Letter from the Editor
Fall is upon us and that means the beginning of a new year in the life of our covenant groups. I wonder what that looks like in your congregation? Will you be opening new groups? Recognizing the leaders in Sunday morning worship? Holding a training session for facilitators? Starting a group for new members? Whatever you're doing, please consider sharing the good news and the issues you're confronting. Covenant Group News relies on contributions from subscribers, as we all learn from each other.
From Bloomington, IN, we have two fictional conversations - one from coffee hour and the other from a covenant group meeting. Many of us have made these kinds of mental comparisons. Have you found that you are sometimes able to converse on a deeper level with family and friends because of your Small Group Ministry experiences?
A contributor from Durham, NC, shares what her covenant group has meant to her and to her church connection and another, from Lake Zurich, IL, shares her journey from UU Small Group Ministry program initiation to founding a program at a United Church of Christ church. And, from Belfast, ME, a participant talks about the content and power of a recent seminar led by Rev. Helen Zidowecki on the topic "Groups as Vital Parts of Congregations." I hope the article inspires you to think about the role of covenant groups in revitalizing governing bodies and task-oriented groups within your congregation.
The Network continues to receive brochures and our website collection is growing. Please send us yours if you haven't already.
Diana Dorroh, Guest Editor
Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, LA
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org with contributions, questions, and comments.
Hospitality: Two Fictional Conversations
Contributed by Denise Breeden-Ost, UU Church of Bloomington, IN
I. At Coffee Hour
Fran: I remember my mom's Thanksgiving dinners. She did it all herself. Her house smelled so good. I've never been able to roast a turkey as good as hers....
Connie: I used to do that, but then my kids turned vegetarian. Kind of blows Thanksgiving.
Patrick: There are tofu turkeys...
Connie: Ugh! We tried that. Like marinated pencil erasers.
Patrick: What brand was that? The KindBird ones are good.
II. In a Chalice Circle (Small Group Ministry)
Fran: I remember my mother-in-law's Thanksgiving dinners. She did it all herself. Her house smelled so good. I've never been able to roast a turkey as good as hers, but I do my best. Some of us get together every year, and everybody brings something. That tradition's important to me, even if I don't do it the way she did.
(Thoughtful pause, passing the talking stone...)
Connie: I love getting ready for guests in my home. I always put fresh flowers in the bedroom. My friend Doug used to do that, and it made me feel so special.... I haven't seen Doug in years, but whenever I cut flowers for a guest, I feel like he's right there with me.
(Thoughtful pause, passing the talking stone...)
Patrick: Sometimes hospitality doesn't work out the way it's intended. Like, one time I was visiting an older woman I didn't know very well, and she knew I was a vegetarian--so she made me a tuna casserole! I didn't want her to feel bad, so I ate it. It was terrible! But I think as a guest, you have to try to see the host's intention even when they make mistakes. You have to presume goodwill, as a guest or as a host.
(Thoughtful pause, passing the talking stone...)
Both of these conversations are fine. But how often do we take the time and slow down enough to have the second kind--to really hear one another's stories, and connect in a deeper way? In my Chalice Circle, we took the time to truly listen to each other's words. I have been a part of this church since I was fifteen, and yet this spring's Chalice Circle made me feel I belonged here in a deeper, more meaningful way.
Reflections On My Covenant Group Experience
Contributed by Corinne Schillin, Eno River UU Fellowship, Durham, NC
The Covenant Group has been a rewarding part of my life for the past two years. It has given me opportunities to examine more profoundly who I am, where I've come from and what I believe.
I am so grateful that the members of the group shared their lives so openly, giving me a connectedness to their deeper selves and allowing me to learn from their perspectives. And we have shared many experiences that have resulted in a special bond.
When I came into ERUUF and the Covenant Group, I knew that I felt comfortable with ERUUF members but not specifically what drew us together. I thought of myself as a fence-sitter but didn't feel confident about that. Until the Covenant Group, there wasn't a forum designed to explore my beliefs in a safe, supportive environment.
Today, I have more clarity about myself, more awareness of the common bonds between me and ERUUF members, more people I consider friends, and as a result I feel much more grounded at ERUUF.
Thank you to you all!
Report on Groups as Vital Parts of Congregations Seminar
Contributed by Susan Coe, UU Church of Belfast, ME
Last May, representatives from Maine congregations gathered in Bangor for an informative day led by Rev. Helen Zidowecki, a retired UU Minister, and dedicated educator on Small Group Ministry. The focus was on understanding how groups play a significant role in the inherent vitality of congregations. Be it boards or councils, committees or task forces, each is charged with enhancing some aspect of congregational life, ministry, and spiritual growth. In particular, the focus was on small group ministry and the role it plays in the lives of its participants, congregations and leaders.
The evolution of small group ministry ran the full gamut in the participating congregations. Some were exploring the concept, others were fine-tuning their process, and all were looking for ideas to share back home.
I participated as program coordinator at the UU Church of Belfast, where our small group ministry is now two years old. We plan to expand participation and offer semester-synced groups to explore members' spirituality and their understanding and practice of our Sources and Principles. We seek participants who may not yet have committed to membership in our church, are perhaps more introverted and like the SGM meeting process, or just want another opportunity to network and become more closely acquainted with other UUCB friends.
View our brochure at http://www.smallgroupministry.net/public/SGM_Brochure_Belfast_ME.pdf. Topics this year have included right relations, integrity, heart-song, compassion and forgiveness. Diverse opinions, backgrounds, and personalities are shared safely and confidentially. A covenant is created among members and this serves as the governing element of the group.
The workshop gave attendees the opportunity to compare how their groups are organized, how topics are chosen, what leadership is in place to coordinate the programs, and to discuss the value of the online session plans when creating our own. Some congregations offered men's groups and affinity groups such as knitters, parents, and youth. We discussed the differentiation between Congregational Life activities, Adult and Youth Lifespan programming, and Small Group Ministry, and how to promote each of these aspects of fellowship.
We all agreed that the energy of the groups comes from their diversity and the effectiveness of the facilitator at guiding the group without steering its course. SGM Coordinators can work with Membership to bring new people into the fold of Unitarian Universalism, collaborate with Social Justice for topics, and coordinate with Worship for study topics connected to sermons and congregational conversations.
The day proved fruitful for all as we realized next steps we each could take in the process of enhancing our programs, attracting members, and continuing to network together.
SGM Notes From Congregations
Small Group Ministry at United Church of Christ
Contributed by Stephanie Certain Matz, St. Peter United Church of Christ, Lake Zurich, IL
When I first joined the UU SGM Network, I implemented the model and led the program at Countryside Church UU in Palatine, IL. For five years, I learned from and contributed sessions to the Network. Then five years ago, my husband and I began attending a mid-sized United Church of Christ church, St. Peter UUC in Lake Zurich, IL, where I once again implemented SGM, repurposing it just a bit with a Christian perspective. After a pilot year, we are now starting our fifth year of the program, with one-third of the congregation participating.
When I made the move to UCC, I asked if I could still participate in the SGM Network, and was warmly welcomed. We now have over 60 sessions in our archive at St. Peter - some I retooled from Countryside Church UU - plus many new ones. If there are UU congregations interested in using sessions with a Christian perspective, I would be happy to share them.
Note: The UU SGM Network has invited Stephanie Matz to contribute these sessions so that the collection can be made available on the Network website, www.smallgroupministry.net. Look forward to a note on the website homepage when the collection has been received.
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COMING SOON - NETWORKING ONLINE
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Resources for Sale
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UU SGM NETWORK PUBLICATIONS - Order online or by mail
See http://www.smallgroupministry.net/forsale.html for pricing & ordering information
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.