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December 8, 2003

CGNews #58

An occasional newsletter about Covenant Group Ministry read by 778 forward-looking Unitarian Universalists.


"My Large Church is Smaller Than Your Fellowship" is the title of a workshop the Rev. Stefan Jonasson will be giving next April 3rd during the CCV's "Spiritual Growth Through Small Group Ministry" event at our church in Arlington, VA.

"One paradox about large churches is that they become large by 'doing small' better than small congregations do," jonasson writes, adding, "It's obvious that Covenant Groups offer opportunities for intimacy and depth in congregations where it is no longer possible for everybody to know your name."

"Where everybody knows your name." Is that phrase familiar to you? Probably. It's the title of and recurring line from the theme song for the TV hit "Cheers."

Just a couple of days before reading Jonasson's workshop description, I had become aware of the web page of Gary Portnoy (, who co-wrote that familiar theme song with Judy Hart Angelo, and I had carefully written out some of its words because I think they have so much to say about our reasons for being evangelical about Small Group Ministry.

Here are some of the lyrics, reprinted with Portnoy's permission:

Making your way in the world today Takes everything you've got. Taking a break from all your worries Sure would help a lot.

... Sometimes you wanna go Where everybody knows your name And they're always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see Our troubles are all the same You wanna be where everybody knows your name.

On his web site, Portnoy tells about how the song came about and the surprising response it got from people everywhere, including piano teachers and choral groups wanting the sheet music. A recording of the song was played on radio and its popularity, some people think, may have helped save "Cheers," which got off to a very slow start in its first season, in 1982.

Perhaps the song even helped to save Portnoy's own mother. Struggling with alcoholism, she finally got the courage to attend a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. It was held in a church. After everyone had settled into folding chairs, the AA leader asked people to join in singing a song that, he said, had become the first order of business at all their meetings. It was the Cheers theme song. She began her first-ever AA meeting by singing with others words written by her own son: "Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got..."

The web page's author says: "Gary began to realize that he had written a song that was anything but an homage to a smoke-filled tavern. He gratefully embraced the reality that the Cheers theme was about something far more universal and central to life than beer!!! It was becoming evident to him that 'Where Everybody Knows Your Name' had tapped into the basic human need to be connected, to love, to be loved, to belong ... and to belong to something bigger than oneself."

Exactly. And these are the most basic needs we seek to address through offering Covenant Groups as a fundamental part of our churches and fellowships. People in AA meetings are, sometimes, fighting for their very lives. So, sometimes, are people who come through the front doors of our churches.

And even those of us currently in less-dire straits share with everyone else the need to know, to be known, and to be connected to each other, our world, and that which is beyond the visible spectrum.

Jonasson's workshop will be just one of many dealing with such issues. To learn more and/or sign up to attend this major conference, please see the web site of the Center for Community Values: Early registration can save you some money.


The Rev. Jonalu Johnstone, Program Minister in charge of Covenant Groups at 1st Church, Oklahoma City, says facilitators at her church have come up with a new term for those situations when a group has become too large and needs to send some of its members out to start a new group: they replicate.

"And we've got facilitators really thinking about how to encourage that," she says. OKC First now has 16 Small Group Ministries with 125-130 participants.


The UUA GA's Planning Committee has given a green light to a pilot project to offer a modified Covenant Group experience this coming June to up to 750 attendees of the General Assembly in Long Beach.

Suggested by the Rev. Meg Riley, Director of the UUA's Office of Advocacy and Witness Staff Group, the project will be coordinated by me, Meg, and the Rev. Harlan Limpert, Director of Lay Leadership Development, with the assistance of many others, including CCV leaders.

About 90 facilitators with experience in their home congregations will be needed for four one-hour sessions aimed at giving attendees comfort and connections in the midst of GA chaos while offering a taste of the Covenant Group experience, modified though it will be. Another 10 "coaches" will be needed to meet at least once with groups of facilitators.

Thinking of going to GA? Been facilitating a Small Group Ministry in your church? Please send me an email: I'm building a file of potential helpers. All those chosen as facilitators will be invited, by the way, to a gala "thank you" event on Monday evening when GA is winding down.

-- Bob

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The Rev. Robert L. Hill, District Executive,
SW District, UUA,
405 701-2917