the leader/chair of the group involved. This may include asking the person or persons to leave, or suspending the meeting or activity until such time that it may be safely resumed. 

In the event that external support is necessary to respond to covenant-breaking behavior, First Unitarian asks staff and congregants to prioritize local community resources before calling the police. In the vast majority of cases, covenant-breaking behavior will not require police intervention, and alternative systems of public safety help prioritize the well-being of those whom statistics show are disproportionately at risk of police brutality in our city. As the Unitarian Universalist Association notes, “We know that much of what we’ve been taught about safety is shaped by systems of oppression telling us who to be afraid of. And we know that real community protection does not criminalize us or our neighbors. [...] It is incumbent upon us to center the experiences of people and communities most impacted by state violence and surveillance.”  First Unitarian’s commitment to loving kindness and justice leads us to encourage community-based choices, given that safety is an imperative goal for all who come into contact with our congregation.

Possible non-police resources to contact, in the event of covenant-breaking behavior that requires external support outside the church, include:

  • Philadelphia Crisis Line, available 24/7, (215) 685-6440
    • A mental health crisis line operated by the County. This line can also send out Mobile Assessment Teams (MATs). These MATs will come to the caller’s location and assess the person who is in crisis. The MATs do not provide treatment on-site. If the MAT determines that the person needs treatment, they will transport them to the nearest Crisis Response Center.
  • Women Organized Against Rape (WOAR), available 24/7, (215) 985-3333
    • Provides free services to children and adults who have experienced sexual violence. Specially trained Hotline crisis counselors provide support, answer questions, and can provide referral guidance to the right services. Crisis advocates provide medical accompaniment, explain the reporting process, provide information about the criminal justice system, and connect victim/survivors to WOAR services and outside services as needed. Gender and disability inclusive.
  • SAMHSA National Helpline, available 24/7, 1-800-662-4357
    • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers information and referrals to treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations in English and Spanish. The helpline is for people facing mental and/or substance use disorders.
  • Covenant House, 215-951-5411
    • Covenant House Philadelphia provides a 24/7 crisis shelter for youth ages 21 and under in the city. Young people can access consistent meals, counseling, a warm bed, medical care, workforce training, etc. at the crisis shelter.

If any actions in response to covenant-breaking behavior are undertaken without the Ministers present, the Ministers must be notified, and a follow-up email detailing the behavior and any resulting actions should be written and sent to the Ministers and the Board President. The Board President will determine if there are any potential legal or financial implications related to the incident, and will inform the Board if necessary.

Situations not necessarily requiring an immediate response, but that do require additional support from church officials to be adequately addressed, will be referred to the Committee on Shared Ministry by the Minister(s). The committee will respond in terms of their judgment, observing the following guidelines:

  • The Committee on Shared Ministry will respond to problems in a timely manner as they arise.
  • There will be no attempt to define “acceptable” behavior in advance.
  • Behavior identified as covenant-breaking will be dealt with on an individual basis, with particular attention to avoid stereotyping and awareness of implicit bias.

In evaluating the problem, the Committee on Shared Ministry will collect all pertinent information and, at a minimum, consider: 

  • Does the behavior in question meet the policy’s definition of covenant-breaking behavior? Is it dangerous, disruptive, and/or alienating?
  • What is the context of the behavior? Is it due to an interpersonal conflict? To what degree do the individuals involved understand their behavior as covenant-breaking? To what degree are the individuals able to modify their behavior?
  • Is there any prior history of covenant-breaking behavior from involved individuals?
  • How likely is it that the behavior will diminish in the future without intervention?

The Committee on Shared Ministry will decide on the necessary responses to reported situations by determining to which level the behavior corresponds: Level One, Level Two, or Level Three.

Level One: Behavior designated Level One is determined to be minorly destructive. Minorly destructive behavior, for the purposes of this policy, is defined as behavior that might not be long-lasting or of severe or widespread impact, but must be addressed so the person causing harm does not continue their behavior, or because they are not taking responsibility to repair. A representative or representatives from the Committee on Shared Ministry will meet with the person or persons and other related parties to communicate their concern about the behavior, in the goal of reaching a shared resolution. If the issue cannot be resolved at this level, the process will proceed to Level Two, and the Board of Trustees will intervene. 

Level Two: A case will be referred to the full Board of Trustees, if the behavior in question is 1) minorly destructive and repeated from a prior occasion; 2) minorly destructive and significantly affects the larger congregation; 3) minorly destructive and unable to be resolved at Level One; or 4) is majorly destructive. Majorly destructive behavior, for the purposes of this policy, is defined as significant or severe harm done that cannot be allowed to repeat, and requires intervention to make sure that the perpetrating person(s) understand how their behavior causes harm, commit to not continuing it, and work on active repair.

If the Committee on Shared Ministry has not already met with the person(s) involved, or if the Committee on Shared Ministry was unable to resolve the issue, the Board, or (a) representative(s) from the Board, will meet with the person(s) and any related parties. At a Level Two, the Board may decide that the offending individual(s) needs to be excluded from the church and/or specific church activities for a limited period of time, with the reasons for such action and the conditions of return clearly communicated in writing. 

Level Three: Behavior designated Level Three is determined to be critically destructive. Critically destructive behavior, for the purposes of this policy, is defined as long-lasting and/or severe harm to the church, staff, and/or congregants that cannot be repaired by the person(s) causing the harm. If the behavior is determined to be critically destructive, the Board of Trustees may determine that the offending individual(s) may be removed from the congregation and, if appropriate, excluded from the church premises and all church activities online, in person, and otherwise. This decision should only be reached after careful consideration and a meeting with the person or persons involved and the Board or (a) representative(s) from the Board. Notification of such a decision will be made in writing, and will explain the individual’s right and possible recourse. 

Any action taken under Level Three may be appealed, in writing, to the Board of Trustees, within thirty days of written notification. An ad hoc Appeal Committee will be formed by the Board of Trustees in the event that the action taken under Level Three is appealed. The Appeal Committee will be composed of two members of the Board of Trustees, two members selected by the Committee on Shared Ministry who are not members of the Committee on Shared Ministry nor members of the Board of Trustees, and a fifth member who is an active member of First Unitarian, chosen by the removed person. In a case where the individual does not have a member to propose, the fifth member would be selected by the other four members of this appeal committee. The majority decision of the appeal committee will be final and not subject to further appeal. 

In the event of the removal of an individual from membership and/or attendance at First Unitarian, the name of the person removed and the reason(s) for removal will be communicated directly to staff, the Committee on Shared Ministry, and the chairs of Membership and Caring Ministry. The removal will be announced in the church newsletter, the E-Beacon, without identifying the individual by name. A general description of the reason for removal will be included in this announcement.

Any request for reinstatement must be made directly by the person who was removed from membership and/or asked not to attend church functions. The request must contain information concerning the rationale for the reinstatement: 

  1. A statement of understanding of the reasons for which they were removed from membership and/or asked not to attend church functions; and
  2. An explanation in detail of how circumstances and conditions have changed, such that a reinstatement would be justified. 

The request will go to the Board of Trustees. The Board will review the request and respond within sixty days as to whether or not to reinstate the removed person. The decision of the Board is final and not subject to further appeal. 

A reinstatement request may be made no sooner than one year following the removal. In the event that a reinstatement request is not granted, any subsequent reinstatement requests may be made no sooner than one year following the member being informed of a negative decision on the previous request. 

Conclusion

Through our Congregational Covenant, First Unitarian’s community has an ongoing commitment to fostering a culture of loving accountability, where we work together for restoration when harm has taken place. The Covenantal Behavior Policy is a document that seeks to support this crucial goal through creating clear guidelines for responses to covenant-breaking actions. We pledge to use this document in ways that honor the inherent worth and dignity of every person in our community: by addressing harm in direct and unambiguous language, and by making efforts to repair whenever possible.

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