Letter from the Editor
Welcome to the November 2016 issue of Covenant Group News.
I am writing this post election and wondering what role your covenant groups are playing in this anxiety-filled time. I found three members of my group debriefing just outside the sanctuary on Sunday, November 13, all young adults--a guy with a two-month old baby in his arms, a Mexican American woman who is not yet a citizen, and another woman who is a science teacher, with graduate emphasis on climate change. At our last meeting we used the first of two sessions from the UUA: Beyond the Partisan Divide.
We shared beautifully, using this session. It was even difficult to break for refreshments. Please send your stories about your group and how it is functioning this fall to email@example.com
for publication in our next issue of Covenant Group News.
In this issue, we have:
The Power of Promotional Words from the Minister: Here's How to Grow Spiritually Deeper, by Rev. Dr. Xolani Kacela, Eno River UU Fellowship, Durham, NC. This article illustrates the role your minister can play in promoting and supporting your covenant group program. Over the years, listening to your stories, I have become increasingly convinced that this promotion and support from the minister is critical for our programs. Words from the pulpit, in the newsletter, and to members and leaders are powerful, whereas, treating the program as if it were parallel to other activites makes it much harder to achieve the power and potential of small group ministry. We hope to address this in upcoming issues and offer some ideas about how to work with your minister to maximize the benefits of small group ministry for your congregation. Please send your stories. firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. Online Covenant Group, by Connie Green, Boone UU Fellowship, Boone, NC. This is an amazing story about finding a way for people who are not able to meet in person to participate joyfully in a covenant group. It includes "how to" details.
3. Video Toolbox, by Wendy Baruch, Myrtle Beach UU, Myrtle Beach, NC. What an ambitious project, interviewing members of local congregations about the importance of their covenant group experience and its place in the overall UU experience. And you can watch the video.
Please share your questions, comments, concerns, and visions with us at email@example.com. We are eager to hear from you.
Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, Baton Rouge, LA
The Power of Promotional Words from the Minister
Here's How to Grow Spiritually Deeper
By Rev. Dr. Xolani Kacela, June 2016 Currents Newsletter
Eno River UU Fellowship, Durham, NC
At the annual Covenant Group & Chalice Circle Celebration (CGCC) Dinner last month, we celebrated another year of outstanding small group ministry. I want to highlight the special place that these groups have in the life of Eno River UU Fellowship and beyond.
ERUUF has 12 covenant groups and chalice circles (CGCC) combined and about 125 people committed. That is about 20% of ERUUF's membership! It could be higher. If you are not a member of a covenant group or chalice circle, here are a few reasons why you should consider joining a group.
Small groups are where the spiritual action takes place. When I say "spiritual action," I'm talking about something very particular. To quote David Elkins, a prominent writer on spirituality, the action is "being and experiencing that comes about through awareness of a transcendent dimension." You will experience change in how you regard your "self, others, nature, life and what you consider to be the Ultimate." That's the spiritual action that happens in these groups.
CGCCs put you in a setting where people are poised to embrace you in a very personal and real way. You lose your pretense in CGCCs; folks get real about listening, confidentiality, and relationships. You experience the fellowship differently because you connect so deeply.
Some of our most mature and wise ERUUFians hang out in CGCCs. If you want to get to know them, you need to sign up and join. Once you're in a CGCC, you become a seed for more mature spirituality that spreads throughout the congregation. As you flower, so does the fellowship. We need you to infuse the congregation with your wisdom and spiritual depth.
Importantly, CGCCs offer a special way of taking your spiritual growth into the world—through service projects. Whether tidying up the ERUUF campus or serving people beyond our walls in various ways, you can put on your spiritual boots and do some good and immediately see the results.
My soul grows when I've been in covenant groups. I recall leaving and feeling like the world had more glimmer and shine. In reality, I was the one who was experiencing the world through a different lens and more open heart.
I hope that you'll consider joining a CGCC sometime in the near future. Our CGCC Steering Team is amongst the wisest at ERUUF. They will work with you to find a group that fits your individual spiritual needs as well as your schedule. Contact them via phone or email or speak with them during coffee hour. They are waiting to hear from you!
Online Covenant Group
By Connie Green, Boone UU Fellowship, Boone, NC
When I moved to Boone in 1987, I was a single mom with three children. I remember how I yearned for companionship and spiritual discussions with other adults in my religious community. However, those opportunities were limited by the early bedtime of my preschool child and the activities and transportation needs of her older siblings.
Today, as a leader in our fellowship, I hear our young parents sharing similar desires for spiritual connections, but facing the same challenges that I had three decades ago. As I read about covenant groups, I felt they would be a positive way for members and friends in our fellowship to connect around topics of worth and depth. About the same time, I attended a training session on Google Hangouts through my university, Appalachian State.
To initiate an online covenant group, I posted a message on our Fellowship Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/331557863618469/), sent emails to some young parents who I thought might be interested, and advertised through Sunday announcements and weekly fellowship email blasts. The initial group was comprised of four young mothers, one mother of teens, and myself. We met from 8:30 to 9:30 pm weekly for about two months. We took a break over the summer, then re-organized in the fall when several face-to-face groups were also forming. We initiate the fall groups by having sample covenant group gatherings at our fellowship retreat in August.
During our online covenant group via Google Hangouts, we each light a candle in our own homes and welcome each other. We share chalice lightings and readings on Google Docs. We first take a few minutes to check in with each other, then relax into a moment of silence. When we began our covenant group, I chose several online topics from the UU Small Group Ministry Network website and participants prioritized those sessions. Now we are using chapters from Soul to Soul by Christine Robinson and Alicia Hawkes. We take turns leading the sessions, waiting until newcomers are comfortable before asking them to facilitate.
I believe there are several advantages of online groups. First, they allow parents of young children to participate in a meaningful way with other members of our congregation. We had a mother of infant twins in the group last spring who sometimes kept her baby monitor nearby and would mute her audio if the baby was whimpering. Most of the young children are sleeping when their mothers sign-in at 8:30 pm to enjoy some adult time.
A second benefit is that we see each other in our homes. I feel that online groups are even more intimate than face-to-face groups because we are in each other's living room or bedroom. It's even okay to wear your pajamas!
Third, we see each other face-to-face. When someone is talking, her image automatically enlarges on the screen, so it is easy to focus on her. Smaller images are minimized at the bottom of the screen. I think it helps us to focus on the speaker and to listen deeply.
Fourth, we don't have to leave our homes and drive during snow or ice, which can be an issue in our mountain home.
A downside of any online platform is that not all internet connections are the same. Two women who initially participated in the group had to drop because of bandwidth or connectivity issues. I'm interested in trying online groups with some of our older members who have moved to retirement communities. I hope the technology can be less of an issue in the future.
I enthusiastically recommend online covenant groups. Our Boone UU Fellowship group has provided members with various ways to grow spiritually. Online covenant groups are one of those ways.
By Wendy Baruch, All Souls Waccamaw UU Fellowship, Myrtle Beach, SC
I wish this faith was as strong in the branching out and growing as we are in the roots. So when I was given an assignment to make a video, I sought to uncover the conversations and activities that UU's in my region were practicing as part of their bonding and nurturing experience in the faith. I knew that I wanted to publish the video on YouTube and that I wanted it to be helpful to others who may wonder about Unitarian Universalism.
Diverse Natures is a short documentary about the feelings of Unitarian Universalists at the time it was created in the Spring of 2014. There were four church communities within a two-hour radius of my home when I began this project. I had networked with each of them and was really interested in gathering a diverse group of responses to the several questions that I had decided on in the project outline.
The video is only three minutes long. I interviewed 20 people from the Myrtle Beach, SC, Wilmington, NC, and Charleston, SC congregations. No one came right out and said that "Small Group Ministry is the best formula for building relationship in congregations," but as each person shared the story of what brought them to understanding this faith, it became obvious that inter-personal conversations experienced in the context of small gatherings were instrumental in bringing depth and meaning to their processes of nurturing community. It kind of emerged from my work.
At one time I attended regional meetings and events, but I did not know about the UU Small Group Ministry Network and its publications until I visited the Network's Booth during General Assembly 2016. I am glad that some hard-working folks have also seen the importance of guided inter-personal conversations and are reaching out to help facilitate the powerful connections that SGM creates. I think this is an excellent tool for evangelizing the faith.
If you have members of your congregation or region with a passion for compiling and editing video, as I have, I think that you will find this process another community nurturing tool. Start with a genuine curiosity to explore something amongst a group of people, then be willing to cut ruthlessly to reach a coherent theme in your final production. Everyone who participated will want to watch the end result. There is a much longer story than the three minutes published here waiting in my collection of clips. Maybe one day there will be a time, some funds, and a purpose to pull it out. This project was a part of my Graduate work at University. I am glad so many have found it to be enjoyable.
Here is the link: https://youtu.be/K4gKL_EkQk4 You can type it into the You Tube Search bar. Thanks for watching.
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The UU Small Group Ministry Network is a grassroots organization of Unitarian Universalist congregations, ministers, small group ministry/covenant group leaders and participants.
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In addition to the SGM Journal for members and the free, online Covenant Group News, we publish new resources for program coordinators and facilitators, sponsor a consultation booth and SGM workshops at General Assembly, offer a week-long SGM Summer Institute, help local leaders plan regional SGM conferences, and give workshops in congregations and districts across the nation.
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