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January 2012

Small Groups, Deep Connections January 2012
The UU Small Group Ministry Network
Covenant Group News
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In This Issue
  • Letter from the Editor
  • The Session Was a Dud -- Rev. Steve J. Crump, Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, LA
  • Time-Limited Groups -- Peg Herbert, UU Church of Concord, NH
  • Stories from the Covenant Group Leaders at the UU Congregation of Atlanta -- Linda Serra, Atlanta GA
  • A Request for Social Justice Themed Sessions for Use at General Assembly 2012
  • News and Events
  • Publications
  • Who We Are
  • Contact Us

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Letter from the Editor

Greetings. I hope your covenant group has already had one or two meaningful meetings in 2012. Please consider sending me your experiences, stories, issues, or successes for inclusion in the next issue of Covenant Group News.

Time-Limited Groups from Peg Herbert, UU Church of Concord, New Hampshire explores the myth from the October 2011 CG News--all groups must be time limited The length of time your groups continue is, in reality, a program design choice. Hopefully, the choice you have made is the right one for your congregation.

In the November/December 2011 issue of Covenant Group News we began a discussion of the myth that facilitators meetings don't work. The Session Was a Dud by Rev. Steve J. Crump, Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, LA illustrates an important part of having facilitators meetings work--including a blessing from the minister as part of the meeting. In our last facilitators meeting in Baton Rouge, some of the leaders reported that their sessions had not gone as well as they had hoped. Rev. Crump's closing message reminded them how valuable their work is, even when the session is a dud. You may also read this piece as blessing and support for your own work as a member or leader of a small group.

We have Stories from the Covenant Group Leaders at the UU Congregation of Atlanta from Linda Serra, UU Small Group Ministry Network Board member and a request for social justice themed sessions for use at Justice General Assembly in Phoenix, AZ in 2012.

In February, we'll begin to explore the program design choice of the number of meetings per month. "Groups must meet twice a month" and "Groups must meet only once a month" are the associated myths. Please send me your thoughts and experiences on this topic. We will also conclude the series on the Evolution of Small Group Ministry by Rev. Helen Zidowecki, UU SGM Network Board President.

The UU Small Group Ministry Network is financially independent of the UUA. It depends upon membership and publications sales to cover the 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. As a member, you will receive the Quarterly journal by email or by mail.

The Winter issue of the Quarterly was sent to SGM Network members in December. It featured "How to Really Listen," the story of Emerson Listening Circles in Marietta, GA, and the first of three articles on elements that enable deep sharing in covenant groups. If you aren't currently a member, consider joining the Network to receive these issues.

The Network website,, contains information about the UU Small Group Ministry Network, articles by leaders in the SGM 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.

If you are a coordinator and would like all the facilitators in your program to receive Covenant Group News, just send me the church name, city and state and facilitator names and emails and we'll add them to the email list.

Please share your ideas, questions, and experiences with the other 1,500 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

Time-Limited Groups -- Peg Herbert,
Unitarian Universalist Church of Concord, New Hampshire

The Concord UU church has an amazing Covenant Group program. It was started 10 years ago and has grown from 6 groups to 14 groups and has over 150 participants. Some folks have left but many of the original members are still active in the groups they started in. All meet once a month and have taken in new members when needed.

When the committee designed the program, it was decided that groups would be ongoing. It wasn't until I became more involved with Small Group Ministry at the district level that I learned that there were churches that started their groups fresh each fall. I was intrigued with this idea and, as chair of the facilitators, I mentioned this idea at one of our meetings. The response I got was unanimous. While everyone would like to meet more people, no one was willing to leave their group. The bonds that have been formed are deep, personal and treasured.

It amazes me at how quickly this happens. When I began a 4-week short-term group to give folks a taste of SGM, I expected to ease them into ongoing groups once our time together ended. No way! This group did not want to break up and so five years later, we are still meeting.

We have tried a couple of things to allow for more interaction. One is a Pot Luck Mix-Up. We open it up to both current SGM participants and to people who just want to try it. After sharing a meal together, we break into groups and discuss the night's topic. This has been very successful. The other thing was to offer all the Covenant group members a chance to switch groups if they so wished. I have only had two people take me up on it.

I can see advantages to short-term groups but I think for that format to be successful, this has to be part of the original plan. I know in our church, we will never change!

The Session Was A Dud --
The Reverend Steve J. Crump,
Sr. Minister, Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge

So, there you are at the end of a small group meeting. You are the leader/facilitator and you're hearing from some of the group members, more than a few actually, that tonight's discussion topic was, well, a dud. Active listening means precisely that, listening, not moving into a courtroom drama posture of defending a client. So, you listened. Was the evening a waste?

I doubt it. Assuming that the feedback portion of the meeting was not a gripe session, achieving honesty is a sign of the group taking responsibility for itself. Small group session outlines are not created in vacuums. They are written in a context and probably test-driven. In our church, we've written several sessions and when we do, much gets left on the cutting room floor. But a group that is expressing itself with honesty about its needs is a group that is trusting itself and taking responsibility for the group's experience.

Consider again the benefits of the small group. The fact that adults meet for two hours to be together for quality face-to-face meeting is a rare and remarkable experience in our high-tech-low touch-rush-at-the-speed-of-light-world. That's what adults in our society are saying. I consider such precious time an achievement in the post-modern era.

As for disagreements concerning a discussion topic that didn't get an Academy Awards nomination? It is probably best not to worry too much about it. What is done is done. Next month your group will launch another topic. But your group members will be together again. The holy intentional gathering is the main thing.

As we mature spiritually, we learn not to take everything at face value. There is more going on in a small group beyond our awareness and beyond our knowledge than we probably ever realize or will ever fully appreciate. There is more to it than an expression of our likes or our wishes. There is holy meeting. Part of being a good leader is reminding yourself of this reality from time to time.

Stories from the Covenant Group Leaders at the Unitarian-Universalist Congregation of Atlanta --
by Linda Serra, Lay Minister and Covenant Group Coordinator

People who facilitate covenant groups for the Unitarian-Universalist Congregation of Atlanta (UUCA) play active and critical roles within the congregation. I am always amazed and delighted to witness the strength, power, and skill our facilitators bring to their covenant groups, and to the entire congregation. They use intuition and explicit knowledge. They communicate the essence of small group ministry and create and maintain cohesive groups that develop intimacy and explore spiritual growth. They do this with exciting enthusiasm. I'd like to illustrate their commitment and experiences through their own words.

"We meet monthly to discuss mutually agreed upon topics," says Tony Stringer. "Our sessions begin with sharing food, a check-in, a musical selection related to the topic, a 1-hour discussion, and a closing reading. Our meetings are full of laughter and hugs. We discuss topics both serious and fun, and get to know each other. In our last session, we shared our beliefs about death. We've discussed the "micro-oppressions" we've witnessed or experienced. We've brought a musical selection that spoke to us as individuals. The selections included classical and contemporary jazz, Latin music, gospel music, and "house rock," which had us dancing and head banging. As we've grown closer, we've found time to share holiday festivities and care for one another during pastoral emergencies. By any definition, the first 'Cultural Mosaic' covenant group has been a success."

Jill Pohl, a long-time member of one of our more established groups, says, "Initially, our group had an identified facilitator, but it became a chore none of us wanted. We decided to work as a group. Now, before we depart at the end of each meeting, we choose who will host the following month. During the next few weeks that person contacts us all with a topic and some provoking thoughts to get us going. They then prepare readings and chalice lighting words. This has worked fine for the past few years!"

UUCA has instituted groups that pursue spiritual growth from different perspectives. "This is the third 'Artist Way' covenant group I have facilitated at UUCA," says Helen Goldberg . What I love is that each group is so very different and diverse, and yet so very much the same. There is a common thread woven through all human beings in their search for deeper meaning and understanding of our authentic self. Most of us are still trying to figure out what we want to be when we grow up, and are frightened by the thought that it's too late. It isn't. As facilitator, I have the privilege of giving people permission to put themselves first, to try new things, and unearth their inherent creativity. We laugh, we cry and we go out on a limb. You have to go out on a limb if you want to harvest the fruit. For it is only when we actually do that, can we truly be of service to others." "Our 'Good Life' Covenant Group has evolved and been going strong for well over two years, with very consistent attendance," says Charlene Hurt. "There are times I suspect they'd be happy just having a social group, but our discussions related to spiritual growth are always lively and thoughtful. Just thinking about our covenant group makes me happy -- we are a caring community. I think our commitment to the covenants is the key to our success, and how good we are to each other."

Recently, UUCA launched a covenant group co-facilitated by Jean Harsch and Ortrude White for people facing memory loss and their care givers. Jean says, "We hope this covenant group will offer each couple loving support and enhance the spiritual and psychological growth in this journey of living with dementia." "We named our group 'Journeying Friends' because we seek to support each other in what is a very difficult life transition on a perilous road with few guideposts. In this covenant group we each seek spiritual sustenance as well as community support," says Ortrude.

Julie Witt and Michael Halpern agreed to start a new covenant group about three years ago. "Michael and I were surprised by the invitation to facilitate a covenant group because neither of us had ever participated in one; in fact, we were not familiar with the entire concept. We decided that it was up to us as guides, together with our members, to create a fulfilling experience while maintaining a flexible adherence to typical covenant group protocol. By focusing on philosophical, psychological and personal growth, our discussions flow naturally and go where the members take them. This flexibility has helped us to create a comfortable and open spirit, rewarding on many levels," says Julie.

Laurina Florio facilitates one of UUCA's LGBTQ covenant groups, QUUest. Laurina says, "We just celebrated our 5 year anniversary this fall. The group's strength is rooted in the members' commitment to the group, supporting one another on our individual spiritual journeys, and in its diversity. One member of the group is responsible for coming up with the topic each month and then leads the discussion. This role rotates among the group members. The members of the group range widely in age, sex, and spiritual backgrounds, among other things, which seems to bring a healthy energy to the shared experience and our discussions."

Within and between the lines of these statements by a few of our UUCA facilitators you get a glimpse of the care, commitment and skill required to lead a covenant group. Their talents are many, and include how they listen, accept silences, maintain contact, and demonstrate their willingness to focus on what the individual says rather than what they are going to say next. They honor their members and create a safe environment within which all can thrive. As covenant group leaders, they focus less on management and more on affirmation. Silently, they say, "Listening, to be successful, is an active process."

Social Justice As Spritual Practice

Engaging, Sustaining, Reflecting on Social Justice Work Through Small Group Ministry

We are looking for session plans for Small Group Ministry/Covenant Groups regarding Social Justice Work, specifically:
*Mindful Engagement and preparation to do Social Justice work.
*Sustainability of Spirit and Action.
*Bringing General Assembly experience back to the congregation.
*Social Justice as part of living our UU faith
*Issues as Immigration and Migration, and Racial and Economic Justice.

We look forward to receiving your session plans. We will be establishing the a Social Justice section on the Sessions section of the Network website, and are planning a Social Justice resource to be available at GA.

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 all events, more details and registration information.

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

Small Group Ministry with All Ages
Explores multigenerational covenant groups and their integration into congregations. Implementation strategies, leader training, session development, and session plans for children through elders are included. June 2011
BOOK Network Members: $20 plus $6 shipping Non-members: $30 plus $6 shipping CD Network Members: $15 plus $2 shipping Non-members: $20 plus $2 shipping

Spiritual Journeys: 101 Session Plans for Small Group Ministry Programs
Sessions on Spiritual Journeying, Personal Beliefs and Values, Spiritual Challenges, Holidays, and more. Themes drawn from art, literature, UU liturgy and hymnals, current events, and religious scriptures. June 2010.
CD Network Members: $15 plus $2 shipping Non-members: $20 plus $2 shipping

Small Group Ministry 2010: Celebrating Congregations. Over 100 congregations relate their SGM program origins, challenges and success stories.

Small Group Ministry for Youth. Twenty-five sessions for middle and high school youth.

Implementing Small Group Ministry. Download from Online Resources.

Facilitator Training and Development Manual. A guide for training and support plus a handbook on CD to customize for group leaders and facilitators.

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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