Covenant Group News

UU SGM Network Home | Subscribe

March 2010

Small Groups, Deep Connections March 2010
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.
Visit us online at

You may automatically unsubscribe from this list at any time by visiting the following URL:

In This Issue
  • Letter from the Editor
  • Small Group Ministry Goals from Helen Zidowecki and Kathy Kellison, Unitarian Universalist Community Church, Augusta, ME
  • A Continuing Discussion of Ministry Objectives for Small Group Ministry
  • Two Ways of Checking In from Bob Dorroh, Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, LA
  • Note on the Recent Covenant Group Leaders Workshop from Jerri Becnel, Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, LA
  • 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 is financially independent of the UUA.
Letter from the Editor

In these first days of spring, with growth or the promise of it everywhere, I hope your covenant group is allowing you to grow spiritually. Please share your ideas, questions, and experiences with the other 1317 Covenant Group News subscribers. Send them to me at

We have a wonderful article from Rev. Helen Zidowecki and Kathy Kellison, Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Augusta, Maine that continues our discussion on the goals of small group ministry.

For facilitators, there are examples of check ins, one personal and one impersonal, both describing the same experience, from Bob Dorroh, a leader in the Branches program at the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, LA. At the 2009 UU Small Group Ministry Institute at the Mountain, Susan Hollister gave a beautiful presentation of two contrasting sharings that covered the same situation. One was full of details and anxiety and the other gave the significance of the event to her life. Bob prepared these two for a workshop we held in Baton Rouge this month. I think you'll recognize the impersonal check in. I've given them myself. It takes more effort to share the meaning of an experience. I hope you'll find this helpful.

I'd love to have your tips to other facilitators. 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.

The Covenant Group Facilitators Workshop held in Baton Rouge this month was planned by the team that attended the 2009 UU Small Group Ministry Institute. Our minister, Rev. Steve Crump, provided the keynote address and the team made presentations based on selected material from the 2009 Institute. I've included a note from Jerri Becnel, one of our facilitators who participated in the workshop, so that you can see how worthwhile doing a weekend workshop can be. Our experience illustrates an important congregational and programmatic benefit of sending a team to the annual UU SGM Institute.

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. Download a flyer and registration form from the UU SGM Network, website

Under Events, below, there is a description of our UUA 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 (No. 733)! Sign up at

The Spring 2010 SGM Quarterly will be mailed to Network members in early April. 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 spring 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. We are financially independent of the UUA and depend upon membership and publications sales to cover our modest expenses.

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.

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

Small Group Ministry Goals:
Unitarian Universalist Community Church, Augusta, ME
By Helen Zidowecki and Kathy Kellison

Editor's Note: At my request, Helen and Kathy answered the four questions I've been posing about ministry objectives or goals. Their answers describe the experience at their congregation, the Unitarian Universalist Community Church in Augusta, Maine.

(1) Why did your church start its program? What were the goals? The idea of "doing church" in a different way became an intentional part of life in the Northeast District (Maine and Eastern Provinces) in 1997. The District minister, Rev. Glenn Turner, asked the ministers as a group to study the work of Christian evangelicals around the concept of the church growth. There were presentations and small group ministry sessions at district meetings. In the spring of 1998, Glenn Turner introduced Small Group Ministry to our congregation while leading worship. In the fall he made a persuasive presentation at our All Church Retreat.

From review of the history of our program in one of our early publications, three goals or expectations are evident, although they are not labeled as "goals" per se.

Congregational growth: If you ask people if they would like the church to grow, they would likely agree that it should grow. But when you really press them on it, they would admit that they are comfortable in the church now, and if the congregation grew too big, they are afraid that they would lose the sense of community and connection which they value.

Glenn Turner posed a question this way: "How many people are there around Augusta who might share our view of religion, and who share the values and goals we have in addressing society's needs, and who might want to be a part of a spiritual community?" He asserted that you can be a part of any size congregation, and still belong to a small group whose members know you by name and know your story.

Then Glenn made an observation that became one of our guiding principles. "People come to our congregations seeking intimacy and spiritual growth. And we give them committee meetings and Sunday morning worship. Neither of these adequately meets those needs."

Focus on Ministry. One of the first important decisions we made was the name: Small Group Ministry. We had begun to perceive and more widely express the idea that everyone is called to ministry, maintaining that the call to faith is a call to ministry, whether lay or ordained. We had developed a program of lay Pastoral Ministerial Associates. From the beginning, we envisioned our groups as a way that we could better care for one another. People would be connected at a deeper level than is possible Sunday during the Fellowship Hour, and there would be the opportunity to pursue some of the deeper spiritual questions which in our lives we so rarely take time for. But these groups would also form the framework in which we could reach out to one another in caring and support, where we could be present in each others lives in the forms that describe ministry.

Congregational Involvement. In addition to actively keeping the congregation informed throughout the organizational process, we intentionally built Small Group Ministry as a program of the congregation. We shaped our work to the formal structure of the church, involving church leadership in the organizational phases. We brought an initial and then a final proposal to the Board, asking that the Small Group Ministry Program be formally endorsed by the Board and reporting that action out to the congregation. Added to this was the expectation that the groups do a service project for the congregation at least annually.

(2) Were those goals fulfilled? It is interesting to look at these expectations 12 years later. Congregational growth: We had not grown sustainably for a number of years for a variety of reasons, but are experiencing rapid growth this year. Small Group Ministry is a major factor in drawing people further into the fabric of the church community and to sustaining membership. And groups and sessions are expanding to allow variation that connects more people: Open Sessions related to the service on a specific Sunday of the month, the start of a men's group, sessions being developed around other things that are going on in the congregation (developing a ministry on aging, later and end of life issues, goddess traditions, etc.).

Focus on ministry: Small Group Ministry is vital to the overall ministry of the congregation. We have noticed that one of the first questions asked when we learn of a person or family in a difficult situation is, "Are they in a Small Ministry group?" The ministry, then, is also to support the Group as they minister to their member - another level of caring. We have witnessed connections made between members for additional support outside of the group meetings - phone calls, transportation to attend additional church functions or meet specific needs, e-mails. Increasingly, newer members to the congregation are finding life and spiritual connections that extend beyond the Sunday worship.

Congregational involvement
--Varies - some groups take on special tasks on a regular basis. Example: reception for the upcoming Installation of the minister, specific work projects (painting buildings, work days), fundraisers. This needs to be reinforced in some groups to keep them connected.
--Every group that we have is seen as part of the congregational fabric. Traditionally the groups are organized around times they can meet. However, while we have couples and about half the groups include men and women, men have requested a men-specific [group?], with the same session plans available as any other group, which makes it a small group ministry group of men, rather than a "men's group".
--Small group ministry increasingly has become a vehicle for addressing a number of topics and themes. For example, our intentional welcoming focus the last few months has been on ageism, including two informal discussions and a workshop. As a ministry for older members and elders emerges, open sessions around aging and end of life issues is planned. These session plans developed for specific focuses become part of the body of session plans available to all groups.

(3) Were there other benefits?
--We have used the session format to explore events in our community such as the departure of a minister and the welcoming of a new one, and our involvement with Welcoming Congregations and the No on One [is this correct? I haven't heard of it] campaign (Marriage Equality).
--We have also found that the people seem to listen and speak more compassionately at larger gatherings, and attribute this to the practice as part of Small Group Ministry.

(4) What would you say are the main reasons for having the program now, or main benefits, etc?
It is as fundamental to our sense of ourselves as Religious Exploration. It is a major part of how we 'do church' It has cemented many friendships. Along with the Sangha (meditation) and NVC (Nonviolent Communication), it is fundamental to our learning to listen and hear one another and has contributed to getting us through some difficult times. Some of our 'needs extra care' folks have found a place to belong in the community and have become less disruptive. It has given us a solid reputation in the District and the UUA. Well over half our members have been group members at one time or another. As our worship style continues to evolve and the membership changes, there will be ongoing connections to provide continuity.

A Continuing Discussion of Ministry Objectives for Small Group Ministry
By Diana Dorroh, Editor

I found it interesting that numeric growth was one of the explicit goals at the UU Community Church in Augusta. I think this was true for many of the programs that began ten years ago. The results were often a little more complex.

My own opinion is that, at a minimum, a vital small group ministry allows a church to take advantage of numerical growth opportunities when the congregation is getting an increased volume of visitors. Having a small group ministry program in place allows new people to connect quickly, satisfies their needs for intimacy and ultimacy and helps them become involved in the congregation. So, more of them join, more stay, and membership is more meaningful to them and the congregation. At the other extreme, a vital small group ministry program also helps congregations weather the inevitable transitions and crises with minimal membership loss or even slight growth.

I'm also impressed with the variety of ways this congregation has used the small group ministry session format to enhance congregational life and help with transitions. This is a growing edge of the movement and this congregation is showing us the way.

I will continue to focus on this topic of the ministry objectives or goals of small group ministry for the next few issues. Please send me your 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?

Two Ways of Checking In
from Bob Dorroh,
Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, LA

Editors note: These are two descriptions of the same life experience, one impersonal and one personal. As a facilitator, you may want to use an opening question, such as "Please share something of personal significance." to encourage more personal check ins, instead of something like "Please tell us what's been going on in your life since our last meeting."

Impersonal Check In:

On November 14, my wife and I took two of our grandsons, Zachary and Nicholas, to see "The Crucible", a play by Arthur Miller. The play was in Gonzales and was very good. We drove out Highland Road to its intersection with Airline Highway and had dinner at a restaurant named "On the Half-Shell". It is a good restaurant, which used to have a branch at the south end of Bluebonnet. They specialize in oyster dishes and have a huge variety of them on their menu. My favorite is "Oysters Casino".

We then drove to Gonzales on Airline Highway, rather than on the I-10. When we got to Gonzales, we had a hard time finding the theater, which they spell "theatre", in British style. I must have driven across Railroad Avenue four times.

When I bought the tickets to the play, I assumed the best seats were in the balcony, since they were the most expensive. We were the only people sitting there, and the seats were very cramped and uncomfortable. The play lasted until 10:30, and we had a long drive home. Our grandsons live way out on O'Neal Lane, and we had to get up early and go to church early the next morning, so we were tired all day Sunday.

The play was interesting. It was supposedly about the Salem Witch Trials, but really about McCarthyism. There was supposed to be "brief nudity" in the play, but I wasn't paying close enough attention, so I missed it. There was a concession stand at the theater, and both boys got some candy. Zach had read the play in a class, so he already knew the story.

Personal Check In:

Recently, my wife and I took our two Baton Rouge grandsons, Nick age 14 and Zach age 16, to see "The Crucible" at the Ascension Community Theater. It was excellent, and there were two reasons why this was meaningful to me.

Even though the two boys are sometimes off-putting and cool, we have been consistently surprised by how much they appreciate serious theater. They pay close attention and make insightful comments. Some time ago, we took them to see "The Tempest", and Nick mentioned that in the final scene, Caliban was carrying a gun, something I had missed. Zach had read "The Crucible" in a class, and I know from having quizzed him about "Julius Caesar" that they do a very good job of this sort of thing at Baton Rouge High.

I had seen the movie and had thought it was about the Salem Witch Trials. The play made it very obvious that it was about McCarthyism and anti-communist witch hunts, blacklisting, etc. This was occurring while I was in high school and college, so the evening involved a trip down memory lane for me.

Note from Jerri Becnel
On the Recent Covenant Group Leaders Workshop
Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, LA

I implemented what I learned at the workshop at our meeting on Monday night. I believe in small group ministry and get more out of meetings when we do what I refer to as "digging deep" but was growing tired of how we had regressed into a social time only get together.

At our meeting, we discussed our covenant and the questions: What do you want to bring to the group? What do you want to take from the group? As a result, our group has decided to adopt a new covenant, use the first 30 minutes for socializing/snacking, then begin our meeting at 7, observe 15 seconds of silence between sharing, and share the responsibilities of hosting/leading meetings.

I was nervous about changing the group dynamic so the workshop was very timely. However, I must admit, with the beautiful weather, I longed to be outdoors. But....after sharing what I learned with the group and receiving their positive reaction and support , I knew without a doubt the time was well spent. Thank you and your group for taking time out of your schedule to prepare for and host the workshop -- I believe I can speak for all the members of our group, that we appreciate the thought, time, and effort that went into helping our group get back on track and continuing our quest to "dig deep."

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.

Booth # 733, General Assembly Exhibit Hall
Stop by the Network Booth Wednesday through Sunday during GA. Board members and Network member volunteers will be on hand to answer your questions and share practical information for small group/covenant group programs at every stage. Our newest publications and resources will be available.

General Assembly, June 23-27 -- Minneapolis, Minnesota

Attention Network Members! Here's your 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! Facilitators, ministers, and coordinators from more than 6 member congregations have already volunteered. Join us at the booth! Sign up at

Small Group Ministry Discussion Group - Join the UUA List Serve
The SGM Discussion Group is the list serve from the Unitarian Universalist Association website, listed there as Covenant_Group_Ministry. The list provides an opportunity to share experiences, questions, comments, and problems with other individuals and congregations engaged in small group and covenant group ministry. Subscribe to the mailing list on the Network's website,

Networking Opportunities
Network with other congregations in your district, share best practices in small group ministry, and consider hosting a joint facilitator training or enrichment workshop. To view a complete list, visit our website and click on Who We Are: Our Members.

The source for session plans, networking opportunities, Small Group Ministry resources, news of events and workshops, membership renewal forms, and back issues of Covenant Group News and the SGM Quarterly. The Fall 2009 Quarterly is now posted on the site.


Summer Institute Goes to De Benneville Pines, Angelus Oaks, CA
Tuesday, August 31 to Friday, September 3, 2010

Registration Information at

Don't miss the fifth Small Group Ministry Summer Institute! The Institute began as a way of introducing congregations to SGM and providing resources for program development. Small Group Ministry is in various stages within congregations, from just an idea to a program. Within established programs there are also phases, and we are learning together as we move into the second decade of UU SGM. Congregations have found that sending several people to the Institute allows for congregational assessment and planning, as well as having people able to attend consecutive sessions.

The Institutes are designed on the premise that we all have things to share and are willing to gain knowledge and understanding. This is what we expect in our Small Group/Covenant Group Sessions - why not at the Institute?

Sessions planned include:
• Developing and maintaining sound groups, and group dynamics
• Starting, restarting and growing Small Group Ministry
• Developing and evaluating sessions
• Assessing your own program and building on your strengths
• Multigenerational Small Group Ministry - a "cutting edge" topic this year

Cost: Lodging and Program Fee: $350
$25 discount for registration before July 1
$25 discount for UU SGM Network members

Contact Helen Zidowecki at
or 207-582-5308 with questions and comments.

Camp de Benneville Pines is a retreat and conference center located in the Barton Flats area of the San Bernardino National Forest, about 90 miles east of Los Angeles. At an elevation of 6,800 feet, the camp is surrounded by a forest of towering pines, cedars, and oaks and is affiliated with the Pacific Southwest District of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Facilities include a swimming pool, a hot tub, children's playground, an archery range, and opportunities for many outdoor sports. Cabins are all equipped with modern bathrooms and hot showers, and offer comfortable sleeping quarters. Meals are prepared by kitchen staff and served in the main lodge. Visit for more information.

Read what others have to say about the Summer Institute:
Great practical ideas to take home. The times for sharing beyond the presentations were a fantastic opportunity! Lots of information. Really worthwhile experience.

The conference really reinforced for me the power of the small group ministry process. Three things about the experience made it memorable: the things I learned, the people I met, and the idyllic setting.

In addition to what was "taught," the most enriching aspect was being able to hear and dialogue about what others were doing in their SGM programs and why.

The program was well-planned; the variety of presentation styles kept interest high, as did the continuing movement in and out of different groups and places.

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:

UU SGM Network Publications

Order forms available from

NEW! Small Group Ministry 2010: Celebrating Congregations

The 2010 compilation acknowledges and celebrates the work of over 80 congregations that have contributed to the UU Small Group Ministry movement since 2004. Now all in one place, this collection features articles published in Covenant Group News, the SGM Quarterly Journal, and the UUA e-list in the last year. Each article is introduced by a profile of the contributing congregation, including when and how their program started, how many groups and participants, and their unique challenges and success stories. The vitality of covenant group ministry programs across the denomination is clearly demonstrated in this compilation, the only one of its kind. Available at General Assembly and for mail order in June 2010. Advance orders welcome.

Network Members: $15 plus $5 shipping     Non-members: $25 plus $5 shipping

NEW! Spiritual Journeys: 101 Session Plans for Small Group Ministry Programs
Looking for fresh, inspiring topics for your small group ministry program? This exciting new book offers a wide range of original, ready-to-use sessions covering Getting Started in a Group, the UU Seven Principles, Spiritual Journeying, Attitude Adjustment, Personal Beliefs and Values, Spiritual Challenges, Holidays, Just for Fun, Being Human, and Special Use subjects for events and national tragedies that affect our lives. Themes are drawn from art, literature, UU liturgy and hymnals, current events, and religious scriptures. Available at General Assembly and for mail order in June 2010.

Network Members: $20 plus $5 shipping     Non-members: $30 plus $5 shipping

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? Drawing on current information from congregations, the SGM Institutes, and Covenant Group News, this evolving document presents 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 in multiple settings. Mix and match features to build a SGM program that meets your ministry objectives.

Network Members: $6 plus $5 shipping     Non-members: $10 plus $5 shipping

Ten Years of UU Small Group Ministry June 2009
In celebration of the Network's fifth anniversary, this collection traces the Small Group Ministry movement through classic articles from 1998 to the present. The book focuses on the introduction of the small group ministry concept, the rise of enthusiasm, the facilitator's role, the nature of groups, and the element of service. A special history section features the visionaries who made UU Small Group Ministry a reality.

Network Members: $15 plus $5 shipping     Non-members: $25 plus $5 shipping

Facilitator Training and Development Manual December 2008
Facilitator training and ongoing support are the keys to a successful small group ministry program. This training manual guides you through the process from recruitment and initial training through Facilitators Meetings and coaching. Part One is a plan for developing and implementing an in-house training program. Part Two, the Facilitator's Guide, is an interactive training module on CD to customize for your program, use in your training sessions and distribute to all group leaders.

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

Unitarian Universalist Small Group Ministry June 2008
A collection of 50+ articles from 5 years of the SGM Quarterly Journal, Covenant Group News, and website publications. Articles are arranged by topic, from basic elements of SGM, through the minister's role in shared ministry, sustaining your program, and the application of SGM principles in multiple aspects of congregational life.

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

Small Group Ministry for Youth
This dynamic format for middle and high school youth includes a session and discussion for facilitators and session plans for the Five Steps to Building Community and the Six Components of a Balanced Youth Program. Twenty-five session plans in all!

Network Members: $15 plus $5 shipping       Non-members: $25 plus $5 shipping

  To order any of the above publications:

Small Groups, Deep Connections

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
4303 Swarthmore Rd.
Durham, NC 27707

Copyright © 2004-2010 the UU Small Group Ministry Network