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March 22, 2000

CGNews #23

An occasional newsletter about a radical, new/old way of organizing your church.

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Morgan Excerpts, Bridge Call, Faith Statement, Facilitators' Covenant

In 1995, the UUA's Skinner House Press published "The Devotional Heart," by the Rev. John C. Morgan. Now out of print, this book on pietism and renewal in American Unitarian Universalism called attention to small-group processes with similarities to our current meta-church or Covenant Group method of organization. John wrote about these historical roots in the previous two CGNews issues and we conclude his observations here with excerpts he selected from his book.


By John C. Morgan
(Skinner House Books, 1995, used with permission)

What were the central teachings of Pietistic Universalism?

  1. Creeds and formalisms are secondary to a living, tolerant faith.
  2. God's love for all creation, and the eventual restoration of all creation to "happiness and holiness."
  3. A deeply felt need for a "theology of experience."
  4. Reformation of the existing churches along New Testament lines, with an emphasis placed on individuals taking responsibility for their own spiritual development, Bible study, and lay ministry.
  5. Pietists did not take it (the Bible) literally, but read it in the light of "the spirit." Experience was to be trusted....
  6. An element of hope in the theology, leading to the search for the transformation of life in the present.
  7. A focus on individual growth that may have supported the emerging critical reason of the Enlightenment.

[Phillip Jacob] Spener's primary rational for reform [in the late 1600s]...was to renew Luther's call for a universal spiritual priesthood. All Christians might carry out ministerial functions.... Central to...reforms are study classes in piety, or collegia pietatis.

The small study groups probably began from a sermon Spener preached on the righteousness of the Pharisees (Matt. 5:20-26). Some hearers of that sermon were so enraged by Spener's indictment that they threatened not to return to church. But others were moved to ask how they might lead more righteous lives. He responded by inviting them to his home for instructive twice a week....

On Mondays, Spener repeated the main points of his Sunday sermon, with the group members seeking to apply the message to their lives. On Wednesdays, the group would read and discuss the scriptures....

Every reformation begins with one small step... We are conditioned to think of church growth as adding more members to an existing body, but, in fact, the more small cells or groups there are within a church, meeting specific needs, the more likelihood there is for overall growth.....

(CGNews EDITOR'S NOTE: And, what are the two specific needs that Covenant Groups meet? The need for spiritual uplift and the need for friends, or as James Luther Adams put it: ultimacy and intimacy.)

John Morgan's next book to be published by Skinner House will be a daily devotional book for religious liberals.


Dr. Gerald A. King of Austin will be my guest this coming Saturday at 11 a.m. Central time on a bridge call which will focus on training and encouraging facilitators of Covenant Groups. We expect to have a few extra slots available for callers who have not made reservations to be on the call. Feel free to call in at 11:00 sharp if you want to be on the call. If you get in, great; if you get a busy signal, that means the bridge line filled up before you dialed in. The number to call is: 702 565-7210.


When a small group of Unitarian Universalists meets together regularly with a facilitator and a format that encourages listening and the sharing of feelings and ideas, (a) they will deepen their commitment to each other, to their church, and to Unitarian Universalism, and (b) they will be more likely to become effective workers for change in their larger communities. At the same time, (c) they will get more from being part of their church than they ever have before. That is what I believe. Bob Hill

We have written about the South Austin Unitarian Universalists before, and their volunteer trainer of facilitators, Gerald A. King, will be my guest three days from now, Saturday, March 25, on a bridge call at 11:00 a.m. Central time (details at the end of Part 1 of this issue of CGNews). What follows is their mission and covenant statement, which Dr. King helped to create.

South Austin Facilitator Covenant Group
February 27, 2000

To start a new Facilitator Covenant Group;
To help establish and support a multicultural UU church in South Austin
through providing trained and supported facilitators for Covenant Groups;
To connect with each other at a deep level;
To provide spiritual uplift for each other;
To learn to facilitate a Covenant Group;
To support each other as facilitators;
To have fun in the process.


Membership --
1) Members of the Facilitator Covenant Group must be Unitarian Universalists. 2) Each member commits to facilitate a Covenant Group. 3) When our membership reaches 12, we will split into two groups of at least 5.

Leadership --
1) Our group will be lead by a trained facilitator trainer and assisted by an apprentice.
2) The apprentice will be chosen by the facilitator in consultation with the members.
3) As our group splits to spawn a new group, the apprentice will remain with the original members to become the facilitator, and the original facilitator will take the newer members to form a new group.

Attendance --
1) We will meet Sunday every two weeks until we finish the initial facilitator training.
2) We will continue to meet once a month on a fixed Sunday to be decided.
3) We will gather at 6:15 and begin promptly at 6:30. We agree to be punctual.
4) We will end promptly at 8:30.
5) We give priority to arranging our schedules so that we can attend each meeting.
6) We will meet in each other's homes, and hosting will be on a volunteer basis.
7) Any foreseen absence or lateness will be announced to the group ahead of time.
8) Any unforeseen absence or lateness will be called in to another member ASAP.
9) Any withdrawal from the group will be announced at the beginning of a meeting, and that member will stay in the group for at least one additional meeting.
10) Each member will attend in a state of mind as fully present as possible.

Format --
1) Chalice Lighting: By the Host with 2 minutes of reflection
2) Singing: A brief inspirational piece
3) Opening Words: We rotate choosing the Opening Words.
4) Check-in: About 1 min. per person
5) Sharing "Hopes and Hurts": About 45 minutes
6) Brief break: About 5 minutes
7) Topic: Learning and Supporting Facilitation About an hour
8) Check-out Likes and Wishes: About 1 min. per person
9) Singing: A brief inspirational piece
10) Closing Words: We rotate choosing the Closing Words.

Consensus --
All decisions of any consequence will be made by consensus. This means that the issues relevant to the decision will be discussed fully, and persons with objections will be listened to and understood. Differences of opinion will be seen as opportunities for creativity. We continue to discuss and create until the decision is one that everyone can live with.

Revision --
We will revise our covenant as we deem necessary.

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The Rev. Robert. L. Hill,
Co-District Executive for the SW District, UUA,
713 660-7164
Fax: 713 839-1152
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