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October 2010

Small Groups, Deep Connections October 2010
The UU Small Group Ministry Network
Covenant Group News
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In This Issue
  • Letter from the Editor
  • Experiences from UU SGM Institute 2010 Participant, Ariel Sublett, UU Congregation of Las Vegas, NV
  • Making Small Group Ministry Available - Part 1 - Introduction
  • News and Events
  • Publications
  • Who We Are
  • Contact Us

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Letter from the Editor

I hope some of you were able to take advantage of one of the training opportunities offered this fall. I am looking forward to a training track in my own district, the Southwest UU Conference, at their fall leadership conference in Dallas, Nov. 12 - 14. Rev. Helen Zidowecki, UU SGM Network Board President, Rev. Steve Crump, Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, and I will concentrate on implementing or re-implementing covenant group programs, with a focus on small group ministry for youth. Multi-generational small group ministry is a new focus for the Network and particularly for Helen Zidowecki.

In this issue of Covenant Group News, we have a response from Ariel Sublett, a participant at this year's Institute, held at Camp de Benneville Pines in Angelus Oaks, California, August 31 - September 3, 2010. We plan to conduct the 2011 Institute at Camp de Benneville during the week of August 29. As you read Ariel's note, think about the advantage of sending a team from your congregation to next year's Institute.

Also in this issue, we launch a series on Making Small Group Ministry Available. We will explore ways to include more people in our covenant programs by removing barriers to participation and providing special accommodations. Among the opportunities are involving the elderly and people who need childcare to participate. One of my goals is to develop a fairly complete list of these opportunities. Please send me your stories and experiences, as well as additional opportunities to make small group ministry more available.

The Winter 2011 SGM Quarterly will be mailed or emailed to Network members in December. Every Quarterly contains articles by and for coordinators, ministers, and facilitators. If you are not a member, why not join now and receive this winter issue?

We are financially independent of the UUA and depend upon membership and publications sales to cover our modest expenses. You can check on our website to see whether your congregation is a Network member. As an added incentive to membership, we offer a member discount of 40% off all our UU SGM Network publications.

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.

Please share your ideas, questions, and experiences with the other 1,404 Covenant Group News subscribers. Send them to me at Thanks to Anne Haynes, from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington, IN, for proofing this edition and to and Board member Susan Hollister for comments.

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

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

Comments from Ariel Sublett,
Participant at the UU Small Group Ministry Institute 2010,
August 31 - September 3, deBenneville Pines CA

I did not know what to expect going in to the Small Group Ministry Institute. I had never been to a UU camp before, and I was fairly new to facilitating a small group. I went anyway because I'm fairly spontaneous and it sounded like a fun experience. I wound up coming away from camp with so much, I find it hard to touch on everything when I try to share with others.

We were broken into 4 small groups, and it amazed me how quickly and easily I felt comfortable with these people I just met. We learned about each other and we learned from each other. One afternoon we had to write a session plan together, and it was a really interesting process. We worked so well together, and the brainstorming process was fun. I've already used our session plan in my group back home, and everyone enjoyed it.

I felt very fortunate to have Patrick Block in my group because with him he brought a completely new idea,that of no crosstalk. I was skeptical and resistant to the idea at first, but when Patrick led our group and let us experience this new kind of listening, it was an amazing spiritual experience. I had never been in a group like that before. I wanted to share it with everyone I know, but unfortunately it's one of those things you can't describe. People have to experience it for themselves.

I've tried to bring the model back to my own small group, but it's not quite the same. It might be easier to implement with a brand new group. Maybe it just needs to be tweaked a little for my group. My time at the institute gave me so much to think about, but if I had to take away just one thing, it's that there are so many different ways of doing small group ministry. Play around and find what works best for you and your small group or congregation.

I left camp feeling invigorated. And I beat my friend Dave at horseshoes! It doesn't get much better than that.

Making Small Group Ministry Available
Part 1 - Introduction
By Diana Dorroh

From a congregational perspective, there are several reasons to include virtually everyone in your small group ministry program:

  • The opportunities for growth through small group ministry are maximized by involving as many people as possible. Since many membership losses occur with our newest members, "getting new members into" covenant groups and keeping them there for several years can affect numerical congregational growth.
  • When the norms of listening, acceptance and covenantal behavior are applied throughout the congregation, the culture changes and your next conflict could be more civil and inflict less lasting harm.
  • Having most of your congregation in covenant groups allows a natural structure for providing shared ministry in times of national, local and congregational trauma.

From an individual perspective, it is simply more hospitable and more equitable to remove barriers and make it easier for everyone to participate and share the benefits of intimacy, ultimacy and mutual ministry. Of course, we also need to allow people to opt out without judgment and with the choice of participating at a later time.

Over the next six months, we will be exploring ways that congregations have made small group ministry more inclusive. A preliminary list of opportunities is listed below. I welcome your identification of more opportunities, as well as your stories about your own congregation's efforts to include more people in covenant groups or an individual group's successes and challenges.

  1. Extra Care Required Members - Those who have trouble sharing and those who need and perhaps are receiving psychological help can often participate when there is a solid small group ministry model and capable leaders who are both trained and supported.
  2. Youth, Children, Multi-Generational Groups - This is a new focus for many congregations, and there are stories about successes with different age groups. Rev. Helen Zidowecki is focusing on this topic and we will be hearing from her.
  3. Handicapped and Non-Driving Members - Often a group meeting at church can be enough to provide access to handicapped people. Non-drivers are a special problem, however. At the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, we are experimenting with a daytime group with non-drivers and members who are willing to assist with rides.
  4. Elderly - Many churches are experimenting with groups especially oriented to the elderly.
  5. Parents with Young Children - Several churches are offering childcare at the church for parents who need childcare in order to participate. At the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, we have 3 such groups and continue to add new members and more groups.
  6. New Members and Graduates of the Newcomers Class - Making openings available to graduates takes some planning and a good system for identifying, recruiting, and training leaders and starting new groups.
  7. Long-Term Members - Sometimes long-term members need a special invitation to attend a group. Send me your success story about including one or more long-term members.
  8. Members Challenged by Distance - Opening geography-based groups in areas that are 30 - 45 minutes away from your church can allow people who are unwilling or unable to travel 45 or even 75 minutes each way to participate in a covenant group.

Please send me your stories, whether they're short and simple or long and complex.

Share your insights, strategies and experiences.
Send your comments to Diana at
We'll print them in the next CGNews.

News & Events

The 2011 Small Group Ministry Summer Institute will be held
Tuesday, August 30 to Friday, September 2, 2011
UU Camp, deBenneville Pines, Angelus Oaks, California

In addition to basic information on Small Group Ministry, we are planning to have several sessions delegated to Small Group Ministry for specific groups, such as youth, elders and caretakers, and families. Additional information will be appearing throughout the year. Registration materials will be available by December 1.

Cost: Lodging and Program Fee: $350, with $25 discount for registration before July 1, and $25 discount for UU Small Group Ministry Network members (from a Member Congregation, and individual members)

Send your suggestions and questions to

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.

For information on training opportunities see the Event Announcements

UU SGM Network Publications

Order forms available from

NEW! Spiritual Journeys: 101 Session Plans for Small Group Ministry Programs
This exciting new book offers a wide range of original, ready-to-use sessions covering Spiritual Journeying, Personal Beliefs and Values, Spiritual Challenges, Holidays, Just for Fun, Being Human, and Special Use subjects for events that affect our lives. Themes are drawn from art, literature, UU liturgy and hymnals, current events, and religious scriptures.

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

NEW! Small Group Ministry 2010: Celebrating Congregations
The 2010 compilation celebrates the work of over 100 congregations that have contributed to the UU Small Group Ministry movement since 2004. There are profiles of contributing congregations, including when and how their program started, how many groups and participants they have, and their unique challenges and success stories.

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

To order any of the above publications or to get a list of all our 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

Rev. Helen Zidowecki, President (
Steve Becker, Vice President (
Diana Dorroh, 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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