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March 2012

Small Groups, Deep Connections March 2012
The UU Small Group Ministry Network
Covenant Group News
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In This Issue
  • Letter from the Editor
  • Contribution to the February Topic, Anne Haynes, UU Church of Bloomington, Bloomington, IN
  • Facilitator Meetings: Myth and Magic Explored, Rebakah Feeser, UU of the Cumberland County, Boiling Springs, PA
  • A Note from Jim Spicer, South Church, UU Congregation, Portsmouth New Hampshire
  • 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. What blessings have you received from your covenant group this year? What challenges has your group experienced? Consider sharing your experience with the 1540 other CG News subscribers.

Next month's focus will be our fourth myth: During the topic portion of the meeting, there must be no response or interchange of experience. As with the check-in, each person speaks with no verbal response and body language is kept to a minimum. Many programs adopt this practice. It seems to work well and maximizes the power of listening and being listened to by 7-11 other caring people. Other congregational small group ministry (sgm) models allow interchange and leaders say that it allows synergy to occur and makes it more meaningful to everyone. This has been an exciting topic at several of our UU SGM Institutes. So, I know some of you have strong feelings about this and I want to hear them.

This month, we continue our February exploration of the twin myths: "Covenant groups must meet twice a month" and "Covenant groups must meet only once a month" with a third alternative from Anne Haynes, Bloomington, IN. Please send me your thoughts and experience with meeting frequency.

In November/December and January we explored the myth: Facilitators' meetings don't work. I realize that the term "myth" may seem dismissive. In particular, facilitators' meetings are a critical way to connect the groups to the congregation and to support the facilitators, so if they don't work, this can be a serious problem for congregations and the sgm program coordinators and steering teams. However, there is hope for restructuring the meetings so that they do work. In this issue we have a rousing success story from Rebakah Feeser, one of the coordinators of the sgm program at the Unitarian Universalists of the Cumberland County, Boiling Springs, PA.

And finally, we have an interesting note from Jim Spicer, UU Congregation, Portsmouth, NH. Jim's details about the program in Portsmouth provide some response to our series questions about the number of meetings per month and the choice of continuing versus time-limited groups. Most encouraging to me was his story about getting the $100 budgeted for a congregational membership in the UU Small Group Ministry Network. Keeping the Network functioning so that we can share ideas and resources and develop new ideas together depends upon congregational support.

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 was mailed to members of the UU SGM Network in March. It includes 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; Young, Small, Lay-led, and Covenant Groups Too? from Harrisonburg UU Fellowship in Virginia; and Small Group Ministry: What We've Learned by the program coordinators at UUs of the Cumberland Valley, Boiling Springs, PA. If you aren't currently a member, consider joining the Network to receive this and future 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

Contribution to the February Topic:
Monthly or Semi-Monthly Covenant Group Meetings?

From Anne Haynes, UU Church of Bloomington, Bloomington, IN

There is another alternative that we use here in Bloomington - meeting every three weeks. We usually have at least one group that meets on this schedule, out of nine or ten total groups. The group is advertised to meet, for example, Monday evenings every three weeks. I've been in a group like this, and it can work well as long as the entire group agrees on all the meeting dates at the beginning of the year. It pulls in people for whom twice a month would be too much and once a month is not often enough.

Facilitator Meetings: Myth and Magic Explored,
Rebakah Feeser, Coordinator of the SGM Program
Unitarian Universalists of the Cumberland County, Boiling Springs, PA, along with Anne Gero and Kit Franklin.

In response to the November/December and January CG News Topic:

"Facilitator meetings don't work." Have you heard the rumor traveling and proliferating across the miles (as any good rumor does)? Or, as Diana Dorroh, Editor of Covenant Group News wrote in her email requesting this article: "...there seems to be a myth, "facilitator meetings don't work."

So how can we at the Unitarian Universalist congregation of the Cumberland Valley (UUCV) explain the reality that our facilitator meetings are working? Though our experience and this article challenge the myth, as both a coordinator and small group facilitator I must acknowledge that the definition of myth does offer some useful information. This is a story about "heros" (and heroines) explaining the beginnings of what we see as a natural and relevant phenomenon in the life of our program.

When our Small Group Ministry (SGM) began approximately 10 years ago, it consisted of small groups with coordinators meeting periodically to oversee the program. Those meetings did not include the facilitators, and some think that the facilitators not meeting regularly contributed to some groups straying from SGM principles. However, it became clear that for the program to thrive, structures needed to be put in place to encourage its growth. Our current efforts build on this foundation. And though the coordinators have changed over the years, the commitment to supporting and enhancing the work of the small group facilitators has not. For example, the coordinators have a covenant, as do the facilitators and each small group. This "parallel process" is likely responsible for keeping the program viable as we commit each time we meet to the promises that direct our work together.

In 2009, the facilitators' group created a covenant that we still use. We have shortened it to simply stating the intentions rather than detailing how these are implemented at each meeting. As this is central to our meetings, it seems appropriate to include it here...

"As a facilitator of the UUCV Small Group Ministry, I commit myself to these behaviors listed below:

quality participation by:

  • Giving these meetings priority on my schedule and by notifying the convener if I cannot attend or will be late.
  • Participating or passing during activities and sharing.
  • Increasing my understanding of small group ministry.
  • Improving my skills as a SGM facilitator.

effective communication by:

  • Listening deeply to others without interrupting.
  • Speaking my own truth as I understand it.
  • Using "I" messages to respectfully reflect to others what I see in their behavior, especially when that behavior might be harmful to self or others.
  • Using healthy conflict-resolution skills.

respectful behavior by:

  • Allowing and expecting differences of opinions and beliefs
  • Keeping what is said in group as confidential, believing that each person's story is their own to share.
  • Seeking permission to share someone's story BEFORE I share it (except when their safety or someone else's safety may be at risk).

supportive behavior by:

  • Encouraging others' expression of thoughts and ideas - even when they conflict with my own.
  • Helping each other to face life issues and needs.

developing our spirituality by:

  • Being mindful that the SGM mission is to facilitate individual growth, personal connections and congregational energy.
  • Being mindful that UUCV's mission is to transform lives and to care for the world.
  • Being mindful of the UU principles and sources of inspiration.

Approved and adopted as the UUCV Facilitators Group Covenant on 9/13/09

Our meetings are held bi-monthly and coordinators meet before each facilitator meeting to plan, and after to evaluate. In the past these meetings occurred the first Sunday of odd-numbered months from 5:00 to 8:00 pm. We met at various member homes beginning with a meal that coordinators would arrange and participants would help subsidize. As our program grew, however, we needed to meet at the Meeting House instead. The format of the meetings includes check in, current small group problem solving, and a training component. Training topics have included the following: Non-Blaming Communication, Deep Listening, Session Planning, Program Evaluation, Sharing Favorite Sessions, Service Projects, Planning a SGM Worship Service, Phases of Groups, and Reframing.

Now that I've outlined the basic structure of our Facilitator meetings, let me also state my belief that part of what makes us remain viable is our openness to change. Specifically, after receiving feedback from various facilitators, we have recently changed our meeting time and length of sessions, and are now meeting after church from 12:30 to 2:30 pm on the 3rd Sunday of every odd number month. While such details may seem incidental, we take individual member requests/needs into account as well as the larger contextual needs of the congregation. For example, what assists us in communicating facilitator details is our Facilitator Listserv. Utilizing this tool offers essential ways not only to inform, but also to discuss issues that arise between meetings. We understand that to sustain and grow any program such details are indeed relevant!

At the beginning of this article I promised both Myth and Magic. Having clarified why we in Central PA feel the statement "Facilitator Meetings Don't Work" is a myth, let me share more of the Magic that keeps the program strong. At our last meeting, I asked facilitators to write or email their thoughts about what is useful and problematic for them about our bimonthly meetings. Both their comfort in sharing their feedback so candidly and the overwhelming positive response to our meetings, reveals the magic:

Benefits (Likes):

  • New ideas, allies, moral support, place to vent
  • Strategies for common problems, resource to understand group dynamics, not feeling alone or in vacuum
  • Rich, varied and nurturing
  • Developing sense of what other groups are like and problem-solving together about shared difficulties
  • Nice combination of support, structure and learning new skills

Gripes (Wishes):

  • Three hours is too long, too general
  • One more meeting to add to my schedule
  • Structure is important but we need to be flexible so we can problem-solve about a particular group if needed
  • Worried when problematic issue that arose during previous meeting, but pleased at how quickly it was resolved with coordinator intervention

The life of every group, program, and congregation is an ongoing process of challenge and possibility. At UUCV, we experience our facilitator meetings as central to managing this process effectively. As coordinators, we are committed to keeping these meetings useful for facilitators, and in this way, offering them the needed scaffolding to maintain a strong SGM program. I welcome more specific questions, thoughts, or comments related to facilitator meetings.

A Note from Jim Spicer,
South Church, A UU Congregation, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

I was a member of the Augusta, Maine, Community Church for a number of years before moving to the Portsmouth area. In Augusta I was involved with the Small Group Ministry program from its beginning and became a member of the original SGM Steering Committee and helped form a topics writing subcommittee. I first became aware of many of the names of movers and shakers in SGM from Rev. Calvin Dame. I've been on the mailing list for the Covenant Group News for years. Of course, I also worked with Rev. Helen Zidowecki on the topic writing subcommittee and continue to communicate with her from time to time with questions about topics and/or SGM issues.

I have now been a member of South Church for several years and am again on the Covenant Group Ministry Committee and the CGM topics subcommittee. Another committee member, Marjory Andrews, was involved with the SGM program at the UU Church of Cumberland Valley, PA and we both supported having South Church join the network. The Covenant Group Ministry Committee members had been aware of the SGM Network web site for a number of years. We have used a number of topics posted by others on the Network web site. South Church CGM Committee members had wanted to join the Network more than a year ago but we didn't have enough money at that time to do so. We proposed an increase for 2012's budget expressly to be able to have South Church join the Small Group Ministry Network. Obviously our request was approved.

The Covenant Group Ministry program at South Church has been running for nine years. Groups are time limited, they form in October and meet twice monthly through May. We have seven Covenant Groups running this year. We also added an eighth group, a specialty group that ran in January and February as a short term, six week program meeting weekly. In addition we offer a Drop In Group after the Sunday services every six weeks or so. This has allowed new church attendees and others who are curious about Covenant Groups to sample a covenant group without having to make a commitment.

Membership at our church is booming as we have new co-ministers, Chris Jablonski and Lauren Smith, who are very dynamic, inspiring, and talented. We are trying to figure out how to accommodate people coming in to the church over the course of the year after the groups are formed. We have been able to add new people to existing groups and to the six week group but we still have a few people who we have not been able to accommodate.

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

We have been receiving session plans regarding Social Justice Work and have posted some on the Network website. Please add session plans that you have developed or recommend by sending them to

We are looking for session plans related to:
*Social Justice as part of living our UU faith.
*Mindful Engagement and preparation to do Social Justice work.
*Sustainability of Spirit and Action.
Session plans may relate to Social Justice Work in general, or address specific topics, such as Racism, Immigration, Peace.

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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