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April 2009

Small Groups, Deep Connections April 2009
The UU Small Group Ministry Network
Covenant Group News
is an interactive
Small Group Ministry and Covenant Group
newsletter read by 1300 forward-looking
Unitarian Universalists.
CGNews is distributed
by the UU Small Group Ministry Network.
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In This Issue
  • Letter from the Editor
  • Questions of the Month
  • Featured Articles - "How Small Group Ministry Has Fulfilled My Life" and "Website Update"
  • Full Circle - March Questions and Responses
  • News and Events
  • Publications
  • Who We Are
  • Contact Us

Join the Network
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 facilitates networking among SGM practitioners and makes current, practical information and resources available to ministers, program coordinators, and facilitators. Your membership funding will enable us to continue this important work. Download a Membership form: Membership%20Form.pdf.

Individual and congregational memberships are our major source of revenue.
The Network does not receive financial support from the UUA.

Letter from the Editor

In this issue we have a testimonial and answers to last month's questions from Dean A. Robinson, UU Church of St. Petersburg, Florida about facilitation experiences. There's also an article on the features currently available on our website. In this time of economic downturn, I'm wondering how your groups are addressing these issues. Please share your questions and experiences with the other 1300 subscribers. Send them to me at

I believe that small group ministry is a good return on the time Rev. Steve Crump and I have put into it in at the Unitarian Church in Baton Rouge, LA. Because the ministry is shared with 30 congregation leaders in 18 groups, our small group ministry efforts have been multiplied.

The Mountain Small Group Ministry Conference (August 16-21, 2009) is an investment in growth in your program and enhances Small Group Ministry within the entire denomination. The Network works on creating opportunity for exchange of ideas, successes, and resources among congregations. This is really evident at the Conference. The leadership and learning comes as much from the interaction of the participants as from presentations. We are not planning on having this type of conference every year, so we look forward to seeing you THIS year.

We realize that the early registration deadline is July 1, but we are working on the programming now. Please let us know that you are planning on coming, and specific things you would like to have included. A flier and registration form are available on the Events Page of the UU Small Group Ministry Network website.

Readers' answers to Questions of the Month will be published in the May CG News. The Spring Quarterly journal was mailed to members this month. Join the Network or renew your membership now to receive your copy. Members receive the current issue several months before it's posted on the web.

As this April issue goes out, I hope that members of your own group are ministering to each other, experiencing deeper sharing, and finding new insights into our world. I also hope that your church's program is helping your entire community endorse right relationship and become a better church.

In faith that we're making this a better world,

Diana Dorroh
President, UU Small Group Ministry Network
Editor, Covenant Group News
Program Coordinator, Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge

How Small Group Ministry Has Fulfilled My Life
By Jeanie Shatoff, UU Church of Delaware County, Media, PA

Thirteen years ago I fell in love -- with UU Church of Delaware County. It's a bit of a puzzle, this falling in love with a congregation. And the funny thing was, I almost didn't join.

After I had visited the church a couple of times, I heard from someone that members of UU churches were among the "intellectual elite" and I was afraid to join. This is not what I had in mind. Spiritual enlightenment, that's what I had in mind. So I decided that this church was not for me. I just wouldn't fit in. My heart dropped. I could not join this church. Yet, the church felt like an important missing piece of my life. After much internal debate, I decided to stay away.

A few years later, though, my son came to me and said he wanted to be part of a church. I brought him to UUCDC -- and I fell in love all over again. I decided I'd have to work through my issues about being with "intellectual elites." Then a few years later we started the Small Group Ministry program and I became involved. And through my small group I found out that this church was filled with people just like me! They were searching for the same things I was looking for. Maybe some were "intellectual elites," but the members of my small group became good friends. They understand me and know me in a way that others don't. I feel like I can call on them if I need them, and they connect me to the larger church. Now I'm a small group facilitator of not just one, but two groups!

Being a facilitator with the SGM, for me personally, was a way to give back to the church. I enjoy listening and sharing. It's meaningful to contemplate within a small group, those questions that don't often come up in day-to-day conversations. "How have your beliefs changed? How have they influenced your life choices?" Fun topics "What makes you laugh." SGM was the central missing piece of the puzzle for me -- that spot in my being that wants to see the big picture. The part that calls out completeness.

Not long ago I was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. It was no big deal, the doctors told me. Just some surgery and radiation therapy. Maybe it was no big deal to them, but it sure felt that way to me. I didn't have the courage to get up on a Sunday morning and tell the whole congregation. But I did tell my small group. And they held me as I cried and called me and sent me cards and emails after my surgery. They have been there for me every step of the way, and I don't know what I'd do without them.

Jeanie is a small group facilitator at UU Church of Delaware County in Media, PA. Her story was part of Rev. Peter Friedrich's sermon on January 2009 to re-launch UUCDC's Small Group Ministry program. Forty new participants signed up, doubling the number of groups.

Website Update

We hope that you have been visiting the web site regularly. We try to do an update every two weeks. The changes are noted on the Home Page.

  • Session plans are received on a regular basis. Has your congregation contributed any?
  • Check out the Join the UU Small Group Ministry Network section for a listing of Congregations that are members. We will be adding more information about Congregational members and congregations who may have individual members. Send information about your program to for inclusion in the Covenant Group News, the Quarterly or on the web site.
  • The archives for CGN have been re-organized. We will be adding earlier editions from Bob Hill onto the Network website. (We now have from 2004 on.)
  • The Quarterly for Winter 2009 is now on the site.

Your comments and suggestions for the site are welcome. You can contact me through I look forward to hearing from you. Helen Zidowecki

Questions of the Month

Question One: Several congregations have "used" their small groups to help with planning. Others have decided that this is an abuse of the small group ministry program. Rev. Helen Zidowecki says that it's not small group ministry if anyone is taking notes and reporting back. Has your group participated in creating a plan or a vision for your church? How did you experience it?

Question Two: Facilitators, what are your questions? Please send them to us and we'll get some answers.

Full Circle
Share your small group ministry experiences with others.

Last month's questions:

Question One: Keeping Groups Focused

Most groups use questions as a discussion guide. Others may use only a theme. As a facilitator or as a group member, how do you keep the conversation focused on the topic? How much digression is OK? What do you say or do when a group member criticizes a public figure or a political party? Tell us your stories and your solutions.

Answer from Dean A. Robinson, UU Church of St. Petersburg, Florida:

Our usual procedure is that all three of our covenant groups will have a discussion based on the previous Sunday's sermon. The minister sends to all the facilitators a series of questions to use as a starting point for our discussions.

After a quick review of the previous Sunday's sermon, the group begins by talking about what was said. Then the facilitator will begin reading the minister's questions. On some occasions the group chooses not to answer those questions but will ask/discuss other questions. The facilitator monitors the progress of the discussion and ensures everyone has the opportunity to speak if they so choose. Should the discussion start to move away from the "theme" of the evening, the facilitator will nudge the discussion back in line. On a few occasions the digression is of more interest to the group and the facilitator will have to make a quick decision on what to do: go forward or move back to the main topic. And, yes, we have had instances where after reading the minister's questions the group decided to go in another direction and that's fine. At the outset of the year we agreed to leave politics out of our discussions.

Question Two: Community Outreach

Have new projects or all-church events sprung up with involvement from SGM/Covenant Group participants? Have you as facilitator noticed a correlation between group members being part of an intimate, caring group and a desire to help out in the congregation, in social justice efforts, and/or in the community?

Answer from Dean A. Robinson, UU Church of St. Petersburg, Florida:

In my group we had a discussion on the environment. The group decided to survey how "green" our congregation was and helped to implement ways for both our congregation and our members to become more eco-friendly by changing the janitor's supplies, the office paper discards, and giving members a handout map of local trash drop-off sites.

Our groups have also taken upon themselves to act as a care committee and called and/or checked up on members. They decided to do this after our care committee collapsed and they felt a strong need to carry on this task.

Question Three: Share A Recent Successful Topic. Send us a paragraph describing a successful session. What made it work?

Answer from Dean A. Robinson, UU Church of St. Petersburg, Florida:

On May 17 our covenant groups will be the worship leaders for our Sunday service. After a good discussion, the topic they decided on was "Community." The decision to take on this task came after finding out that our settled minister was resigning. We had a discussion on what that meant to our groups and our congregation. The groups felt that we ought to talk about community as a way to let people know that, although we were losing our minister, we are still a community and we will need to be even stronger during this period of change. Our groups will emphasize that the covenant groups are a way to be in community as we go forward. This all came about because the groups collectively agreed that in these changing times for our congregation we need covenant groups to be a calming influence.

Question from the February CGNews: Youth Programming

The UU Small Group Ministry Network is working with Lifespan Faith Development at the UUA on small group ministry for youth. Currently there is the SGM for Youth book published by the Network in 2005, and a section on Small Group Ministry in the UUA Coming of Age material. We would like to know:

  • Are you using small group ministry (covenant groups) with youth? If so, how?
  • Would you be willing to share some session plans that you have developed with the Network? Please send them to
  • Are there specific topics that you would like to see developed for youth?

Rev. Helen Zidowecki, Augusta, ME

We haven't received any answers to this question.

News & Events

The UU SGM Network at General Assembly
June 24-28 2009, Salt Lake City, Utah

The Network will present Facilitator Training: The Key to Small Group Ministry Success with Diana Dorroh, Rev. Melissa Carvill-Zeimer, Rev. Dr. Justin Osterman, and Rev. Bret Lortie. The workshop will provide a concrete plan for designing and implementing a comprehensive training program. The minister's role in sharing and blessing this ministry will be a special focus. Visit the Network booth in the Exhibit Hall where our newest publications and resources will be available.

Small Group TUBE!

Peter Bowden, co-founder of our Network, has launched a new small group ministry video series, making the content of his consulting and trainings available to all our congregations, a boon to church budgets. Find the new videos and subscribe to the video channel on YoutubeTM at

Small Group Ministry Institute, August 16 - 21, 2009
The Mountain Retreat & Learning Centers, The Highlands, NC

Join us in the majestic Appalachian Mountains for a week-long immersion in small group ministry! The Institute offers general and in-depth sessions to match every program, and features daily small group experiences plus a take-home plan. Emerging resources and developments included. Discounts for early registration and UU SGM Network membership. Flier and registration form available on the Events Page of the UU Small Group Ministry Network website.


The SGM Quarterly journal is distributed to members of the UU Small Group Ministry Network four times a year. Issues are added to the web site after the subsequent issue has been sent to members. The SGM Quarterly features articles by ministers, program leaders and facilitators, as well as tips and other resources on Unitarian Universalist small group ministry and covenant groups. Join the Network to subscribe. Download a membership form from

Facilitator Training and Development Manual, UU SGM Network, December 2008
The guide to implementing in-house training programs. Covers facilitator selection, initial training, and on-going facilitator support. Includes the Facilitator's Guide to customize for your program, use in training sessions and distribute to all group leaders.

Network Members: $15 + $5 shipping       Non-member: $25 + $5 shipping

Unitarian Universalist Small Group Ministry, UU SGM Network, June 2008
A compilation of more than fifty articles from five years of the Network's website and newsletters. Arranged by topic: basic elements of SGM, program structure and design, starting and promoting your program, the minister's role in shared ministry, facilitation, group development, session plans, and the application of SGM principles in multiple aspects of congregational life.

Network Members: $15 + $5 shipping       Non-member: $25 + $5 shipping

To order:

HEART TO HEART: Fifteen Gatherings for Reflection and Sharing, April 2009
by Christine Robinson, senior minister of First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque, NM, and Alicia Hawkins, SGM program director at First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque.

Resources for fifteen group conversations on topics such as forgiveness, loss, nature, money, and friendship. A reimagined model of small group ministry, Heart to Heart offers readings, journaling suggestions, and thought-provoking exercises to help participants prepare for the spiritual practice of sharing in community.

From Skinner House Books, UUA Bookstore,, April, 2009, $14

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 Quarterly 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.

Contact Information

Diana Dorroh, President (
Steve Becker, Vice President (
Rev. Helen Zidowecki, Secretary (
Susan Hollister, Treasurer (

The UU Small Group Ministry Network
The UU Small Group Ministry Network,

Write to us by email:, Attn: Rev. Helen Zidowecki

or by mail: UU Small Group Ministry Network
c/o Treasurer
4303 Swarthmore Rd.
Durham, NC 27707

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