What is a covenant?
In the Bible, a covenant is an agreement or alliance between God and the people of Israel, or between God and individuals like Noah, Abraham and Moses. It has overtones of a legal compact, with rights and obligations on both sides of the agreement—“I will be your God, and you will be my people.” “Go to the land that I will show you, and I will make your descendants more numerous than the stars.”
But Biblical covenants are more than contracts. Covenants describe and define a committed relationship. They create a loving bond that is not easily dissolved, like a strong and fruitful marriage. A covenant is written on the heart—God’s and the people’s—not just on paper.
Our church covenants mirror the Biblical covenant. Just as the people of Israel were established as God’s own people by means of covenants, so a church comes into being when free people freely agree to be bound to God in Jesus Christ, and to belong to each other in love, faith and ministry.
Every time a new person joins the church, we all renew the covenant that makes us who we are.
The Covenant of First Church in Cambridge, Congregational (UCC)
We who are now brought together
and united into one Church
under the Lord Jesus Christ, our Head
in such sort as becometh all those whom
He hath redeemed and sanctified to himself,
do solemnly and religiously, as in His most holy presence,
promise and bind ourselves to walk in all our ways
according to the rule of the Gospel,
and in all sincere conformity to His holy ordinances
and in mutual love and respect each to other,
so near as God shall give us grace.
This covenant was used in 1630 by the church gathered at Charlestown, Massachusetts. It is typical of 17th century Puritan church covenants. The first few generations of members of First Church may well have used such a covenant, but the original covenant of the congregation is unknown. This one was adopted in 1872, around the same time as our current meeting house was completed.
The Covenant Testimony
We believe our covenant with God and each other calls us:
- To love God with all that we are, and our close and distant neighbors as ourselves;
- To seek peace through justice and equity for all people;
- To engage in nonviolent resistance to evil;
- To respect and preserve God’s earth;
- To foster community across every barrier and division;
- To attend to God’s unfolding and reconciling Word;
- To support each other in our frailties and strengths, that we may embody the love that overcomes fear and death.
This we testify, confessing always our reliance on God’s grace in Christ, and on the power of the Holy Spirit.
This testimony was composed and adopted in 1990 as a “gloss” on our ancient covenant, and as a way to be more explicit about the commitment of our congregation to justice, reconciliation, peace, and the integrity of all creation.