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February 2012

Small Groups, Deep Connections February 2012
The UU Small Group Ministry Network
Covenant Group News
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Small Group Ministry and Covenant Group
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In This Issue
  • Letter from the Editor
  • Monthly or Semi-Monthly Covenant Group Meetings?
  • Meeting Twice a Month is Ideal --MaryBeth Brizzolara, Towson UU Church, Lutherville, MD
  • Long-Term Success Is More Attainable with Once a Month Meetings--Peg Hebert, UU Church of Concord, NH
  • The Evolution of Small Group Ministry: Part 3: Small Group Ministry for Everyone--Rev. Helen Zidowecki, President, UU SGM Network
  • 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. Have you felt heard and accepted in your covenant group this month? Consider sharing your experience and feelings with the 1530 other CG News subscribers.

This month, we explore the twin myths: "Covenant groups must meet twice a month" and "Covenant groups must meet only once a month." MaryBeth Brizzolara, Towson UU Church, Lutherville, MD and Peg Hebert, UU Church of Concord, NH share their congregations' different choices with us. Please send me your thoughts and experience with meeting frequency.

In addition, we have the next installment in a series--The Evolution of Small Group Ministry: Part 3: Small Group Ministry for Everyone by Rev. Helen Zidowecki, President, UU SGM Network.

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 Spring issue of the Quarterly will be mailed to members of the UU SGM Network in March. It will include Learning to Listen and Share Deeply, Part II of an ongoing article; Birthing: My First Covenant Group Experience by Elizabeth Asnes, First UU Church of Houston, TX; and Small Group Ministry: What We've Learned by the program coordinators at UU of the Cumberland Valley, Boiling Springs, PA. If you aren't currently a member, consider joining the Network to receive this issue.

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 1,530 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

Monthly or Semi-Monthly Covenant Group Meetings?

This month, we 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.

Meeting at least once a month is one of the basic elements of small group ministry. This decision may have been made years ago by the founders of your program and changing from once a month (monthly) to twice a month (semi-monthly) or vice versa might be difficult. However, as you reassess the goals of your program, you might want to consider making a change.

Meeting monthly
Advantages --
*Easier for participants and therefore may allow more people to participate.
*Easier for the leaders, as they must also attend a leaders meeting and therefore may allow more people to be leaders
Disadvantages --
*It may take longer to achieve deep sharing
*If a person misses a meeting, then he or she will "go" two months without a meeting.

Meeting semi-monthly
*Bonding and sharing will happen sooner
*Missing a meeting only results in a month between meetings, not two months.
*Fewer people may be able to participate
*There may be fewer people willing to lead, as leaders may have 3 meetings to attend per month.

If you are designing short-term groups, say 9 months or even 6 months, you might want to have the groups meet twice a month, so there will be time for bonding and deep sharing to occur.

If your groups are long-term and especially if they meet 12 months each year, you might decide that there will be time for bonding and deep sharing to occur.

If your congregational goal is to provide an optimum small group experience, you'll likely choose semi-monthly; whereas, if you want maximum participation, you'll likely consider monthly meetings.

Please send me your stories and your congregation's choice of the frequency of meetings and the goals achieved by that choice.

Meeting Twice a Month is Ideal --
MaryBeth Brizzolara, Chalice Circle Facilitator, Towson UU Church, Lutherville, MD

We meet twice a month and I think that is ideal. Most of our members have very busy, stressful lives. Sharing is an important part of our meetings, sometimes more important than the session topic. I think monthly sessions would weaken the cohesiveness of our group and, perhaps, result in less regular attendance.

Long-Term Success Is More Attainable with Once a Month Meetings--
Peg Hebert, Unitarian Universalist Church of Concord, NH

Being on the Northern NE District Small Group Ministry committee has given me the opportunity to speak with many people about their experiences with Covenant Groups. What I discovered was that while many churches developed programs at about the same time that we did back in 2001, many of these same programs have floundered. Churches that began with 10-12 groups now had 2-3 active groups. People are often astounded to find out that not only has our program not floundered, it has grown from 6 to 15 groups and now includes 150 participants. They want to know what we do that has led to this success.

There are of course, many reasons. But I think a key one is the fact that we only meet once a month and that is what I tell people who ask. Our goal has always been having long term groups that are going to be together for many years so this model works well for that. I know we would have lost people if they were expected to come to a meeting more often. Lives are busy and carving out a twice a month time can be challenging.

If the goal of a program is new groups every year with the opportunity to meet a variety of church members, then meeting twice a month can work. Folks can sign up for the year and at the end, they can decide whether to join a new group the following year. But I have come to feel that long-term success is more attainable with once a month meetings.

The Evolution of Small Group Ministry: Part 3: Small Group Ministry for Everyone--
Rev. Helen Zidowecki, President, UU SGM Network

First Evolution: Making Small Group Ministry Unitarian Universalist is from an evangelical model to a vital Unitarian Universalist model for congregations (CGN, Oct. 2011). The Second Evolution: From the Small Group to the Congregation is learning a different way of being with each other in small groups that affects the entire congregation (CGN Nov. 2011).

But I believe that we are in the Third Evolution. This is expectation and entitlement. People are increasingly coming to our congregations looking for Small Group Ministry. People go to websites looking for Small Group or Covenant Group Ministry. Or they find the description that invites connections. Visibility! Expectations!

Michael Durall, who works with churches in various denominations, noted in his article "Small Group Ministry: A Requirement for Church Membership Small Group Ministry Quarterly, Fall 2010 that in some churches there is expectation that new members will participate in a specific number of sessions, with invitation to join ongoing groups in some UU congregations. He describes three levels of Small Group Ministry: 1) for newcomers to get to know the church, the faith and fellow congregants; 2) growing deeper in the faith; and 3) outreach and service that comes from being part of the faith community. These certainly seem applicable to UU congregations. So what are our expectations?

There are benefits of having everyone be part of Small Group Ministry. This becomes a way of "doing church" and makes Small Group Ministry a part of the congregational function. But a major tenant of our tradition is choice -- to join or not. In reality, ministry and the deep listening may not be what a person wants or can relate do. Or an individual may be looking for something else from a group, such as therapy, or an educational focus or more social focus.

However, I challenge congregations to work toward developing and making Small Group Ministry available and accessible to as many people as possible. What does this mean?

*There will be a commitment of resources (time, financial resources and leadership development) by congregation.
*Specific attention is given to factors of diversity, accessibility, and people with special considerations: transportation, physical needs (including allergies), child care, time of meeting options.
*People need to be allowed to not participate without judgment, so that the creation of two congregations (those in and those not in small group ministry) is avoided. This is accompanied by an ongoing invitation to connect with Small Group Ministry at any time.

And there is the intentional focus: making groups available to all ages: There are resources for including Small Group Ministry with younger children and youth, young adults, adults, and at the other end of the continuum, for later life and elders. . And the possibility of having groups of mixed ages - youth and adults together, family groups, and groups for parents. The potential is explored in the Network publication, Small Group Ministry for All Ages.

Let's make Small Group Ministry a viable option for everyone connected with our congregations as members or friends!

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

Social Media

In keeping up with the newest technologies, we are working to help others keep up with our activities and join the conversations by expanding to social media.

We have added some new pages to Facebook. First is the Small Group Ministry Network group, in which people are encouraged to post their own thoughts and comments. We will also be posting some events and announcements there as well.

Another group is the UU Small Group Ministry Lab, which is general discussion area to exchange ideas, resources and session content.

If you are not yet a member of Facebook, joining is completely free to everyone.

We have also started a blog, entitled Small Groups, Deep Connections, to help share older materials to a larger public as well as new articles and announcements. It is still being developed, and can be found here

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 (
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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