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Late June - Early July 2011

Small Groups, Deep Connections Late June - Early July 2011
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In This Issue
  • Letter from the Editor
  • Making Small Group Ministry Available - Part 7 - to New Members and Newcomers Class Graduates
  • Response from Claude VanderVeen, First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, WI to a Question in the May Issue of CG News
  • Note from Susan Jordan, Emerson UU Congregation, Marietta, GA on Additional Issues to Consider Before Making SGM Available to Youth
  • 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:

Individual and congregational memberships are our major source of revenue.
The Network is financially independent of the UUA.
Letter from the Editor


The UU SGM Network Institute returns to Camp deBenneville Pines, Angeles Oaks, CA, August 30 - September 2. See a full description of the Institute and how it can benefit you and your program under News and Events, below. It is always educational, as we explore the basics and the cutting edge issues together, but it is also inspirational and exciting to make close connections with other people who are implementing small group ministry in their home congregations. I hope to see you there this year. The Network has received a grant from the UUA Fund for Unitarian Universalism that allows us to decrease the registration fee to $300 with discounts of $25 for Network members and for those who register by July 22. For those who need to fly, this same grant also allows us to offer free local transportation between Ontario, CA and Camp deBenneville Pines.

The UU Small Group Ministry Network booth at General Assembly was as exciting as ever. Susan Hollister, UU SGM Network Treasurer, organized and supervised the booth, but we also had about 20 volunteers. It seemed to the Network Board members present that small group ministry was mentioned at more workshops and presentations this year and, from conversations at the booth, that small group ministry programs are an increasingly important part of our churches' organizations, as well as their ministries. There were three kinds of experiences that Susan and I and other volunteers had at the booth this year:

(1) More ministers visited than in years past. A typical communication with a minister involved a description of a successful program and a specific question or request for resources.

(2) Another type of visitor we had was more often a lay person who said that one of the parts of his/her church's model was not working well at all.
Often, over time, the church had allowed its model to deteriorate and dropped some of the basics, such as the discussion period or allowed the discussion to become academic, rather than based on the lives of the participants.
And equally often, churches had created small group ministry myths. That is, they had made some optional elements part of their basic model and were not able to make adjustments when the elements weren't working well. An example was ending groups after one year. Many churches choose to do this for all or some of their groups, but it is not a necessary part of small group ministry. You'll be hearing more later about these small group ministry myths.
A good reference for what is basic to small group ministry and the factors to be considered when making the remaining choices is Implementing Small Group Ministry, which is available on Network website Free Online Resources page.

(3) We heard stories from many congregations about having trouble with attendance at facilitators meetings. Again, a topic you'll hear more about later. If you've had problems or good experiences with your facilitators/leaders meetings, send me a note at

The Network's workshop, sponsored again by the GA Planning Committee: "Small Group Ministry Across Generations" was attended by over a hundred participants and our new publication Small Group Ministry with All Ages, by Rev. Helen Zidowecki, sold well. See the note under Publications below for more information and to find out how to order a copy.

I have included a short article on Making Small Group Ministry Available to New Members and Newcomers Class Graduates. The remaining subtopic in the Making Small Group Ministry Available series is Extra Care Required Members and Long-Term Members. Please send me your experiences with making small group ministry available to members who require extra care and long-term members.

In this issue, we have a response from Claude VanderVeen, First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, WI to a question from the May CG News involving challenges to the need for silence during check in. Also, we have a note from Susan Jordan, Emerson UU Congregation, Marietta, GA. Susan adds to my list of things my congregation is considering before making sgm available to youth.

The SGM Quarterly - Summer 2011 issue contained:
"Connections" by Steve Becker, Westside UU Congregation, Seattle, WA
"Learning as Spiritual Practice" by Rev. Dr. Brent Smith, Grand Rapids, MI
Personal Credos by Bill Mahony, Eno River UUF, Durham, NC
Membership & SGM by Laura House-Kelly, Main Line Unitarian Church, Devon, PA
"SGM Program at the UU Church in Eugene" by Dick Loescher, Eugene, OR

Why not join the UU Small Group Ministry Network now and receive this issue now.

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 and $25 off of Institute registrations.

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 1,431 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 7 -
New Members and Newcomers Class Graduates -
by the Editor

In 1999, the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge adopted the Roots and Branches model, described by Rev. Brent Smith in the Summer Quarterly. An important part of this model is inviting graduates of the newcomers (Roots) class to join a covenant (Branches) group. Our church's initial goal was to create a program that would allow new members to make a connection to a small group and to the church. There were two initial problems: persuading the participants to join a group and finding leaders for the groups. As time went by, the Branches program became a well-known part of our church and was an easier "sell." Also, our minister, Rev. Steve Crump, talked in each class session about the benefits of joining a group, so that by the last session, most were ready to join. Also, in the early years, forming so many new groups created a constant need for new facilitators, but somehow Rev. Crump, and I found qualified leaders and trained them before the last session of the Roots class was held. Our groups continue indefinitely and most members stay with their group. So... after about five years, half of our congregation belonged to a covenant group. After about seven years, more than 60% of our congregation belonged to a group. Currently, we have 24 Branches groups and 250 participants, including about 40 facilitators. If better retention of new members is one of your goals, I highly recommend a concerted effort to get them into a covenant group.

Since 1999, our congregation has grown from 300 members to 390 members. When most members of a congregation participate in small group ministry, membership retention improves and this creates a potential for numeric growth. Another benefit of having most congregation members in a covenant group is the tendency for group participants to be in right relationship in other church settings and to listen and accept other church members. This can make the inevitable church conflicts more civilized.

Recently, I'm hearing that more congregations are intentionally inviting new members and graduates of their newcomers classes to join a covenant group. At one of the GA workshops, a staff member from a church with more than 950 certified members described an experience of intentionally "putting" new members into covenant groups and, over time, having 700 members in small group ministry. I'm in the process of contacting the sgm coordinator at this congregation, so that you can hear their whole story.

Send me your experiences with including new members and newcomers class graduates in your small group ministry program.

Response from Claude VanderVeen,
First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, WI
to a Question in May CG News

Repeat of the Question from Loretta Carmickle, Co-Coordinator, Small Group Ministry/Covenant Circles, UUC Amado/Green Valley, AZ
At least one of our groups feels that listening without comment during check in is "too much structuring" of the model and feels that it hinders rather than promoting intimacy. They would like to take time during check in to respond to personal needs expressed, feeling that this is a way to minister to one another. How should I respond to this?

Claude's Response:

I, too, like to stress the practice of listening during check in. Much of normal conversation is listening with some attention, while formulating a response with some attention. Here is a solution that works for my group: we listen with all our ears during check in. Then the facilitator asks the members for "other words", which can be a brief response to a member concern, an insight into the topic of our last meeting, something I forgot to include in my own check in that I feel is important, etc. If a member wants to respond in more depth, then they may covenant to meet after the Chalice Circle. I like to think of "other words" as a postscript. An added plus is that I don't have to attend too much to not leaving something out on my check in. This second chance helps.

Here is a fun story that I tell my people periodically. I do not know its provenance.
Once there was a Novice who took a vow of silence for 5 years. At the end of 5 years, she still did not speak, nor after 6, then 7 years. Someone gently asked out of concern, and the Novice said, "When I can improve on the silence, then I will speak."
Be well, and thank you for this Ministry.

Note from Susan Jordan,
Emerson UU Congregation, Marietta, GA
UU SGM Steering Committee
on Additional Issues to Consider
Before Making SGM Available to Youth

We at Emerson UU Congregation in Marietta are just beginning our Emerson Listening Circles in September. We discussed having a SGM program for youth and decided to wait because of the obstacles you described and others we may not have thought of.

  • How will the youth feel if there are two adults present (... with criminal background checks)?
  • If we meet in someone's home, will we need two adults (... with criminal background checks)?
  • Will it be a Sunday morning program? ...
  • What happens to their regular Sunday program?
  • Would the format for Sunday RE be SGM once a month?
  • Will it compete with OWL?
  • Since many do not drive, it may be difficult to get them back for another church activity later in the day on Sundays.
  • Youth are busy with activities and studies. When would they be able to gather during the week?
  • Our RE Director, Beth Klein, says, "My dream is to offer an Interfaith Sr. High youth group for East Cobb based at Emerson that does community service work." ... Wouldn't this be an outstanding SGM program.

The bottom line for us is that we are going to start with adult programs. But we are very interested in learning about the joys and challenges of a program for youth.

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

News & Events

See Events for Details and Registration Information.

August 30-September 2, 2011
Camp deBenneville Pines, Angelus Oaks, CA

Flier and Registration Information
Learn about Small Group Ministry/Covenant Groups
Share your experiences <><> Make a difference

1. Field Testing Modules for workshops in congregations and on regional basis
2. New resource on Small Group Ministry for All Ages
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)

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! Small Group Ministry with All Ages, June 2011
Imagine a congregation where all ages are talking together. From its firm foundation in adult programming, Small Group Ministry is evolving to become an inclusive opportunity for all ages to connect, listen, reflect, and learn with each other. This publication explores small group ministry by age group and with mixed ages and presents ways for covenant groups to become an integral part of the momentum toward multigenerational congregations. Includes implementation strategies, session plan development, and sessions for single and multi-age groups.

Network Members: $20 plus $6 shipping     Non-members: $30 plus $6 shipping

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 $6 shipping     Non-members: $30 plus $6 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 $6 shipping     Non-members: $25 plus $6 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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