At a retreat that was held at the beginning of March, our session was introduced to the idea of creating a covenant, an agreement that we would make before God how about how we would treat one another. Our retreat leader, Rev. Dr. John-Peter Smit, suggested this to us as a way to address some of the issues that have been raised by the visitation team from as things that we needed to work on.
The purpose in such an exercise, would not merely be in order to improve the way that the session functions together, though that would be an important part of it. It would also be a way that we could lead the whole congregation by example and encourage everyone to think carefully about how we treat one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.
And so the session engaged over a period of about two months in such an exercise. We started by brainstorming some of the elements that we considered to be essential. Then one of the elders took the results of our brainstorming and created an initial draft that the whole group then discussed and tweaked a little bit. Finally, at a meeting held on May 7th, we formally adopted our covenant.
But it was not enough to just take a vote and adopt this document as our covenant. And so, at this regular session meeting, we were joined by the Rev. Greg Smith, minister at St. Andrews in Kitchener, who led us through a covenanting service.
27 Isaac said to them, “Why have you come to me, seeing that you hate me and have sent me away from you?” 28 They said, “We see plainly that the Lord has been with you; so we say, let there be an oath between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you 29 so that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the Lord.” 30 So he made them a feast, and they ate and drank. 31 In the morning they rose early and exchanged oaths; and Isaac set them on their way, and they departed from him in peace. (Genesis 26:27-31)
The service, though brief, was quite moving and meaningful. We read out the words of the covenant together and Rev. Greg read to us a passage from Genesis that told of the covenant made between Isaac and Abimelech, two enemies that overcame past hurts to become friends. And then, like the ancient patriarchs might have done, we built the symbolic altar out of stones. Each elder came forward and laid a stone on the altar while saying the words, “I make this covenant with each of you and with God.” Greg then placed the final stone as he bore witness to our covenant.
Our little stone altar will remain on the communion table for the next several weeks as a witness to our covenant before the congregation. Other groups in the congregation are certainly welcome to take the words of the covenant and adapt them to their own use and, if they wish, add their own stones to the witness pile. Within the session we will seek to hold one another to account, encouraging each other to live up to what we have promised.