My membership and leadership in Branches is a vital part of my life. The gifts I receive are endless and I am graced at every encounter.
I am member and co-leader to Branches 12 and 20. This allows me 2 hours, twice monthly, to meet with, and share with people who are unique and valued in a church community that I love. We are not like minded , but we agree to meet, talk, and listen to each other. We listen with love and respect, never feeling we need to fix or solve. Just listen and share and in so doing, we impact each other. We agree to be present, sharing in this process of being in community together and working on our relationships with each other. We covenant to share our joys and concerns, our dreams and fears, our thoughts and feelings. We support each other as we meet life's challenges, and we care.
My commitment to Branches 12 & 20 is no less important to me than my commitment to the church. It is one and the same. I make attendance a priority and I honor the relationships that have developed. I am grateful for the safety of the space we share, and I look forward to being in that space every month. It is by far the easiest gift I give to the church with a return that is un-equaled.
Question One: Are you planning to start a new program soon or restart an exisiting program? Why did your church decide to do it now and what issues and problems are you facing?
Question Two: Have you recently started a new program or restarted an existing program? What were your objectives? What challenges did you face? What has been most rewarding for you? How has it benefited your church?
Question Three: What is most fulfilling to you about facilitating your group?
Question Four: How has your small group made you a better UU?
Last month's questions:
How has your experience been with emails sent from individual group members to the whole group, between meetings? On the one hand, it can allow members to keep in touch and to invite other group members to join them at an informal social event. On the other hand, it can be a risky form of communication, where hurt feelings may be hard to mend. Send me your thoughts and experiences.
Answer from Fred Van Deusen, Covenant Group Facilitator, First Parish Church in Concord, MA.
Our group has exchanged email addresses, telephone numbers, cell phone numbers and regular addresses. Group members contact each other in advance of meetings and also occasionally to share something of interest or to invite others to a social event. We do our best to support each other. We haven't had any problems, and it has helped to bring us closer together.
Answer from Dottie Kelly, Branches Group Facilitator/Leader, Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, LA
In my Branch group we have exchanged telephone numbers and e-mails during the three years that I have been a member. No one has expressed any objection when asked to exchange this information. The cohesiveness of the group has led to many communications not related to church but needed for support and caring. During time of illness, we want to put into practice the unspoken love we develop through our sharing during meetings. This includes food and visits and offers of help at times. We also as a group plan a party that is offered at our annual church auction fund-raiser. How could any of this be possible if we were only able to communicate by seeing each other at church and at a monthly meeting? . Our individual member-to-member contact that does not involve the group has served to further our bond, such as helping with a special project like a garage sale or helping with a building project for which one is especially qualified. All participation has been voluntary. I would think that we are all adult enough to say "No" to a request by a Branch member just as we would anyone else if we could not help. Not knowing an example of a downside, I cannot comment. Summarily, I don't think a covenant group can be at its most effective without individual communication.
Answer from Bob Dorroh, Facilitator/Leader, Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, LA
Although the Small Group Ministry (SGM) programs differ in detail at different churches, they share basic principles. It is important to defend your church's model against changes that are suggested by group members but have not been endorsed by the SGM leadership group of your church.
One example is the suggestion of supplementing the meetings with email communications. I want to raise a particular caution flag about this. Everyone in the group knows everyone else's email address, and it would be ridiculous to say that members should not email each other. However, judgment is required.
Anyone who has used email has learned how easy it is to be misunderstood in an email. Substantive, serious discussions need to take place face-to-face. Since most SGM topics are serious and substantive, or at least they should be, they are not suitable for email. If someone is offended or hurt by an email, and the next meeting is two or three weeks away, what can be done?
A good general principle is: Substantive discussions need to take place face-to-face at a meeting. Any attempt to sidestep this is detrimental to the group.
Once, in my more innocent days, I made the mistake of giving my blessing to using email without giving the above caveat, and here is what happened soon afterward. The incident involved four members besides myself. I will refer to these four as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, even though the members were not all male. The incident occurred during the period of civil and racial tension that followed Hurricane Katrina.
Matthew expressed approval of the police practice of stopping young men who are on the street after dark and questioning them. Mark, an African American member of our group was offended by this because everyone knows that this happens mainly to African Americans. A very heated discussion followed. This did happen face-to-face, and some semblance of peace was restored.
Things might have been OK, except for the following. Almost immediately, Luke emailed to the group a copy of a racially inflammatory letter to the editor and asked the group what they thought about it.
I questioned Luke by telephone about why he had done this and what he had hoped to accomplish. About the same time, Mark's partner John sent a critical email to Luke, who then sent other emails to the group complaining about these two things. The situation became unpleasant, to say the least.
Things might have gone better if Luke had shown the letter to the group at a meeting, but I doubt he would have done this. Sending it by email just stood no chance of any kind of beneficial effect or peaceful resolution. This group no longer exists.
What techniques do you use to recruit new members to your group? (submitted by Fred Van Deusen, First Parish Church in Concord, MA.)
Answer from Anne Haynes, UU Church of Bloomington , IN. and Board Member, UU Small Group Ministry Network
We at the UU Church of Bloomington actively recruit new members at the beginning of each Chalice Circles year. We have written and spoken announcements, a "Chalice Circles sermon," signup sheets in the hallway, and other publicity in August leading up to the new year, with a kickoff and orientation meeting in September for all prospective participants. We strive to get between seven and ten participants in each group we are forming (approximately ten groups a year). We also continue running a short article explaining Chalice Circles in each church newsletter until about March, so this tends to attract people who are newcomers to church and serves as a reminder to those who may have second thoughts about joining a group after the kickoff. We stop our announcements in the spring because May is the last month our Chalice Circles meet and we would rather not introduce new group members in the last couple of months.
If we have a group with fewer than seven people, we do try to steer newcomers into that group before any others. The co-chairs of our steering committee work together to try to fill gaps in any groups if someone drops out during the year and the group becomes too small. In our first year we tried combining two groups that were each too small after the year had started, but we do not recommend doing that based on our experience.
Answer from your CG News Editor, Diana Dorroh, Program Director, Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge
In Baton Rouge, our groups are ongoing. Some of them have existed since the beginning of our program, about 10 years ago, though the membership has changed considerably in those groups, of course. We use the "Roots and Branches" model, adapted from All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, OK. Roots is our newcomers class; Branches is the name of our Small Group Ministry program. Roots is taught by our minister, Rev. Steve Crump. During the 3-session class, he repeatedly mentions the Branches program and encourages participants to join a group. At the last class, they are invited to sign up for a specific group. Sometimes group leaders are there to invite them to a new or existing group and sometimes they just give me their requirements and I arrange an invitation later.
Most Roots participants do join a group and the percentage of signups is even higher for people who join the church at the end of the class. About 60% of our 390 members belong to a group and another 10% or so have belonged to one at some point. So, it really is part of our church culture. We have become a church "of small groups," rather than a church "with small groups." And this, in turn, results in greater benefit to the church, as the covenantal acceptance, right relationship and better listening from the small groups spills over into all aspects of church life.
We also have a Sunday in the fall when the group leaders are recognized and the program is promoted. We take signups then and throughout the year from church members or former Roots graduates. In addition, some of our leaders do their own recruiting.
News & Events
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 workshops, training and enrichment for facilitators, and tools and support for planning a new SGM program or re-evaluating and enhancing an existing program. Participants, including faculty, all learn from each other, as they explore concepts, issues and challenges. It will feature daily small group experiences plus a take-home plan. Emerging resources and developments included. 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 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 www.smallgroupministry.net.
NEW: Ten Years of UU Small Group Ministry, UU SGM Network, June 2009
An anniversary compilation of SGM articles published throughout 2008-2009, plus rediscovered articles from the earliest issues of Covenant Group News, beginning in 1999.
Network Members: $20 + $5 shipping Non-members: $30 + $5 shipping
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: http://www.smallgroupministry.net/forsale.html.
HEART TO HEART: Fourteen 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 fourteen 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, www.uuabookstore.org, April, 2009, $14
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.