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June 2017

Small Groups, Deep Connections June 2017
The UU Small Group Ministry Network
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In This Issue
  • Letter from the Editor
  • Meet Us in New Orleans, LA
  • Basic Elements of Small Group Ministry
  • More Like a Marathon Than a Sprint
  • The Yin and Yang of Small Group Ministry and Social Justice
  • Join the Booth Team at General Assembly in New Orleans, LA
  • Upcoming Events
  • Web News
  • Publications
  • Who We Are
  • Contact Us

Covenant Group News
is an interactive Small Group Ministry and Covenant Group newsletter distributed by the UU Small Group Ministry Network.
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SGM Network Publications Team
Alan Backler, UU Church of Bloomington, IN
Diana Dorroh, Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, LA
Anne Gero, UUs of the Cumberland Valley, Boiling Springs, PA
Susan Hollister, Eno River UU Fellowship, Durham, NC

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Letter from the Editor


Welcome to the June 2017 issue of Covenant Group News, a publication of the UU Small Group Ministry Network.

Please share your questions, comments, concerns, and vision with us at We are eager to hear from you.

If you will attend General Assembly this year in New Orleans June 21 - 25, please visit the UU SGM Network Booth in the Exhibit Hall, #618. At the booth, we share stories, issues, and challenges. I find it exhilarating. If you can volunteer some time, see the article JOIN THE BOOTH TEAM AT GA NEW ORLEANS! Also suggest that people from your congregation stop by the Network booth and talk with Susan Hollister, Rev. Helen Zidowecki, Diana Dorroh (me, your guest editor for this issue), and small group ministry participants and leaders from the Network member congregations.

The article, Basic Elements of Small Group Ministry, is reprinted in this issue from the UU SGM Network website, The basic elements include an expectation that groups will engage in service to the congregation and the larger community. Service to the larger community may take the form of direct assistance to individuals and organizations or working for social change. For the purposes of this issue of CG News, let's call both involvements social justice.

So, participation in social justice is a basic element for covenant groups and, therefore, something for us to explore and strive to achieve. That points to an interesting question: How does a congregation's small group ministry program support the congregation's involvement in social justice? Some ways:

1. support of individuals as they participate in social justice efforts.
2. spiritual growth and new insights and discernment about possible actions or further study that result from sharing during sessions on social justice topics.
3. mutual support provided in a covenant group doing social justice together.
4. social justice involvement by the whole congregation, made healthier and more powerful by a vibrant small group ministry program.

In our first article, More Like a Marathon Than a Sprint, Rev. Dr. James Kubal-Komoto talks about both clergy and church members being supported in their social justice work by their small groups (#1 above), but he also includes #4 in claiming that small group involvement correlates with less conflict. Less conflict means more energy for social justice.

Next, we have an article edited by Anne Gero with contributions from Alan Backler of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Bloomington, IN, and Cindy Good of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Cumberland Valley, PA. In both congregations, there is an expectation that the groups will provide service to the church and to the larger community. These two congregations are good models of covenant group members participating together in social justice projects. (#3 above). I found the service projects both churches do in the community inspiring.

In the March issue of Covenant Group News,, primarily in an article by Rev. Helen Zidowecki, Small Group Ministry - For Times Such as These, we explored the work churches are doing in their small groups, using sessions that allow members to process the spiritual angst many of us have experienced since the 2016 elections and then find ways to act. (#2 above). The SGM sessions provide the spiritual connection that is a grounding for the educational programs and the activities that often constitute social justice involvement in our congregations. A resource for using session plans to address social justice issues is Social Justice Work: Preparation, Action, Reflection Through Small Group Ministry. This publication includes session plans and is available for purchase from the UU SGM Network website

My congregation, the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, has a history of working together on community issues and also has a healthy, large, small group ministry program. Here in South Louisiana, the problems seem to come to us: racism, hurricanes and floods, and the challenge of working with governmental institutions for change, to name a few. It seems to me that our covenant groups make the church stronger, more resilient, and more able to continue this presence in the community. For me, this is an illustration of #4: social justice involvement by the whole congregation, made healthier and more powerful by a vibrant small group ministry program. Have you seen this in your congregation? Send us your story.

And please send us all of your stories about social justice and small group ministry in your congregation.

Thanks to Susan Hollister, Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Durham, NC, for design assistance and for editing this issue of CG News.

Diana Dorroh,
Guest Editor,
Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, Baton Rouge, LA


General Assembly 2017 - UU Small Group Ministry Network Booth # 618

Meet, Greet, and Share
The GA Booth is a great place for conversation and for meeting others interested in and involved with Small Group Ministry/Covenant Groups. You are key to providing opportunities and enhancing SGM/CG in congregations and throughout Unitarian Universalism!

Staff the Booth
To join the GA Booth Team and share your own enthusiasm and experience, contact us at or come by the booth to sign up for times that work for your schedule.

Get involved with the SGM Network
We invite active Network members to serve on our Board of Trustees.
Partner with the Network to support small group ministry programs in UU congregations.
This is a working Board that manages membership, finances, resources, publications,
consultation, and training for SGM programs.
What role would you like to play with the SGM Network? What gifts and talents do you bring?
Talk to us at the GA Booth about opportunities to help keep the SGM Network strong.

Basic Elements of Small Group Ministry
UU Small Group Ministry Network

Small Group Ministry is intentional lay-led small groups that deepen and expand the ministry of the congregation.
"Small" means a group with a maximum of 8-10 people. Groups of this size provide an opportunity to relate on a more intentional level.
"Group" is a gathering of individuals, sometimes selected at random, sometimes selected for a specific interest or characteristic. These groups meet over a period of time.
"Ministry" is the process or act of caring or being present with another. This relates to the spiritual as well as the physical and emotional well-being of the group participants.

The Power and Promise of SGM are Intimacy, Ultimacy and Growth.
Intimacy is increased depth of relationship that comes from meeting over time, willingness and ability to listen without comment or advice, to learn from others, and to share from the soul.
Ultimacy focuses on meaning and significance, rather than details, information or outcome.
Growth: Small Group Ministry provides opportunities for members to develop skills and grow in confidence as leaders within and beyond the group, and the potential to grow churches in numbers, and in generosity, cooperation, and sense of well-being. This growth occurs when people feel supported.

Three agreements between the groups and the congregation as a whole are suggested:
*To abide by a set of relationship ground rules, called a covenant. This includes ways to listen and to be heard.
*To welcome new members to the group or to the program overall, keeping the groups open to new people and new ideas.
*To engage in service to the congregation and larger world. This helps the group deepen its internal relationships, increases the connection with the congregation, and gives from the abundance of the group experience.

Leadership has two functions which can be done by one person or shared: The Group Leaders are chosen and trained by the minister(s) and/or designated lay leadership (Small Group Ministry Coordinator) as part of shared ministry in the congregation. Group Leaders meet with the minister and Coordinator for spiritual support, enhancing group development, and awareness of new resources. Each meeting of the group is led by the Session Facilitator who follows the Small Group Ministry model. The Session Facilitator may be the same person each meeting, or rotated within the group.

The Session plan is a guide and a springboard for discussion. The Standard Format includes:
*An opening reading that introduces but does not guide the topic.
*A check-in during which each person briefly shares about such questions as, "What's most on your mind today?" or "How is it with your spirit today?"
*A time for the focus or theme of the meeting with sharing from personal stories, guided by questions in the Session Plan, and learning from listening to others, rather than wanting others to agree with a perspective.
*The check-out gives opportunity for each participant to say how the session was for him/her.
*A closing reading.
Resource: Implementing Small Group Ministry from the UU Small Group Ministry Network.

More Like a Marathon Than a Sprint
By Rev. Dr. James Kubal-Komoto, Regional Lead, Pacific Western Region

In an article written for the Pacific Western Region of the UUA News on February 2, 2017, entitled More Like a Marathon Than a Sprint, Rev. Dr. James Kubal-Komoto reflects on the recent involvement of so many people, including UU congregations, in action for social justice, for example the Women's March in Washington and marches in locations across the country. He wonders whether this level of congregational participation will continue in the days ahead.

In the article, he identifies certain deciding factors in whether a congregation participates in social justice in the wider community. One of them is closely tied to small group ministry. His article, reprinted here with permission, follows:

Unitarian Universalists by the hundreds and perhaps by the thousands participated in the Women's March in Washington, D.C., and in sister marches in cities across the United States to stand up for our shared values of compassion and justice for all people. I suspect this was the largest Unitarian Universalist public witness since the 1963 March on Washington. A weekend later, Unitarian Universalists across the country participated in demonstrations again at our nation's airports.

Will this level of participation continue in the weeks, months, and years ahead, or will it fizzle? It may depend on three things:

1. One study shows a deciding factor in whether a congregation participates in social justice in the wider community is ministerial leadership. Another study shows a deciding factor in whether ministers provide such leadership is participation in a small, relational group of colleagues. (Participation in such a group is also linked to less congregational conflict, greater congregational growth, and longer ministerial tenure.)

Take home: If you are a minister, I encourage you to make participation in such a group, whether a UUMA cluster or an interfaith group, a priority. If you are a lay leader in a congregation with a minister, encourage your minister's participation. If you don't already belong to such a group, especially if you are geographically isolated, consider starting an online group with colleagues.

2. Similarly, studies show the most important factor in whether individual congregation members participate in social justice activities in the wider community is also participation in a small, relational group. It doesn't have to be a social-justice oriented group. It could be a 12-step group, a knitting circle, a Bible study, a book group.

Take home: If you want members of your congregation to be more active in social justice, bolster small group programming within your congregation. Talk to your regional staff about how you might do this.

3. What doesn't make a difference in congregational involvement in social justice? Incredibly, prophetic preaching. A study of congregations during the Viet Nam War era showed how often ministers preached prophetic sermons had no effect on whether church members participated in anti-war activities.

My own experience serving a congregation that was actively involved in the wider community echoes this. I sometimes did preach prophetic sermons, especially if there was a specific call to action, but I also found that the more my congregation was involved in the wider community, the more important it was to preach pastoral sermons as well as sermons that explored specific spiritual and religious topics or Unitarian Universalist identity.

Take home: Connecting people to specific opportunities to be involved is more important than prophetic preaching every Sunday.

Friends, our efforts to make this world we share more compassionate and just will always be more like a marathon than a sprint. May we be wise in how we sustain ourselves and those we serve on the way.

James Kubal-Komoto

The Yin and Yang of Small Group Ministry and Social Justice
From Anne Gero and Alan Backler, UU SGM Network Publications Team

This article includes 2 separate short contributions that describe how each of the authors' churches organize Social Justice and how the covenant groups participate. Alan Backler's church features meeting the needs of the covenant groups by facilitating their connection with Social Justice activities that are available in their community, both within the church, as well as in the community-at-large. Cindy Good's church organizes Social Justice opportunities for all. Each perspective offers different outcomes that are quite interesting.

Alan Backler serves as a SGM facilitator at the UU Church of Bloomington, IN and also is a member of the UU SGM Network's publishing committee that provides information and other resources for all UU SGM Programs. Cindy Good is the Chair of the Social Justice Committee at the UU Church of the Cumberland Valley, PA. She also is a member of a small group.

Small Group Ministry and Social Service by Alan Backler

At the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington, Indiana (UUCB), each group involved in small group ministry (what we call Chalice Circles) is expected to complete two social service projects each year-one for the church and one of the community. This has been true since Chalice Circles began at UUCB twelve years ago. A special effort is made to choose activities in which all members of a particular Circle can participate together.

Committee chairpersons at our church have come to depend on Chalice Circles to support their activities. Beginning in September, when Chalice Circles are formed for the year, Chairpersons will begin to recruit Circles for a variety of purposes-for example, Chalice Circles get involved in planting flowers and maintaining the church grounds, serving food, setting up an art show, and cleaning-up after the bazaar.

Chalice Circles also get involved in social service activities for the larger community. For example, in the area of homelessness, Circle members prepare hot meals for the Interfaith Winter Shelter, work at the local food bank, collect and organize household items for individuals and families who are moving out of homelessness into apartments of their own, or paint rooms in overnight shelters.

Getting involved in social service activities supports various activities in the church and community and introduces Chalice Circle participants to a variety of opportunities for service that exist both within the church and in the larger community. In addition, these activities give the members of each Chalice Circle a chance to interact with one another in a way completely different from the more formal, deep-listening sessions that are typical of small group ministry. From the beginning, the Chalice Circle Steering Committee has covered expenses that a Circle might accrue while involved in a social service opportunity, thus allowing participants to focus on service.

Social Justice Work for All by Cindy Good

The mission of the Unitarian Universalists of the Cumberland Valley (UUCV) is to transform lives and care for the world. UUCV's Social Justice Committee strives to energize and motivate all who attend UUCV to live our mission by providing a variety of opportunities both inside and outside our walls. From marching in rallies to distributing food for the hungry - from providing school supplies for needy children to cleaning up state parks and local neighborhoods; building relationships with other faith communities to making calls and signing petitions supporting local and state initiatives; caring for Carlisle's homeless to providing educational opportunities for girls and young women in Mozambique - there is something for everyone interested in helping us transform lives and care for the world.

Many of these social justice projects are used by our Small Groups to satisfy their promise to do two annual projects: one within the church community and the other to be done within the community-at-large.

Involvement with UUCV's social justice activities gives participants the opportunity to possibly find their "purpose" or "passion." Many who have participated in an activity for the first time have discovered just how good it feels to give back and they are anxious to do it again.

UUCV's presence at local community activities such as United Way's Day of Caring, Carlisle's Martin Luther King Celebration, Project SHARE's Farm Stand and Carlisle C.A.R.E.S. Homeless Shelter to name a few, creates an awareness for others who may be seeking a liberal religious community such as UUCV.

In addition to actual hands-on activities, we provide educational opportunities. For instance, we show social justice related documentaries such as Groundswell Rising, we have facilitated book discussions on such titles as Just Mercy, and we have hosted a local Imam to give a presentation on Islam. Following this event, we arranged a potluck lunch for Islamic guests and members of our congregation which was well attended and appreciated by all.

We work to welcome everyone, young and old alike, willing to give just a little bit of their time to make this world a better place. Ours is a true team effort and the bigger the team, the larger impact we can have.

From Anne Gero: While the two articles appeared at first as very disparate ways of dealing with Small Group Ministry issues, the review revealed that the different purposes could present the same outcomes. Committees working together can show how similar outcomes can be reached in different ways. This is collaboration-not competition. Perhaps we should do more of this approach.

We would appreciate your comments and articles for future CG News publications. Send them to


Since its launch in 2004, the UU Small Group Ministry Network has sponsored a consultation booth in the Exhibition Hall at General Assembly. That's 12 years of spreading the good news at GA about the power of covenant groups within our congregations!

Staffing the booth is a great opportunity to share your enthusiasm and experience in SGM with UU's across the denomination. Booth visitors, clergy and lay people alike, come by to pick up resource materials, ask questions, get advice, share their SGM success stories, and network with program leaders from other congregations.

Booth volunteers tell us they enjoyed the experience very much, and found the conversations and exchange of ideas stimulating and valuable. They also enjoyed sharing the Network's resources and directing visitors to the website to learn more about this vibrant program shared by over 600 UU congregations.

Open Hours for the Exhibit Hall & Small Group Ministry Network Booth # 618 are:

Wednesday, June 21: Noon - 7 pm
Thursday, June 22: 10 am - 7:30 pm
Friday, June 23 & Saturday, June 24: 10 am - 5 pm
Sunday, June 25: 10:30 am - 2:00 pm

To join the GA Booth Team and share your own enthusiasm and experience, contact us at or come by the booth to sign up for times that work for your schedule.



The SGM Network invites session plans from individuals and congregations for listing in the Session Plan Directory or the new section on Celebrations Please include a suggested topic and key words with session plan submissions.

Send sessions to

Purchase books and CDs from the SGM Network using PayPal, credit card, or debit card. Titles are listed below under "Publications."

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Small Group Ministry Network Group - Now 231 members strong!

Complete archives of Covenant Group News and the SGM Journal
Online Resource Directory
Over 750 session plans for download
Network member list. See "Who We Are: Our Members"
Event Announcements
Resources for Sale
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UU SGM Network Publications

UU SGM NETWORK PUBLICATIONS - Order online or by mail
See for pricing & ordering information

Implementing Unitarian Universalist Small Group Ministry - A resource for creating Small Group Ministry for your congregation or other setting. Sections include Overview, Life Cycle, Oversight/Direction and Coordination, Leadership, Group Formation and Process, Sessions, Service, Visibility, and Expanding Small Group Ministry.

Social Justice Work Through Small Group Ministry - Thirty-four sessions for preparation, action and reflection on topics of multiculturalism, radical hospitality, immigration, racism, marriage equality, and earth justice.

Small Group Ministry with All Ages - Implementation strategies, leader training, session development, and session plans for children through elders.

Facilitator Training and Development Manual - A guide for training and support plus a handbook on CD to customize for group leaders and facilitators.

Spiritual Journeys: 101 Session Plans for Small Group Ministry Programs - Sessions on Spiritual Journeying, Personal Beliefs and Values, Spiritual Challenges, Just for Fun, Being Human, Holidays, and Special Use subjects for life events.

Small Group Ministry for Youth - Twenty-five sessions for middle and high school youth.

Who We Are

The UU Small Group Ministry Network is a grassroots organization of Unitarian Universalist congregations, ministers, small group ministry/covenant group leaders and participants.

Our mission is to help create healthy Unitarian Universalist congregations and a vital Unitarian Universalist movement by promoting and supporting Small Group Ministry.

The purpose of the Network is "to support small group ministry and related shared ministry models in Unitarian Universalist congregations through developing new resources, networking, and training opportunities."

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.

The UU SGM Network is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization supported solely by congregational and individual memberships, donations and publication sales revenue. Network Board members donate their time and personal resources to spread the good news of small group ministry.

Contact Information

Rev. Helen Zidowecki, President (
Diana Dorroh, Secretary (
Susan Hollister, Treasurer (

The UU Small Group Ministry Network
The UU Small Group Ministry Network,

Write to us by email:, Attn: Rev. Helen Zidowecki

or by mail: UU Small Group Ministry Network
c/o Treasurer
4303 Swarthmore Rd.
Durham, NC 27707

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