Monday, April 04, 2011

A Covenant of Convenience?

There are some words in the English language that hold a special meaning.

You can usually tell which ones they are because they have an archaic feel to them and their meanings has rarely changed. Trespass is one of these words... it refers to the illegal crossing of a boundary (geographical or moral), it is a word that has remained rooted in the traditional English form of the Lord's Prayer. I used another of these words when I first christened my blog - Sanctuary; and it is one of these words that I want to look at in more detail, as it is very relevant to something that is going on in my town at this very moment. The word... is "covenant".

If you look up the word covenant in the dictionary, you will not be at a loss to understand what it means. A covenant is essentially a promise, pledge or oath or agreed or proclaimed by one or more parties. Covenants can take many forms - unilateral, bilateral, multilateral, secular, religious and ultimately, even the divine.

Whatever form they take, they all hold one thing in common; they bind the parties involved by law or divine will, to the circumstances that have been agreed upon or proclaimed. They are considered sacrosanct  This is something that doesn't site easily in the modern world. In a throwaway society, the duration of a promises' relevance has continually been eroded.

And now I come to my motivation for highlighting these things - the fate of the Hannah Susan Greig Memorial Hall in my home town of Alcester.
The Greig, Alcester
Hannah Susan Greig was a lady who devoted her life to bettering the needs of those around her... most specifically, the local youth. When she passed away, her husband used his funds to build a hall in her memory... that would help continue the work she started.The land was sold to his charitable trust with a covenant that it would only be used for youth and civic use.  Just over half a century later, that covenant finds itself under threat.

The current Board of Trustees for the Grieg have determined that its current business model is not profitable... and have proposed a course of action that will see the original covenant lifted and prepare the way for significant housing development. Stratford-upon-Avon District Council's portfolio holder has agreed to this with the proviso that £200,000 of an £800,000 loan be paid back in return as a kind of administration fee.

I am completely opposed to this course of action... principally because I believe all agreed covenants should be respected. It is a matter of honour. As a man of faith I understand the importance of keeping covenants... for I believe my very salvation depends on it. Where would be if God decided the covenant he established through his Son was a bit of a "no brainer" and couldn't be bothered with it any more? As lost and royally stuffed that scenario would leave us, we'd equally be  outraged. There's a cosmic understanding of the arrangement.

God does not say:

"I am altering the deal. Pray I don't alter it any further."

No... that was Darth Vader.

Instead, this is what God says in His Word:
"He is the LORD our God; his judgements are in all the earth. He remembers his covenant forever, the promise he made, for a thousand generations"
Psalm 105:7-8
Or as Billy Graham once put it:

"God said it, in His Word. I believe it, in my heart. That settles it... forever".

If we have a God who honours his Word at every opportunity he gives it... should we not also live in such a manner? Keeping covenants, honouring commitments and upholding righteous promises that fall within our jurisdiction? I believe so and I believe that's what the Bible says too.

That's not to say covenants are inflexible. Jesus himself knew all too well that the words of God's covenants and promises could be warped by men... and on occasion reiterated or illustrated his teaching which reinforced the Spirit of what was meant.
Covenants should not be hampered by legalism. You only have to go to Jerusalem and see the Immovable Ladder to see how a covenant can be warped into upholding something meaningless.

Going back to the Alcester situation, I'm not hanging on for the sake of sentiment or tradition. I would get behind an update of the site that made it more relevant to the current youth and civic generation. I think you could redevelop the side buildings and main hall whilst retaining the Art Deco style of the atrium. I could even accept a change in use of the site if it honoured the Spirit of why that site exists. For example... if the covenant remained and houses were built that were exclusively aimed at providing starter homes for young people or families... I would see that as honouring the commitment.

However, the inconvenient truth of the matter is that social housing and doing good, are very rarely profitable ventures. It seems as though the covenant has now become inconvenient and will be disposed of as soon as profitable. I am grateful to my father and the other local councillors who are upholding the will of many townsfolk (myself included), by calling the decision in to be examined by the Overview and Scrutiny committee.

How this pans out, only time will tell... but it would be nice to have faith in people and think that  this promise... this pledge... this one covenant made many years ago... would still be valued and upheld by a generation that lives in a time where so many others are so casually tossed aside.

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