a living document

Maya Gillett, 2017-18 Boston Fellow, serving at Community Action Agency of Somerville

Way back in September, during the national orientation session for all thirty of this year’s QVS fellows, QVS staff began mentioning the “covenant.” As in: “When you write your covenant,” or “You might want to include something about this in your covenant.” They didn’t go into great detail, but then one day during a meeting with our city coordinator (who essentially serves in an official capacity as our house advisor/benevolent supervisor/really wonderful friend) gave us some more info: it was an expectation of the program that each of the four QVS houses would, at some point early-ish in the fall, create a document that outlined some of the tenets of the community that they were building. It would be entirely up to our discretion what we put (or didn’t put) in the covenant, and she said we had time, that it would come together over a couple of months, most likely; but the underlying expectation is that we were supposed to do this…thing. A thing that, in my mind at least, felt awfully like writing marriage vows. For seven people. Whom I had met less than a week ago.

Well, whatever. We were all in, my housemates and I decided. Whatever recommendations on how to foster a strong and healthy community that QVS staff (and alums) threw at us, we were ready. They think we should get together to discuss “house business” for a couple hours every week? Okay. They recommend setting up a rotational cooking schedule and eating together at least four nights a week? Fine with us. We should worship together as a house once a week, outside of the time we spend attending Meeting? Sure! You want us to write down some stuff about our community and turn it into this “covenant” thing? Sounds great.

It felt like a lot, but it also felt very exciting. I was so thrilled to see that I wasn’t the only person in my house who was into this idea; in fact, we all seemed pretty pumped about it. We each came in with an enthusiasm and a sense of earnestness – like a mindset of we’re really going to try this thing! – that seemed too good to be true. When our coordinator told us that the fellows in her house from a previous year had simply never written their covenant, we laughed.

Hahahaha!, we said to each other, wouldn’t that be so absurd!

What if we only got around to it in, like, January? someone joked. We’ll be halfway through our year and just getting finished with our covenant!

Hahahaha! We laughed even harder.


I’m just going to check the calendar…and, yes, let me see…yep. It’s January 30th. Almost February.

Anyone want to guess what we haven’t done?

Okay, but to be fair, there is a lot more to the story than just us not writing it. In fact, we have been working on it (admittedly slowly) since the fall. We’ve had several long work sessions on this document, sessions that were at once uplifting and draining. We’ve generated a lot of beautiful language, and discussed at length what we do and don’t want to include; for example, we realized we do want to have some language in there about how to courageously approach and deal with conflict, but we don’t want to have a step-by-step guide for what our actual process will be. We do want it to include some general expectations (like “be vulnerable”), but we don’t want it to be a list of rules. And along the way, of course, for these past five months we’ve been generating and refining house expectations, standards, norms, protocols and rituals – not many of which are actually written down, of course, but which are all definitely ingrained in our community nonetheless.

It just turns out that it’s hard to have eight people actually write a document together; and even harder when you feel like you have to capture an incredibly vibrant, dynamic, loving, energetic, thoughtful, and complex set of “norms” on paper. So we’re still plugging along, and hope to actually have a more-or-less “finished” version in a week or two (in fact, I’m supposed to be working on a draft right now, and instead am writing this.) And all along, we’ve told ourselves that whatever we produce will be a “living document,” so it may never feel finalized.

But what I’ve realized in the process of  putting as much of the intangible feeling of “community” into actual words is that we actually have “written” this covenant already, hundreds of times. It’s been written in our business meetings, over house dinners, in our one-on-one conversations with each other, during early morning breakfast hangouts in the kitchen, in worship, in the hundred tiny loving things we do with and for each other every single day. We’re living our covenant, whether it’s been put into words on paper or not. It really is a living document – a document that’s been woven into the fabric of our shared lives.

P.S. For anyone reading this who happens to be between the ages of 18-25 and is thinking to themselves, “Gosh, I don’t know what to do with my life next year! And Maya’s thing sounds kind of fun!” you can apply until March 15th at quakervoluntaryservice.org/apply. And please, if your have ANY questions – reach out and let me know. So so happy to answer them. 

For more posts from Maya, visit her blog athttps://yearinthelight.wordpress.com

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