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February 2010

Small Groups, Deep Connections February 2010
The UU Small Group Ministry Network
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In This Issue
  • Letter from the Editor
  • Goals for Small Group Ministry from Nancy Leinwand, Main Line Unitarian Church, Devon, PA
  • A Continuing Discussion of Ministry Objectives for Small Group Ministry
  • Extra Grace or Care Required, Continued From a Suggestion by Rhye Gray, Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, LA
  • The Importance of Support from the Larger UU Community, from Nancy Hutchins, UU Congregation of Frederick, MD
  • 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.

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Letter from the Editor

In this winter month, I hope your covenant group is allowing you to experience intimacy and ultimacy and to connect to your church community. Please share your ideas, questions, and experiences with the other 1300 subscribers. Send them to me at

We have an article from Nancy Leinwand, Main Line Unitarian Church, Devon, PA, that continues the discussion begun last month on ministry objectives for small group ministry. Nancy answers four questions:
(1) Why did your church start its program? What were the goals?
(2) Were those goals fulfilled?
(3) Were there other benefits? and
(4) What would you say are the main reasons for having the program now, or main benefits, etc?
Nancy has added at least one reason to the list I began last month. My comments follow her article. The list is available on the Network website:

I am committed to providing something specifically written for facilitators in each issue. In this issue, it's a fifth type of extra care required person. A group leader from Baton Rouge, Rhye Gray, suggested that we consider individuals who are very quiet. I included some ideas on handling people who do not contribute, but I'd love to hear your ideas too. Send them to me at If you'd like to see more emphasis in the newsletter on facilitation, why not get it started by sending me your facilitation tips, problems, and successes. Perhaps others will join you.

I didn't receive any answers to Interconnection's Editor, Don Skinner's, request for input to an article he plans to write on using small group ministry to encourage people to find their own ministry or to help the church get more volunteers. Don says there is still time. Have you used a session on this topic? Send contributions directly to him at or send them to me at

We do have an article on the Importance of Support from the Larger UU Community, from Nancy Hutchins, co-chair, Chalice Community Steering Committee of the UU Congregation of Frederick, MD. It's a story of success in the midst of ministerial change. Nancy was able to use several UU SGM Network resources, including our Facilitator Training and Development Manual, which includes a CD with a Facilitators Guide that you can customize for your program and distribute to all your facilitators. Ordering information below. Nancy's story illustrates how the UU SGM Network member congregations work together to support each other. You can check on our website to see whether your congregation is a Network member: We are financially independent of the UUA and depend upon membership and publications sales to cover our modest expenses.

Under Events, below, there is a description of our UU General Assembly 2010 Planning Committee sponsored workshop Enhancing, Revitalizing, Restarting Your Small Group Ministry. The UU Small Group Ministry Network will have a booth in the Exhibit Hall. If you are a Network member, consider volunteering to serve at the booth. It's an opportunity to meet GA participants from every UUA district and talk about a topic dear to all our hearts - small group ministry and covenant groups! A special request goes out to our friends at First Universalist Church of Minneapolis and First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis. Join us at the booth! Sign up at

Also under Events, there is more information about the Small Group Ministry Institute 2010, August 31-September 3, Camp deBenneville Pines, Angelus Oaks, CA. Sending your facilitators or steering team members to this annual Institute is the best way to give your program a boost, get ready for a restart, or just make a successful program stronger and less at risk from program leadership changes. Most churches spend very little on small group ministry, compared to the benefits to the congregation. This is a very good investment in your program. And it's fun as well. The group leaders who attended from Baton Rouge last year had a great time and came back enthused about enhancing our program. Download a flyer and registration form from the UU SGM Network, website http://

The Winter 2010 SGM Quarterly was mailed to Network members in January. Every Quarterly is packed with articles by and for coordinators, ministers, and facilitators. If you are a UU Small Group Ministry Network member, I hope you enjoyed this wonderful issue. If not, why not join now and receive this winter issue? PayPal makes it easy to join or to renew your membership. You can check on our website to see whether your congregation is a Network member. We offer a member discount of 40% off all our UU SGM Network publications. See a list of publications below.

The Network website,, contains information about the UU Small Group Ministry Network, articles by leaders in the small group ministry movement and an extensive selection of sessions that people have contributed, as well as a complete archive of Covenant Group News and the SGM Quarterly. On the homepage, you will find a list of recent additions to the website.

And finally, you're all invited to attend the Covenant Group Leaders Workshop in Baton Rouge on March 12 and 13. We have some home hospitality available and registration is only $10. So, especially for those of you within driving distance, it is a very viable and inexpensive way to get some training and new ideas and to share and network. See below for more information.

Thanks to Anne Haynes, UU SGM Network Board member from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington, IN, for proofing this edition and to Network Board member Susan Hollister for providing comments.

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

Diana Dorroh
Editor, Covenant Group News
Program Director, Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge

Goals for Small Group Ministry
From Nancy Leinwand

Main Line Unitarian Church, Devon, PA

(1) Why did your church start its program? What were the goals?

Main Line Unitarian Church (MLUC) began with a 'Neighborhood Circle' concept - that is, an effort to build relationship and connection among congregants who lived in geographical proximity. This concept soon yielded to the fact that time is the true measure of our lives and available hours came to determine the structure of MLUC SGM groups.

I like to go back to Rev. Stephan Papa's sermon of September 2002,* which articulates very well some of the longing and hopes for small group ministry at Main Line Unitarian Church. The church had grown larger; people struggled to maintain a sense of community and belonging. Visitors found the place hard to penetrate and dialog was needed across diverse groups and interests. The concept of small group ministry seemed to offer a new path to a more caring and connected community. At the same time, some congregants were looking for ways to deepen their personal search for meaning and expand the scope of their spiritual development. The MLUC SGM program aimed to provide a structured conversation for group members to achieve this dual purpose of deepening connection and conversation.

[*accessible at]

(2) Were those goals fulfilled?

For those individuals who participate in the groups, the reward has been high. A number of groups have maintained stable membership; others have experienced consistent change in membership. From time to time, groups have experienced problems with their group process or session procedures. In general, the problems have been resolved and served to inform the program leadership.

When carried out faithfully, the process of a SGM session - a structured conversation, including a guided subject matter and discussion, together with open personal sharing without outside comment - offers a unique experience to group members. Participants feel free to speak, and, what many express as most important, they feel "heard" and not "judged." A sustaining SGM group provides a life-affirming experience that offers many secondary benefits to the individuals involved as well as to the congregation as a whole.

(3) Were there other benefits?

Of course, we can't know if the growth and connection that has taken place within the SGM group experience would have happened outside the groups, but it is safe to say that the apparent benefits to individuals and the congregation are broad and varied. First, we can note many instances of informal lay care support activities among group members. In addition, SGM participation has helped integrate new members into the church community. In my own experience, I have seen instances of personal growth as a result of group participation - individuals who once found it difficult to stand in the coffee hour now chair committees and lead others in a variety of church activities. The group experience can offer individuals support through major life transitions such as retiring from work, taking care of aging parents, raising children, or going through a divorce, among other life events. The small groups have increased volunteer participation in the work of the church, and provided collective support for broader social action initiatives in the community and beyond.

(4) What would you say are the main reasons for having the program now, or main benefits, etc?

I believe that churches and congregations are always in some form of transition - whether due to changes in membership, funding, staffing, or outside events. The small groups at MLUC comprise one very dedicated segment of the membership of the church. This dedication to the church at the small scale results in a more consistent commitment to the church as a whole.

At MLUC, the original SGM program continues with a solid core of stable and committed small groups. Increasingly however, the program aims to expand the SGM value more broadly in and for the congregation. Specifically, this means providing a small group experience for as many new members as possible, and increasing the exposure to the small group experience more broadly in the congregation. I believe that the essential purposes of the program remain constant: to develop an enhanced sense of belonging in the community and to offer an opportunity for deeper personal exploration and growth through a structured session plan and conversation.

Editor's Note: Nancy Leinwand helped launch the Small Group Ministry program at Main Line Unitarian Church, is past program coordinator and steering team member, and has been a group facilitator since the program's inception in January 2003.

A Continuing Discussion of Ministry Objectives for Small Group Ministry

What a wonderful story. Thanks you, Nancy. I also enjoyed reading Rev. Stephan Papa's sermon from 2002. Nancy added at least one ministry objective to my list from January.

She said: "The small groups at MLUC comprise one very dedicated segment of the membership of the church. This dedication to the church at the small scale results in a more consistent commitment to the church as a whole." So, let's add to our list:

  • to build dedication and commitment to the church, as a whole, thus increasing institutional resilience.

I've also been thinking about this benefit. At my own church, the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, we currently have 23 groups and about 2/3 of our 380 church members belong to one of the 23 groups. Not surprisingly, this has changed our church. I'd say that our small group ministry program has made us more resilient and has, indeed, increased commitment to the church, as well as involvement. Nancy said: "I believe that churches and congregations are always in some form of transition - whether due to changes in membership, funding, staffing, or outside events." I don't know about you, but that rings true for me. Having the groups is like having 23 solid ovals or balloons or balls inside of the largest ball of our church. You could add other groups, with their own balloons, overlapping and intersecting. I hope balloons can do that. The result is a very resilient structure. That's the image that keeps presenting itself to me.

Please send me your images and stories and reasons for doing small group ministry.
Send them to me at

Here's a repeat of the questions to get you started:
(1) Why did your church start its program? What were the goals?
(2) Were those goals fulfilled?
(3) Were there other benefits? and
(4) What would you say are the main reasons for having the program now, or main benefits, etc?

Extra Grace or Care Required,
with an Idea from Rhye Gray,
Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, LA

Last month I wrote about four types of extra care required members of covenant groups:

(a) people who are not able to be in right relationship and cannot seem to listen or share time fairly.
(b) people who continually challenge the model.
(c) people who challenge the boundaries, with sharing that would be more appropriate for a therapy group or that contains over-sexualized, racist or homophobic comments, etc.
(d) all of us who have ever had a bad day or been through a life crisis.

One of the facilitators in our program in Baton Rouge, Rhye Gray, pointed out that there is at least one more type: participants who don't talk in a session.

What if Ellen passes during the check-in? I'd let it go, but come back to Ellen after the last person checks in. The only difficult part of that is remembering after the check-in is complete, to ask Ellen if she wants to speak. Often your group members will help you remember. If Ellen passes repeatedly during check-in, I'd speak to her outside the meeting to find out how she's experiencing the group. Some people take a little more time to feel comfortable sharing than others.

What do you do if a person does not participate in the discussion part of the meeting? Everyone else has contributed, but Howard has not said anything. One of the most basic roles of the facilitator is to make sure everyone has a chance to talk. The first step in fulfilling this responsibility is to notice that Howard hasn't spoken. Then, making it easier for Howard to participate can be as simple as asking: "Howard, we haven't heard from you. Would you like to say something?" You may notice that some members have a harder time "getting into" the conversation than others. If this is happening in your group, you might want to use a talking stick or have a moment (15 seconds) of silence between sharings. Sometimes body language can signal that somebody is ready to talk, but needs encouragement. I'd say hand movements, sitting up straight or any movements from a person who is not talking are probably a signal that he/she would like to get into the conversation. You can simply say: "Howard, you look like you want to say something" or "Howard, would you like to say something?" You have to find your own voice, of course. So, practice.

And finally, what if John has shared in every previous meeting, but is silent for one session. Rhye said he would ask this John after the meeting if anything was wrong. Rhye is a Pastoral Care Associate at our church and he would use some of those skills to find out if there was something John needed to talk about, perhaps at a later date.

What are your techniques for getting everyone to participate? Send them to me at

The Importance of Support from the Larger UU Community
From Nancy Hutchins, Co-chair
Chalice Community Steering Committee
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick, MD

The support of the larger community has been especially important in developing and continuing our SGM program (Chalice Communities) because we have had to create and maintain our program with varying amounts of ministerial support. The year we began our program, our settled minister of more than ten years, plus our pastoral care minister who was helping us, both left our church. Our congregation had two different interim ministers and in 2007 called a new settled minister, who was very interested in promoting SGM. However, she resigned in September of 2009, and our congregation will be served by a half-time minister (also temporary), who will begin this month (Feb. 2010). Whew! We do not expect that a half-time minister will be deeply involved in our Chalice Communities.

Nevertheless, our program has met important needs for many in our congregation. Beginning with just two groups six years ago, we had five groups last year. We had only enough enrollment for three groups this past October right after our minister resigned. However, we did have several more facilitators trained and ready to go, and we did another round of advertising and pulpit outreach in January and got enough enrollment for a fourth group beginning February 2010.

We wanted you to know how much we have appreciated having the "Chalice Communities Program Facilitator's Guide," We were able to create it by tailoring the guide provided in the Facilitators Training Manual from the Network to our program and used it for training in the fall as we began our program for the year. Facilitators new to the role this year expressed how much it helped their self-confidence to have this material available to them. Our facilitators also make extensive use of the session plans on line. Several of us were able to attend a training for SGM held in the Joseph Priestly District a couple of years ago, which confirmed for us that we were on the right track. So as we are going about our business here at UUCF, managing with lay leadership and varying levels of ministerial input, we thought you should know that the efforts of the SGM Network are an important support to our program.

News & Events

The Network at General Assembly 2010, June 23-27, Minneapolis, MN
Enhancing, Revitalizing, Restarting Your Small Group Ministry

Presenting strategies used by congregations to sustain and enhance vibrant ministries, and to rejuvenate and restart programs that have decreased in vitality. Holding a vision, the minister's role, and assuring success will be highlighted. Speakers are Rev. Peg Morgan and Steve Becker, Westside UU Congregation, Seattle, WA; and Rev. Peter Friedrichs and Joyce McKee, UU Church of Delaware County, Media, PA. Moderated by Rev. Helen Zidowecki. Time and date TBA

Small Group Ministry Institute 2010, August 31-September 3
Camp deBenneville Pines, Angelus Oaks, CA

Designed for SGM program leaders and religious educators, an opportunity to learn and practice small group ministry in a mountain forest setting overlooking Jenks Lake. Send a team and take home a vision and plan for small group ministry in your congregation. Download a flyer and registration form at

Facilitator Training Workshop
March 12, 7:00PM - 9:00PM
and March 13, 8:30AM - 3:30PM,
Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, LA

This workshop will provide in-depth training and enrichment to current leaders and an introduction to Covenant Group leadership for potential leaders. Registration is $10. Speakers are Rev. Steve Crump, Senior Minister; Diana Dorroh, Program Director, and the SGM Leadership Team; Ray and Kristie Boudreaux, Bob Dorroh, and Rhye Gray. Area churches, especially those within driving distance, are invited to send their leaders to this workshop. Some home hospitality will be available. See the website calendar for more information: or contact Diana Dorroh,

The Small Group Ministry Network is now on Facebook! Join us and contribute to the ongoing conversation around Small Group Ministry and Covenant Groups. The link is:


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, facilitators, and group members, 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

To order any of the following publications:

Implementing Small Group Ministry: For Starting, Restarting and Enhancing a Program October 2009
How do congregations decide on group duration and meeting frequency? Does it take a team to manage a program? These questions and more are addressed in this evolving document, a series of considerations for Small Group Ministry program development, ongoing administration, groups, facilitators, session plans, and visibility, with a new section on uses of small group ministry. The chart incorporates current information from congregations, the Summer Small Group Ministry Institutes, and Covenant Group News. Mix and match features to build a SGM program that meets your ministry objectives.

Network Members: $6 plus $2 shipping     Non-members: $10 plus $2 shipping

NEW: Ten Years of UU Small Group Ministry, UU SGM Network, June 2009
This anniversary collection traces the rationale, vision, and magic of the spiritual revolution and presents the rich history of the small group ministry movement in classic articles and conference proceedings from its earliest proponents.

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 on CD 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. Covers basic elements of SGM, program structure and promotion, the minister's role, 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 any of the above publications:

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

Steve Becker, President (
Rev. Helen Zidowecki, Vice President (
Diana Dorroh, Secretary and Past President (
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
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Durham, NC 27707

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