A covenant is an agreement among a group of people, most typically a group consensus on behavior and interaction standards. The covenant creation process takes as little as an hour and sometimes up to days depending on the size, life span, and purpose of the group.
Group Dynamics and Needs Assessment
The group that developed this covenant was a short-term working and residential community consisting of 25 young adults aged 19-23 years old. They were hired to work at a 4-H Summer Camp from late May to mid-August, 2017. They would live in a “staff lodge” for the duration of the three months of their contract and were responsible for all summer camp labor and program delivery.
The community needed a covenant to bring all employees to a “level playing ground.” Because of the diversity of the group and variant development stages both socially and emotionally, they needed a set of standards to which they would hold each other and themselves as they executed their job functions.
Covenant Development Process
This was a visioning workshop. The staff were given multiple staff covenants and community contracts from other camps, the Standards of Behavior and Code of Conduct for Virginia 4-H programs, and a copy of the contract they signed on hire. They were encouraged to find elements that they both agree and disagree with in those examples and begin to think about the way in which they interact with roommates, siblings, and coworkers.
After discussion, the group was divided into their “houses” (more on this later) and they were encouraged to develop a 5-8 sentence covenant. this was then shared to the community.
One of the small groups brought up the fact that they were all assigned to house groups. This is a mentorship program developed by camp leadership to ensure cohesion among the staff: there is one “prefect” in each house and both first-year and returning staff members make up the rest of the house. There are five houses at this camp, and each house is named after a tree and associated with a quality that is desirable in the staff:
- Willow – Empathy
- Poplar – Diversity
- Cypress – Optimism
- Maple – Ingenuity
- Dogwood – Sacrifice (this is the camp administrative staff and directors)
The decision was made almost unanimously to incorporate these into the covenant. Each house took the word of another and created a definition for that quality. After the definition was created, they then volunteered ideas on how they would treat each other with that quality. For example, this is what they wrote for empathy:
- EMPATHY (recognizing and understanding what someone else is feeling) by being aware of what other people are going through. We don’t demand information from anyone and we respect confidentiality.
At the end of the 4 hour workshop, the staff had a covenant that they were comfortable with signing. As a facilitator, I was amazed by the cohesion and cooperation that this group brought into the room. One staff member wrote the majority of the introduction, but each voice was included and heard within her work.
Long Term Results
At the end of the summer, many staff reported that had they not had a covenant, sticky situations (gossip, food theft, etc.) would have been more difficult to deal with. In fact, when given the opportunity to share their covenant with a visiting group of lay ministers, they were overjoyed to join in the presentation and speak to the value they placed in the document. They were able to navigate disagreement and disgruntlement as professionally as possible.
As groups enter into an intentional community, agreement of how they should treat one another cannot be overlooked. While it is the tradition in many faith-based communities, workplaces and elective organizations can benefit from a functional covenant. The practice of how we treat our fellow man cannot be overlooked, and a covenant can help us consciously continue that practice.