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April / May 2012

Small Groups, Deep Connections April / May 2012
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In This Issue
  • Letter from the Editor
  • Myth #4: No Response or Interchange Should Be Allowed During a SGM Session
  • Response and Exchange --Rev. Helen Zidowecki, President, UU SGM Network
  • Interchange or No Interchange by Loretta Carmickle, UUC Green Valley/Amado, AZ
  • Small Group Ministry Evaluation Process at the UU Church in Eugene, OR - Richard A. Loescher
  • A Note from Renee Brookfield, Brisbane UU Fellowship, Australia
  • 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


Consider sharing your covenant group or small group ministry program successes, as well as your challenges and questions with the 1540 other CG News subscribers.

This month, we will begin to explore our fourth myth: During the topic portion of the meeting, there must be no response or interchange of experience. Please send your reports on your congregation's choice to not allow or to encourage verbal exchange during the topic period. We have a note on Response and Exchange from Rev. Helen Zidowecki, who practices sgm at her home church, the UU Community Church in Augusta, Maine, and is President of the UU SGM Network. And we have a collection of facilitator responses to our question, from Loretta Carmickle, Co-Facilitator Small Group Ministry/Covenant Circles at the UU Congregation of Green Valley/Amado, Arizona.

Richard A. Loescher, Chair of the SGM Small Group Ministry Steering Committee at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Eugene, Oregon has contributed an article on the SGM Evaluation Process. It seems that the process has resulted in several enhancements to the Eugene program. I suggest that we all consider evaluation of our groups as a way to find out what's going on in our programs and how it's being received by participants and facilitators.

Finally, a surprise--A Note from Renee Brookfield, Brisbane UU Fellowship, Australia.

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 went out to members of the UU SGM Network in March. It included Part II of the Deep Sharing article, My First Covenant Group Experience by a long-time UU in Houston, the start-up story of Covenant Groups at a lay-led congregation in Virginia, and reflections on lessons learned from a SGM program steering team in Pennsylvania. 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

Our Fourth Myth: No Response or Interchange During a SGM Session

Some program leaders have included in their congregation's small group ministry model the request that there be no response or interchange of experience during the topic portion of the meeting. Others allow verbal exchanges after all have shared. And yet a third group allows verbal exchange during the entire topic portion, as long as everyone listens respectfully. It is my understanding that these approaches all work.

Allowing verbal exchange allows group synergy to occur and allows participants to inspire insights in each other, as group members explore common experiences and revelations, etc. Group bonding can also occur from this sharing. On the other hand, it may feel like people are not listening, as they piggy back on your experience with theirs. It may also be limiting to the individual's expression and may inhibit deep sharing.

In my own congregation's program, we allow interchange during the entire topic portion of the meeting, though often everyone shares individually first, without any response from other group members. The groups I have participated in and led often experienced commonality of experience and enhanced bonding during this period of interchange.

Does your group's model include interchange during the topic part of the meeting? Please share with the other 1450 of us.

Response and Exchange -- Rev. Helen Zidowecki, President, UU SGM Network

Maybe the operative words here are "response" and "exchange". One thing that has always struck me about Unitarian Universalists is our attention to words. This goes with the adage that we read ahead in the hymns to see if we are in agreement with the words! So I wonder if the issue is not so much when each of us talk but the intent of our talking. To "respond" may be to give an opinion related to what a person has said. Agreeing or not with another person is not the intent of Small Group Ministry; hearing perspectives and learning as we listen is. When we feel compelled to "respond" we are in danger of changing the tenor of the gathering into a discussion. If "respond" is to ask a "clarifying question", use something like "Can you clarify that?" or "I am not sure that I understand......" rather than reflecting with "I think I hear you say...." . The reflection requires a person to respond to your interpretation rather than continuing their original flow of thought. Our use of language is so tricky!

An "exchange" presents the expectation of hearing what others think and being able to share our own thoughts without need for judgment. And certainly my own thoughts change as I listen to others, so that what I say may not be what I might have said earlier in a session.

The intention of the session is to:
1) ensure that everyone has opportunity to participate, and to
2) be willing and even expect to be changed by the interactions that occur around a topic. This is a long way of saying that the process that a group uses to accomplish this is developed by the group, to meet the intentions. As we have indicated numerous times, the myths occur when there is an attempt to structure the process more than is necessary to meet the intended outcome of intimacy and ultimacy.

Interchange or No interchange -- Loretta Carmickle, Co-Facilitator,
Small Group Ministry/Covenant Circles, UU Congregation of Green Valley/Amado, Arizona

In response to your request for comments from our covenant circles regarding our practices with regard to "interchange or no interchange," I asked our various facilitators to comment and have compiled their responses as follows:

In the course of our three-year history with covenant groups, we seem to have migrated from following a strict "no response" policy to a much more flexible one that varies from group to group. Some groups still proscribe responding during the initial round or two of sharing but open up the last portion of the gathering to a general discussion-like sharing, which seems to work well. The main advantage of forgoing response during the sharing time is that it does away with the temptation to be thinking of a response while the person is speaking, which diminishes the quality of attentive listening.

For those circles that allow responses during the sharing time, it is expected that the responses will be brief and heart-felt and certainly not everyone needs to feel that they should respond to what someone has shared. In addition, there are effective ways of responding nonverbally as well as verbally, indicating that the speaker has been listened to with one-pointed and compassionate attention.

One of our facilitators expressed well the value of uninterrupted sharing, with time, perhaps, being given at the end each sharing for heart-felt responses:

"In covenant circles I've been with, when we've tried to attempt anything like a strict "listening-only" expectation, it seems to me there has been an undesirable, unwelcome tension in the group.

"Yet, I believe it's critical that members understand the beauty and gift of each member having time to speak without interruption. It's especially valuable to many who are either shy or introverts or wish to pause and gather thoughts and go on; it gives them a forum for getting to discover and express their deeper thoughts and experiences on a topic. In a more ordinary social setting, the extroverts and others may leap quickly into a conversation and not even realize the quieter ones aren't feeling comfortable trying to contribute much.

"Verbal and non-verbal responses or even intentional silent pauses can help a speaker feel heard and understood and a bit less as though they've just given a speech and must now relinquish the floor to the next one. We've seen times where one person's sharing elicited a very deep unexpected connection between members not well known to each other. It would have been a shame if it had gone unnoticed due to a prohibition of responding. That kind of special moment is a pleasure to witness."

Finally, a short quote from a covenant circle member: "How freeing it has been to know that I have the time and space to let the words and feelings come out without interruption. But, I need to add that once I have finished expressing myself, I very much appreciate feedback -- knowing that some of my thoughts or feelings resonate with others. "

In conclusion, it does seem that we agree that uninterrupted sharing and attentive listening are the cornerstones of our covenant circles but that time should be allowed for heartfelt responses at appropriate times.

Small Group Ministry Evaluation Process at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Eugene, OR - Richard A. Loescher

The Small Group Ministry (SGM) program at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Eugene (UUCE) began in 2003. Each year the SGM groups meet for 2 hours twice a month for a specified number of sessions, which in recent years has been 10 sessions from January through May. The groups then disband and new groups are formed the following year from those who register. We get both verbal and written feedback about the sgm program. We have a monthly meeting of the sgm facilitators and steering committee and minister, which provides support and education for the facilitators. At this meeting the facilitators share their own feedback, as well as that from group participants, including comments made in session 6 where there is a specific request for a review of the sgm covenant and feedback about the facilitation and the sgm program. Also, each year at the end of the program we get written evaluation by giving an evaluation form to the SGM participants, and a separate similar but slightly different written evaluation form to the facilitators. The questions we ask have evolved some over the years. In the early years of the program we gave the evaluation forms to people during the last session and requested that the forms be filled out later and returned. Few forms were returned. In recent years our practice has been to give the evaluation forms to people during or before the next to the last session, and to ask that the forms be filled out before or during the last session and turned in to the facilitator during the last session. The facilitator then gives the completed forms to the SGM steering committee. With this practice a large majority of people, but not all, do complete and turn in the forms.

The SGM steering committee reviews and summarizes the results of the evaluation forms, and makes recommendations to consider for the next year. Usually a vast majority of people, but not all, have a favorable rating of most or all aspects of the SGM program. The feedback we receive on the evaluation forms has influenced: the choice of future SGM themes and topics; changes in the SGM program; changes in the SGM facilitator training and training manual; changes in the SGM covenant of right relations; decisions about the choice of readings for the sessions; and people to consider to ask to be a SGM facilitator and to be on the SGM steering committee. We think the questions on the evaluation forms also encourage people to think about the value and reasons for the policies and organization of the SGM program.

They can also be found on the UU SGM Network website home page via links contained in a brief note on Evaluation/Assessment of Small Group Ministry. The direct links to the forms are:
Evaluation Form for SGM Facilitators
Evaluation Form for SGM Participants

Our current forms have questions that can be answered in two ways. There is a rating scale of 1 to 5 (1 very unsatisfied, 2 unsatisfied, 3 neither satisfied nor unsatisfied, 4 satisfied, 5 very satisfied) that allows people who do not like to write out answers to register some feedback, and there are spaces for written responses.

Questions on the evaluation form for participants include:
the value of the SGM covenant of right relations;
the value of reviewing the covenant and asking for feedback about the facilitation and the SGM program during the 6th session;
the value of the sharing and discussions in the group in exploring spirituality and personal growth;
the satisfaction with developing deeper connections and friendships;
the meaningfulness of the overall theme and the individual topics (which are listed as a reminder) and what topics worked well and did not work well; suggestions for topics and themes for future sessions;
the level of satisfaction with the facilitation and what you appreciate about the facilitation and any suggestions for changes (this question was added in the past few years and the comments are later sent to each facilitator individually);
your level of satisfaction with your own participation in the group (this question was added this year for the first time);
the value of the service project to the recipients of the service;
the value to you and the group in planning and doing the service project; recommendations regarding future service project plans;
whether or not you would recommend participation in a SGM group to others and why; and
any additional thoughts, feelings, and suggestions.

The evaluation form for the facilitators has the same rating scale and many of the same questions. We ask some additional questions of the facilitators, including:
rate the effectiveness of the SGM facilitator training, the SGM facilitator training manual, and the monthly meetings of the SGM facilitators and steering committee and minister, and any suggestions for changes;
whether or not you would consider being a SGM facilitator again and why; recommendations of people to consider to ask to be a SGM facilitator (from your group or anyone else);
recommendations of people to consider to be on the SGM steering committee, including yourself; and
any additional thoughts, feelings, and suggestions.

We hope this information is of interest and use. We would be happy to communicate with others about any questions they may have, and to learn about what has worked well for others regarding the evaluation process in their SGM programs.

Richard A. Loescher, chair Small Group Ministry steering committee, Unitarian Universalist Church in Eugene (UUCE),, 541-485-1157

A Note from Renee Brookfield, Brisbane UU Fellowship, Australia

This Easter Sunday is the 17th anniversary of the Brisbane Unitarian Universalist Fellowship's first meeting. We are currently a small lay led group (10-12) who meet regularly in fellowship on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month. We have had two covenant groups in recent history. The last one closed last year when one of the two members running it became ill. Sadly, he died recently and we celebrated his contribution to our fellowship yesterday. Most of our regular members are in the 50+ age bracket.

I am about to begin leading another group in a week's time. I had a rich experience of chalice circles at the International Council of Unitarian Universalists in the Philippines recently so hope to draw on that as I embark on this latest venture. I don't have a fixed idea of topics we will explore as yet. I thought we could brainstorm some of that at our first meeting. However I have discovered a wealth of information and sessions available on the net. I want our circle to be rich and meaningful so I am willing to try different approaches.

I am a school counselor in my day job but find the task of leading groups like this a little daunting. However I have a strong commitment to deepening our spiritual growth and connection so hopefully that will carry me through!

Warm regards, Renee

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.

UUSGM Network At GA

The UU Small Group Ministry Network is joining with the UU Women's Federation to offer the workshop, "Circles of Reflection: Engaging Women in Justice Work" on Thursday, June 21, 10:30am, Room 227 AB.

Learn to use Small Group Ministry to engage women with immigration, racial, and economic justice issues as spiritual practice. This will include brief presentation and experience with social justice in Small Group Ministry format. There will also be a resource packet for participants.

Presenters are Rev. Marti Keller, President of UUWF and Rev. Helen Zidowecki, President of UUSGMN

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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