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January 2011

Small Groups, Deep Connections January 2011
The UU Small Group Ministry Network
Covenant Group News
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In This Issue
  • Letter from the Editor
  • Making Small Group Ministry Available - Part 4 - the Elderly
  • Comments on Making SGM Available to the Elderly from: Dottie Kelly, Unitarian Church, Baton Rouge, LA and Jan Bowden, UU Church of Little Rock, AR
  • Note from Sayer Johnson, First UU Alton, IL
  • News and Events
  • Publications
  • Who We Are
  • Contact Us

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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:

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Letter from the Editor

I'm aware that many of you are experiencing some challenging weather this January. I hope your group has been able to meet and continues to feed your soul.

In this issue, we begin to explore the topic of making small group ministry available to the elderly. We have comments from Dottie Kelly, Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, LA and Jan Bowden, Unitarian Church of Little Rock, AR. I hope you get some ideas on how to be more welcoming and inclusive to elderly members of your current group and will feel more comfortable asking an elderly person to join you.

Jan Bowden also asks whether others have experience handling members who do not attend often, but don't want to be taken off of the list. Send your ideas to I'll include them in the next issue.

Also in this issue, we have a note from Sayer Johnson, First UU Alton, IL, a new subscriber.

Mary Heafy, a UU from New Hampshire wrote to ask that I use "people first" language when describing someone with a disability and rephrase "Handicapped and non-Driving members" as "People with disabilities and/or members who do not drive." This respects the inherent worth and dignity of the person, identifying them first as a person and then with the descriptor. Mary has spent her entire career working in the field of disabilities and has promised to write about the February topic, both about people with physical disabilities and others, such as autism, mental health, etc.

The remaining subtopics in the Making Small Group Ministry Available series are:
February - People with disabilities and/or people who do not drive (please submit notes or articles by February 23, 2011 to me,
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 Spring 2011 SGM Quarterly will be distributed to UU SGM Network members in March. According to Quarterly staff member and Network Treasurer, Susan Hollister, it will include an article by Rev. Paul Johnson, UU Congregation at Shelter Rock; an interview with Rev. Marti Keller, UU Congregation of Atlanta, by Network Board member, Linda Serra; and an article on a newly revamped SGM program. If you or your congregation are not Network members, why not join now and receive this spring issue?

Note the training opportunities under News and Events. 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 restart or strengthen and improve your program. If you are flying, we will work together to arrange travel from the Ontario, CA airport to the camp.

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. Rev. Helen Zidowecki, website coordinator, reports that there are 50 new sessions on the website and that currently there are 300 sessions in all.

Please share your ideas, questions, and experiences with the other 1,420 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

Making Small Group Ministry Available -
Part 4 - the Elderly

I'm hoping to have a more complete article on this topic next later this year. For now, here are my thoughts and an experience.

Involving an elderly person in your group might require finding someone to give them a ride, adapting your facilitation style to make sure they stay included, and choosing some topics that allow them to express their current life concerns and issues.

Starting a group for the elderly might require choosing an accessible location, meeting in the daytime, and finding topics for all of the sessions that focus on the issues most important to the elderly, as well as adapting your facilitation style and getting rides for some members,

And now, my story. There is an elderly person in the group I currently lead. Let's call her Harriet. A family member usually brings her to meetings and participates in the group as well. When the family member is not available, someone else gives her a ride. For the first six meetings, Harriet participated in check-in, but then tended to "doze off" during the discussion and it was getting progressively more obvious. My co-leader and I just let that happen. After the sixth meeting, I decided that I was going to keep her engaged in the discussion topic, whether I was leading the session or not. Simple enough. I was just going to ask her a question as she was falling asleep. For the last two meetings, she has not slept and has participated actively, but she did it herself. I haven't had to ask her a question yet. Serendipity, grace, mystery---they all happen in covenant group meetings.

Comments on Making SGM Available to the Elderly -
Dottie Kelly, Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, LA

At the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge we are fortunate to have a campus that is 100% accessible for anyone with mobility impairment. We are proud of the forward thinking of those working with the architects in the 1980's when these things were not mandated by law but by consideration of others. This asset, and our members who enjoy it, directed our thinking to offering them access to our Branches program as well.

We then thought about members who may be avoiding joining one of our other 23 groups because of the inconvenience of driving at night, usually because of visual deficits. We also have members who do not drive or have no transportation and are seen at church only when transported by others. In January we started a new group meeting at the church at 10 AM on the same day of the month as our other daytime group. That group had immediately filled with active retirees who all drove when it opened a year ago. We hope to exchange rosters for the purpose of ride sharing and for a quarterly social lunch event following the two meetings. It is not totally an affinity group, because it has drawn someone who works an evening shift and is available only for a daytime group. But we have brought into the Small Group Ministry program another nine people who were not being served before this group.

Comments on Making SGM Available to the Elderly -
Jan Bowden, UU Church of Little Rock, AR

I enjoyed reading the most recent issue of the News. About a year ago, one elderly member of our covenant group moved into an assisted living center. She's much happier, and so is her husband!! Neither of them is driving very much at night anymore, so it was a "no-brainer" for our group to decide to have our meetings at the center. The facility has a nice, small meeting room and a very comfortable front lobby, so we can meet either place. Using the center means that Elaine can continue to participate and none of the rest of us has to clean our houses!

Another issue that you might explore sometime is that of attendance. My group has a core group of 6-7 who attend regularly, but there are a few others on the group's email list who attend rarely, if at all. But they still want to be counted as members. Do other groups have similar problems, and how do they deal with them?

Editor's Note: We discussed this very issue at our Leaders Meeting in Baton Rouge this week. Several leaders said it usually resolves itself and the member starts attending regularly or drops out. Another leader said that she has a member who comes only occasionally when she has a problem and seems like a stranger to the group. Yet another leader told a story about talking to the member about being taken off the email list, getting agreement, and then being accused later by a third party of removing someone from her group. There was general agreement that having such a member interferes with intimacy in the group. One of the issues is: When does the health and intimacy level of the group outweigh the value of being there for members who do not attend regularly, but need to continue to be part of the group? Send me your thoughts on handling group members who do not attend regularly.

Note from Sayer Johnson -
First UU Alton, IL

I am co-facilitator of the Parents Seeking Peace Chalice circle. We also support a LGBTQ chalice of which I am a member. We have a 50 plus group, a women's chalice a men's chalice and a "general" chalice group that meets at a person's home and serves two local churches.

I have been involved for about 3 years and I am always looking for good topic. We are always trying to "grow" our group. We have lots of parents. We are a growing congregation...I think we have just about moved away from a family church to the next level. Since I have been here we have gone from about 30 regulars to about 70 and moved from one service to two.

I am very invested in the spiritual health of the church and I believe small groups are what made me feel most a "part" of the community.

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

News & Events

Advanced FacilitationWorkshop
For Small Group Ministry

Saturday, February 26, 2011
First Unitarian Society of Newton
1326 Washington Street, West Newton, MA 02465
Registration and Coffee at 8:30
Workshop 9 - 4:30

See Events for Details and Registration Information.

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
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