Covenant Group News

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September 2004

CGNews #68

Covenant Group News is a free monthly electronic newsletter on Small Group Ministry read by 1050 forward-looking Unitarian Universalists.

* Upcoming Events
* Readers write in - Singing in Small Groups
* Readers write in - Welcoming Ceremony for New Members
* Q&A - The Rev. Calvin Dame on Facilitator Training
* New UU SGM Network Resources
* Write us! / Submissions
* Share CGNews

CGNews is edited by Peter Bowden and distributed by the UU Small Group Ministry Network
Online at


Small Group Ministry Conference
October 9th, 2004 - Devon, PA

Building Connections: Starting and Strengthening Small Group Ministry programs.
With The Rev. Calvin O. Dame & Mellen Kennedy.

Sponsored by the Main Line Unitarian Church, the Joseph Priestley District and the UU SGM Network.
The Small Group Ministry (SGM) movement is sweeping Unitarian Universalist Churches as groups of ten gather with a facilitator to consider issues of spirituality, life stories and challenges. Small Group Ministry strengthens congregations by building connections among individuals, engendering compassion and supporting commitment to service. Whether you are considering starting SGM or have an established program, join in this full day of training and inspiration to further your efforts in SGM.

Home Hospitality: There is limited availability of Bed & Breakfast lodging with MLUC Small Group Ministry members for workshop participants arriving on Friday. For more information, contact Susan Hollister:; 610-359-9890 or Jenny Campbell:; 610-747-0247.

For more information, registration materials and additional event listings please visit our events page.

Online at

Save the date

November 20, 2004 - Why Small Group Ministry, 1/2 day, intro, location in RI
January 22, 2005 - SGM Conference, full day, multi-track, location in MA or RI
August 7-13, 2005 - Tentative week long Small Group Ministry dual track (intro/advanced) intensive at Ferry Beach

Submit district, regional & national event listings.
Send details to

An F.A.Q. by Julia Rodriguez
First Unitarian Church of San Jose

Should we sing in small groups?
If you are in SGM at San Jose the answer is yes. In San Jose, we think of what happens in SGM as an alchemical process. Singing turns up the heat to allow transformation to take place. When a session has been particularly emotional, the singing can provide a release valve. Another reason to sing is to reinforce that these small group sessions are worship.

Is singing only for the talented?
Part of the experience of small groups is about risk. Risk is sharing our less than perfect selves. Singing together is a part of that risk. In my own small group, I find that the singing is most important to those with the least singing abilities. When a group of women first added their first man, it was in the singing that the new richness was first noted.

My group refuses to sing, what can we do?
For groups that are truly uncomfortable with singing, try chanting the words. In your monthly leader gatherings practice new songs that are coming up.

Tell us your experience with music and song in small groups!
Email us at

Submitted by Ines Hoster
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta

Dear Peter, you asked for input -- here is one.

Our group of 8 had been working together for about 7 months when we were told that two new members were going to join us. That idea was met with some resistance from some members. Being the co-facilitator of the group with my husband, I was concerned about the old members' reluctance and the new people feeling like outsiders. To overcome "estrangement" I was guided to offer the following ceremony, which enabled the whole group to accept and welcome the new persons and to express an immediate feeling of warmth and caring presence.

At the beginning of the meeting, after lighting the chalice candle and a reading we started the welcoming ceremony. The chalice light stood in the middle of a platter and around it I had arranged as many tea lights as were people present. As we passed the platter from one person to the next, each lit a candle from the chalice candle and expressed in a sentence a wish for the new person representing what they had gotten out of the chalice circle membership. Then, at the end, the new person would light their candle and express what they wished to bring to the group. All the lights were burning throughout our meeting.

It is a very simple ceremony yet bestows enlightened significance to the moment and allows everyone to reach out to each other.

We are members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta and we thoroughly enjoy being a member of a chalice circle. Establishing a small group with meaningful, open sharing moments has enriched our UU experience – new people have come into our lives and blessed us with their richness we have established more caring relationships - I would not want to miss.

Thanks for your work

Ines Hoster,
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta

Tell us your experience with welcoming new members!
Email us at

Q & A With The Rev. Calvin O. Dame
Minister, UU Community Church of Augusta, ME
President, UU Small Group Ministry Network

QUESTION: I wonder if you could help a bit by making me some suggestions regarding facilitator training, like how many sessions do you recommend, and what to focus on as being most beneficial.

ANSWER: This is a central question for pretty much every congregation that seeks to get a Small Group Ministry Program up and running. And the answers may vary across a the spectrum from months of training to a Saturday workshop. Here is what I think. I think it is imperative that you chose people as facilitators who have enough experience and self confidence to run an Adult RE course or give a workshop. You do not need people with Masters in Counseling, as SGM is not and should not be therapy, nor do people need to have theological training, as these are exploration groups, not courses in religion. So, if people can conduct an evening meeting or teach Building Your Own Theology, they can probably be a facilitator. Facilitator training should not be basic group skills training.

As far as I am concerned, the most important part of Small Group Ministry Facilitator Training is connecting people to a vision of small groups as a part of the larger vision and ministry of the church. Facilitators need to understand ow the whole program works: that the groups follow an agreed upon format, that groups are open to new members when there is a space, that the facilitators regularly meet with the minister or a designated coordinator, and that the groups engage in service beyond their meetings at least once a year, to the church or to the community beyond. That participants in these groups are engaged in the ministry of the church, by deepening their own spiritual lives, by connecting with one another in fellowship, by welcoming the stranger and through service.

If your facilitators share this vision, then the details will sort themselves out: when to meet, where to meet, starting on time, ending on time, giving everyone a chance to speak, whether there is discussion during check-in or whether everyone only listens, reaching out to those who are absent. All these are details that get worked out.

So, with new facilitators I start with the Vision and Model of SGM. With a group I'd run a session or two to see how that feels. I would spend a session dealing with fears and apprehensions. And then I let them get started. Most of our ongoing training now occurs in the facilitators meetings, were longtime facilitators share experience with newer facilitators and lend support and encouragement.

Tell us your experience with facilitator training!
Email us at


In June the UU Small Group Ministry Network launched a membership program to support the development of new small group resources. These resources are now being shared with our members via our website and new journal, the SGM Quarterly. In time these resources will be published and sold in book form.

Our first new resource is "The Role of Confidentiality". Groups closed? Ministry needs not being shared? Newcomers resisted?
Confidentiality plays an essential role in the life of small groups. This resource identifies key ways confidentiality impacts group life and the shared ministry of congregations.

Here is a partial list of what we are working on right now...

  • facilitator quality control
  • year overview of suggested facilitator meeting topics
  • promoting small groups
  • relationships that govern growth

At the end of September the first issue of the new SGM Quarterly will be mailed out. This issue will feature an article by The Rev. Calvin Dame on recruiting new members as well as facilitator tips from Mellen Kennedy, retaining the UU's we raise through lifespan SGM by Peter Bowden, information on organizing regional SGM conferences and other news/tips.

We invite you to learn more and join by visiting us
online at


Do you have a great resource, story, testimonial, sermon, session plan, or news item related to covenant groups or small group ministry? With over 1030 subscribers we know some of you do. We want to hear from you!

WANTED - Sermons on SGM from congregations working with small group ministry for over two years. We've been getting requests from congregations in their early years wondering what changes with time, how you talk about shared ministry after learning the ropes, etc...

Send sermon links to

CGNews submissions due the 5th of the month for that months message.


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