Covenant Group News

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Friday, Decemember 19, 2008

CGNews #95

In this issue --- THE Power of Deep Listening from Alicia Hawkins, 1st U, Albuquerque, Success with Parents Groups at the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge from your editor, Announcement that the long-awaited Facilitator Training and Development Manual is now, finally, in print and ready for shipment, and some 2009 training opportunities.

Covenant Group News is a free electronic newsletter on Small Group Ministry and Covenant Groups read by 1300 forward-looking Unitarian Universalists. CGNews is distributed by the UU Small Group Ministry Network. Visit us online at

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. I hope your small group ministry experiences have brought you joy this year and possibly helped you to cope with the stress that the holidays bring to many of us.
I welcome your contributions to this newsletter at any time. Let us all know about your successes, your challenges and your questions. The UU Small Group Ministry Network exists to facilitate sharing and to support small group ministry work in our congregations. Send us your sessions and your ideas. Please send your submissions to

If you are not already a member, please join the Network and make sure your congregation is a member. The UU Small Group Ministry Network does not receive financial support from the UUA; individual and congregational memberships are our major source of revenue. The Winter 2009 Quarterly will be mailed in January. Current members will receive it. You'll also get it if you send in your membership now The UU Small Group Ministry Network website resource page is continuously updated to include new articles and sessions. See the two new session plans from Helen Zidowecki on the Small Group Ministry Sessions Page, New Years: Endings and Beginnings and Imboic: Awakening on the Sessions Page. We have also recently added a selection of websites that have small group ministry/covenant group pages. pages.

Call for Input: What kinds of sessions are you using in your program? How much preparation is required? How does this work for participants? for leaders? Send your responses to

In faith that we're making this a better world,
Diana Diana Dorroh,
President, UU Small Group Ministry Network
Editor, CG News



The Power of Deep Listening

"Ours is a ministry of Listening." This is how covenant group facilitator, Mary Schwartz, at 1st Unitarian Church of Alburquerque describes the covenant group process. For many deep listening is at the core of the covenant group process. One covenant group member said, "It was the first time I was listened to and responded to from a point of view that wasn't trying to convince me."

Recently at the Mountain Desert District Conference during a session on small group ministry, a group participant showed me the Chinese symbol for listening. This symbol is made up of Chinese characters that tell us something significant about this skill. The characters include eyes, undivided attention, heart and ears. It is interesting that the mind is not included.

Listening from the heart differs from listening from the mind in this way. If I give the speaker my undivided attention, it's a good step towards listening from the heart. Whenever my mind intrudes, a part of me has stopped listening and I am no longer focusing 100% on listening. Just as my mind gets distracted when I meditate, it also distracts me when I am trying to listen from my heart. If I am aware of thoughts like "I wonder if this is a pattern for her" or "I remember a time when I experienced this" I have moved from deep listening to listening with my mind. Anytime I hear my mind use "I" it's pretty clear that I've moved part of my focus from the speaker to myself. Just as when I am meditating, I try to let the thoughts move away and, again focus 100% on the listening. It's a process and not a natural one in our world of multi-tasking and mind driven way of living.

In our covenant groups we often include some input in our leaders' guide on deep listening since it is so important in the small group ministry experience. Here are a few quotes we have used. Our facilitators say that it is helpful to them and helps set a tone for deep listening in the meeting.

The truth of it is that if you really listen to another person, whether on the surface he is talking about the weather or predicting the outcome of the World Series or even preaching a sermon, if you really listen, you begin to realize that what he is really talking about is himself. He is saying, "Love me" or maybe "Hate me" or "Pity me," but always he is saying one way or another, "Listen to me. Know me." Frederick Buechner

But if we can bear to let it be, silence, of course, can be communion at a very deep level indeed, and that half hour of silence was precisely that, and perhaps that was the greatest part of it all. Frederick Buechner

If we want to support each other's inner lives, we must remember a simple truth: the human soul does not want to be fixed, it wants simply to be seen and heard. If we want to see and hear a person's soul, there is another truth we must remember: the soul is like a wild animal -- tough, resilient, and yet shy. When we go crashing through the woods shouting for it to come out so we can help it, the soul will stay in hiding. But if we are willing to sit quietly and wait for a while, the soul may show itself. Parker J. Palmer

What are some of your favorites quotes on the power of listening in small group ministry? How do you help your group members?

Alicia Hawkins

Please submit comments and your experiences with Deep Listening to


Our program started in 1999 and we have about 18 groups in a church of 375 members. From the beginning, we encouraged our leaders to welcome parents into their groups and to attempt to provide child care somehow. There was some success, particularly with babies and sometimes couples joined separate groups. About 18 months ago, I noticed that we had about 8 people who wanted to join a small group but needed childcare. So, we announced a new parents group that would meet at the church with childcare and signed up participants. I led the first meeting, but leadership emerged quickly and Philip Silverman and Mary Gugich were trained and excited about this new venture.

It turned out that Friday night at 6pm was an optimum time for them to meet. They all have a meal together with the children. Then the children went to childcare and the parents to their group. (With support from our RE Director, we now offer Spirit Play for the children.) The leaders were committed to taking in new parents who wanted to join a group, but needed childcare and soon they had 18 members. Time to split. Yes, there was actually a split. Philip co-led the group of newer people. Mary stayed with the oldest members. Now there are 20 in that second group. And another split is planned for January 2009. The existence of this opportunity for parents has been accompanied by a surge of new parents at our church. We call our program Branches. These groups call themselves Branches with Leaves. Subscribers would love to hear your experiences with parents in groups. Send them to me -

Listing of Events
Saturday, January 10, 2008,
Unitarian Universalist Small Group Ministry Facilitator Training
Plano, TX, with Peter Bowden

Saturday, February 7, 2009 9:30 am - 4:30 pm
Mattatuck UU Society, 122 S. Pomperaug Ave., Woodbury, CT
"Building and Sustaining a Strong Small Group Ministry Program"
Rev. Dr. M'ellen Kennedy
For more information on both these events, see the Events page of the Network website:

Save the Date:
August 16-21, 2009
Small Group Ministry Institute 2009
The Mountain, Highlands, North Carolina

UU Small Group Ministry Network's Facilitator Training Manual
By Diana Dorroh and Susan Hollister with a Preface by Calvin Dame

Susan and I finally signed off on this publication and it is now available for mailing.

SGM Program Ministers and Coordinators: This guide for implementing an in-house training and development program covers facilitator selection, initial training, on-going facilitator support, and enrichment training. Included in the manual is the Facilitator's Guide, a training module to customize for your program, use in your training sessions and distribute to all group leaders. The manual will help ensure the growth and health of your Small Group Ministry program as you prepare facilitators and support them in successful group leadership. To order: