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December 2010

Small Groups, Deep Connections December 2010
The UU Small Group Ministry Network
Covenant Group News
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In This Issue
  • Letter from the Editor
  • Report from Lansing Bicknell, First UU Church of Austin, TX on the SWUUC Training Event in November
  • Note from Becky Smith, Manatee UU Fellowship, Bradenton, FL, on the Challenges Facilitators Face in Making SGM Available
  • Making SGM Available - Part 3 - Parents of Young Children
  • Note from Alan Backler, UU Church of Bloomington, IN
  • Note from Sue Majors, High Plains UU, Colorado Springs, CO
  • News and Events
  • Publications
  • Who We Are
  • Contact Us

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Letter from the Editor

It's 2011 and time to reflect upon your successes and challenges from 2010 and how they will affect your plans for 2011. There's always a better way to access the power and promise of small group ministry.

In this issue, we have a report from Lansing Beckell, Adult Programming staff person at First UU Church in Austin, TX. It's a report to his congregation about what he learned at the SWUUC Fall Leadership Conference track and what he wants to change about his church's program. I feel a little humbled by his description of the Baton Rouge program. There are many other successful programs in the country.

Also in this issue, a note from Becky Smith, Manatee UU Fellowship, Brandenton, FL, expanding our topic, Making Small Group Ministry Available, to challenges that facilitators face to fully include participants in their groups. Have you faced some challenges to full participation in your group? Send me your stories

In Making Small Group Ministry Available - Part 3, Parents of Young Children, I offer our experience in Baton Rouge, because I think it might be a story you can use. We were fortunate enough to have about 30 new members in this category over 2 or 3 years and were very intentional about getting them into covenant groups. It is a great success, but presents challenges for our staff and our childcare workers. Two readers submitted notes on their church's experience with making small group ministry available to parents of young children by offering childcare: Allen Backler, UU Church of Bloomington, IN and Sue Majors, High Plains UU, Colorado Springs, CO.

The remaining subtopics in the Making Small Group Ministry Available series are:
January - the Elderly (please submit notes by January 23, 2011 to me,
February - Handicapped and non-driving members
March - Youth, children, multigenerational groups
April - Youth, children, multigenerational groups
May - New members and graduates of the newcomers class
June - "Extra care required" members and long term members

The Winter 2011 SGM Quarterly has been mailed or emailed to Network members. It included:
Re-Vitalizing Small Group Ministry
Reverend Priscilla Richter, First Unitarian Society of Schenectady, New York
Young Adult Small Group Ministry at USG
By Andrea Bernstein, The Unitarian Society of Germantown, Philadelphia, PA
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?

Note the training opportunities under News and Events. Peter Bowden is offering a series of webinars during January. And the UU SGM Institute returns to Camp deBenneville Pines, Angeles Oaks, CA, August 30 - September 2. Sending a team to the Institute is a good way to strengthen and improve your program.

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 1,410 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.

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

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

Report from Lansing Bicknell,
to First UU Church, Austin TX
on his Participation at the November South West UU Conference Training on SGM

This article is reprinted from the newsletter of the First UU Church, Austin, TX, where Lansing serves as Adult Religious Education Staff Member and has responsibility for covenant groups.

The South West UU Conference in Glen Rose Texas was an intense educational experience for Susan Franks and me. We both participated in the Small Group Ministry /Covenant Groups track. It appears the phrases Small Group Ministry and Covenant Groups are used interchangeably among UU Churches. However, we did learn about two different types of Covenant Groups that we had not been aware of: Affinity Groups and Chalice Circles.

Affinity Groups are covenant groups that are based on common areas of interest or affinity. Some examples of these from our church are: Women's Spirituality Group, The Men's Group, The Women in Transition Group, and The Young Adults Group among others. Affinity groups tend to garner a lot of interest when they first formulate. However, over time, they can become somewhat insular-and develop a strong group identity that is less open to change in terms of process and, more importantly, group size. Affinity Groups can be an important part of a Covenant Group program, but if that is all you have, your program is incomplete.

Chalice Circles follow a simple structured group process that allows you to go deeper in an intimate and safe environment with a group of 6-10 congregants who are diverse in age, gender and areas of interest. Chalice Circles are led by a facilitator who is trained and supported by the minister of the church. Chalice Circles break into 2 different groups when the size of a group goes past 10. This ensures that each group provides a consistent level of intimacy, allowing for maximum depth of sharing and listening. Each Chalice Circle session has a set of questions for the group members to focus on for the meeting. How these questions are chosen depends on the church.

The Baton Rouge church in Louisiana has a very robust Chalice Circle Program. Their facilitators attend training and support meetings every month. Their Chalice Circles leaders choose questions from a book of sessions provided to the leaders or from the UU Small Group Ministry Network website, depending on the needs of the group.

One of the most striking elements to the Baton Rouge program is how they approach new members in their church. Potential new church members are required to attend a day long workshop, or 3 nights of classes, where among other things- they experience being in a Chalice Circle together. Being able to share and listen deeply is often what people are looking for from their church experience. While Sunday Worship can be inspiring, you can't experience the deep relationships that tend to happen quickly in a Chalice Circle. At the end of their New Member Orientation, members have a choice to join one of the existing Chalice Circles or form their own if a trained facilitator is available.

The leaders of our conference track stressed that starting and supporting a robust Covenant Group program takes substantial time, effort and commitment from a church. They recommended going through a planning and engagement process that can take more than 6 months before a church is ready to launch a program with trained facilitators and a program coordinator. However, Chalice Circles are one of the best ways to retain members and develop a church culture of deep and respectful listening.

A first step in supporting Covenant Groups at our church is to re-design our new member orientation process. We don't want to re-invent the wheel, so we will work off what we have, and what other churches use, to create a new member orientation that represents our church at its best. The Adult Religious Education Committee has agreed to support this effort with sponsorship from board member Eric Hepburn.

Editor's Note: The training track was led by Rev. Helen Zidowecki, Augusta, ME, Rev. Steve Crump and Diana Dorroh from Baton Rouge, LA, with full support from the UU SGM Network. Lansing is the Adult Religious Education staff member at First UU Church and has responsibility for covenant groups.

Thoughts on Challenges Facilitators Face in Making Small Group Ministry Available,
from Becky Smith,
Manatee UU Fellowship, Bradenton, FL

I have thoughts on making covenant groups more available to the elderly from being in a group with a participant who didn't like to drive in the dark. When we had the time change, our 5:30 start group was leaving in the dark and this made it more difficult for her to participate. I also have a group member who doesn't have a computer so that means an email message misses her and she needs a phone call. Also if people are hard of hearing they are isolated by that and if they don't hear all of what someone else says they can't participate. If they can't hear they can't listen.

Editor's Note: Please share your solutions to helping people participate in your covenant group.

Making Small Group Ministry Available -
Part 3 - Parents with Young Children
By Diana Dorroh

The series of subtopics on Making Small Group Ministry Available continues. This month's subtopic is Parents with Young Children.

My experience with involving parents of young children in covenant groups began about four years ago. I had noticed during the winter and spring of 2007 that we were getting young parents who could not participate in a covenant group unless childcare was provided. With the newcomers class in April, there were finally ten, enough to start a covenant group with childcare. The RE Director was supportive and willing to arrange paid childcare for the group at the church on one night a month. The church board allocated funds to pay the childcare workers. I planned to lead the group, but two capable and experienced leaders stepped forward after that first meeting and assured me that they were willing and able to lead the group. Our minister and I trained them and they became leaders. We continued to offer participation with childcare to graduates of our newcomer class. Within a year, the covenant group swelled to about 18 members and split. One leader went with the newer people and one stayed with the older members. New co-leaders were recruited from within the groups. Leaders from both groups attended the leaders' meetings and discussed their challenges and successes. Soon there was a third group meeting with the first two and one meeting on Wednesday night, when childcare is always provided for Choir Meeting and Wednesday RE programming.

This was a huge success for our church and was allowing us to grow in this critical demographic. These parents were coming into the newcomers class, signing up for a covenant group, attending church, bringing their children to RE on Sunday, joining the church and pledging. And there were at least 30 of them, mostly collected within two years. About this time, tension developed around the parents' concerns with the childcare provided and their own individual roles within the church. Some of the angst might have been avoided if we had included long-term members in the groups, either as leaders or group members to orient the new members to the church and help with problem solutions. Today we have three thriving groups. Members of these groups have gained experience as church members and leaders and are being asked to serve in a variety of ways. We added one leader with ten years of experience and UU SGM Institute training and we've added some members who do not need childcare to make the groups more random. Providing competent, reliable, and cheerful childcare on Friday nights continues to be a significant challenge, but a nice problem to have. As our minister, Rev. Steve Crump, says: "Dying churches don't have these problems."

I hope our story makes clear the power and benefits of inviting new members into your covenant groups and making childcare available to those who need it. Some planning is in order (1) to make sure the groups have experienced leadership, either as group leaders or participants, and (2) to get funding and appropriate organizational placement for supervision of the childcare.

There are, of course, other ways to make small group ministry available to parents of young children. When two parents want to participate, they can join groups on different nights. Also, some groups have had success with providing childcare for groups meeting in private homes. There are two articles below this one that describe other churches' experience. I know that many churches have made groups with childcare part of their programs and others are trying it. Send me your stories.

Note from Alan Backler,
UU Church of Bloomington, IN

The UU Church of Bloomington, IN schedules one of our small group ministry sessions on Thursday evenings. This is the evening that the church provides childcare for the choir and now also for small group ministry participants.

Child care is available to all. Only some of the SGM folks take advantage, but it is advertised as providing child care during sign-up. We have offered the service for at least 3 years.

Note from Sue Majors,
High Plains UU, Colorado Springs, CO

I enjoyed the article in the November CGNews about our High Plains Church. The first paragraph was written 3 years ago and is quite outdated. We now have a permanent minister and 12 groups with 122 members and friends participating. But thanks for the publicity. And as always, thanks for the news; it is great to know about others' struggles and successes.

We have started a parent/childcare group. Because parents need flexibility, we offer the group on Friday night at the church and the attendance varies. We have two trained facilitators who also come. If there are enough people for 2 groups, the facilitators divide the group into two smaller ones and they all discuss the same topics in different rooms. We have a childcare provider who has blocked out these Fridays for us and she has backup if needed. We do ask parents to let us know if they will be coming or not the day before but allow for emergencies of course. The topics this fall have been child centered. Two have been "Emotional Intelligence" and "Is parenthood a competitive sport?" At some point in the future, some of the participants may want to switch to personal spiritual growth topics. There is also the option of having 2 groups, one for child centered topics and one for more usual U and I topics. (paragraph repeated from November CG News)

We have been very deliberate about our U and I groups and actively recruit for them. We have developed a brochure for the U and I program that explains what the groups are, what is expected of the members, that they are led by trained facilitators, and how to enroll in a group. That brochure is included in our visitor packets, which are given to every visitor.

If the visitor has come several times and hasn't asked about U and I, we approach them and ask if they might be interested. Our minister also mentions SGM often during his time on Sunday morning, offering the groups as a vehicle for support and connections.

We do ask for a year commitment to the group if they join. We also ask that after a year, they either contribute financially to the church or make a contribution in kind. (We want them to be part of the whole community, not just small group ministry.)

We think we have a pretty good system going. Two of us act as the liaison for our small group ministry, so we are responsible for getting new people interested and placing them into groups, for training new facilitators, and supporting all facilitators. But the strength of the groups is in the facilitators. They are wonderful - committed to the program and their individual groups.

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

News & Events

New Opportunity from Peter Bowden

I am leading new online Small Group Ministry training this January. I just expanded the seating capacity so there is room for you. The four sessions will be recorded and shared with participants. You may participate live in all, some or none of the trainings and watch the recordings at your leisure.
Full details and registration at link below...
*Building Small Group Ministries that Work*
Presented by Peter Bowden * January 2011

Peter Bowden is a founding member of the UU Small Group Ministry Network and, until a few years ago, managed the website.

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

Learn about Small Group Ministry/Covenant Groups
Share your experiences
Make a difference

Flier will be available in January, cost will be the same as 2010:
Cost: Lodging and Program Fee: $350, with $25 discount for registration before June 1, and $25 discount for UU Small Group Ministry Network members (from a Member Congregation, and individual members)

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.

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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