Covenant Group News

UU SGM Network Home | Subscribe

June / July 2012

Small Groups, Deep Connections June / July 2012
The UU Small Group Ministry Network
Covenant Group News
is an interactive
Small Group Ministry and Covenant Group
newsletter read by more than 1500 forward-looking
Unitarian Universalists.
CGNews is distributed
by the UU Small Group Ministry Network.
Visit us online at

You may automatically unsubscribe from this list at any time by visiting the following URL:

In This Issue
  • Letter from the Editor
  • General Assembly 2012 Report -- Rev. Helen Zidowecki, President, UU SGM Network
  • Response to May/June Topic: Our Fourth Myth: No Response or Interchange During A Session, Evan Rose, Unitarian Church of Los Alamos, NM
  • Review, Renew, Recommit, Tania Nyman, Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, LA
  • Note from Jackie Hall, Hammond Unitarian Church, LA
  • 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

How is Small Group Ministry a part of your summer?
The intimacy that we have and the need for the relationships continue even as the seasons change. But the way we carry out Small Group Ministry has wide variation. Here are some things that we have heard or experienced in our own congregations:

SGM continues throughout the summer the same as throughout the rest of the year
Groups may meet less frequently. This is usually going from twice a month to monthly or once or twice during the summer.
Groups take 'field trips', like visiting at summer places of members, with informal activities (possibly even swimming!)
There may be specific summer SGM, especially in areas that have an influx of people during the summer.
Suspend SGM for the summer.

There are undoubtedly other variations. Whatever you do in SGM, I hope that your summer is refreshing, renewing and enjoyable.

Consider sharing your summer format with the 1550 other CG News subscribers.

In this issue we have a report from General Assembly 2012 by Rev. Helen Zidowecki, UU Community Church, Augusta, ME and President of the UU SGM Network. We also have a response from Evan Rose, Unitarian Church of Los Alamos, NM to our Fourth Myth, No Response or Interchange During a SGM Session.

The last two articles are from Louisiana--The first is from Tania Nyman at the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, on a resolution to the problem so many of us have: What to do about participants who have not committed to attending to or are not able to give attendance a high priority. I heard her story in our leaders meeting and asked her to share it with all of you. The second is from Jackie Hall at the UU church in Hammond, LA about the ways a small church has used covenant groups institutionally, as part of worship services and as a major offering between their bi-weekly worship services.

I recommend the UU SGM Network's newest publication: Social Justice Work: Preparation, Action, Reflection Through Small Group Ministry by Helen Zidowecki and Susan Hollister. It was inspired by the 2012 Justice GA and was the basis for a workshop sponsored jointly by Unitarian Universalist Women's Federation, Unitarian Universalist Association and Unitarian Universalist Small Group Ministry Network. See the Publications Section below.

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 Summer issue of the SGM Quarterly journal went out to members of the UU SGM Network in June. It included the third and last part the Deep Sharing article; Facilitators as Artists by Margaret Edwards of Piedmont UU Church, Charlotte, NC; Transition and Growth as a Facilitator by Cindy Evans of the UU Church of Sarasota, FL; and Weathering Change Through Small Group Ministry by the Rev. Robin Tanner, minister of Piedmont UU Church in Charlotte, NC. 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 1,550 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

General Assembly 2012 -- Report from Rev. Helen Zidowecki, President, UU SGM Network
Small Group Ministry and Justice General Assembly 2012

Social Justice work calls us to prepare ourselves emotionally and spiritually, to deeply understand the spiritual implications and the outcomes of our actions for ourselves and those we would help, and to reflect on the action that we take, or do not take. Small Group Ministry provides the intimacy (or relationships) and ultimacy (or sense of meaning) to do Social Justice work on a deeper level.

"Circles of Reflection: Engaging Women in Justice Work," the worship sponsored jointly by Unitarian Universalist Women's Federation, Unitarian Universalist Association and Unitarian Universalist Small Group Ministry Network, presented the phases of Social Justice Work and invited participants to experience one of 6 session plans created specifically for the workshop.

The sessions focused on women's issues. Three session plans written by Jessica Halperin, Women's Issues Program Associate, UUA, dealt with Reproductive Justice.:

"Unitarian Universalists are called to widen the current socio-political debate on "reproductive rights" to one on "reproductive justice." Within the framework of reproductive justice, the Unitarian Universalist Association works against the cultural, political, economic, and structural constraints that limit women's access to health care and full reproductive choice. Reproductive justice, a concept put forth by coalitions of women of color, promotes the right of all women to have children, not to have children, and to raise their children in safe and healthy environments. It does not isolate or pit important social issues against each other, rather it works to promote these rights across many areas, including comprehensive sex education, economic justice, ending violence against women, LGBT equality, and racial justice."

Three sessions written by Helen Zidowecki, UU SGM Network, used the theme of Failure is Impossible to focus on the influence and power of women.

"We remember the large number of Unitarian and Universalist women who were involved in the struggle to gain the vote for women. In that remembering, we pause to reflect on how we, as Unitarian Universalist women live into the responsibility of that right. As we approach the 100th anniversary of having the right to vote, what do you see as the impact of women having the vote? What has been accomplished? How have women made a difference? What is our call to action?" [to whom is this paragraph attributed?]

One participant suggested that she might use the session plans as a series in her congregation around March, women's month. These session plans are available on the Network website. Additional session plans will undoubtedly be developed, especially with the passage of the Congregational Study Action "Reproductive Justice: Expanding Our Social Justice Calling"

These session plans are in addition to the 34 Social Justice session plans in the new publication, Social Justice Work: Preparation, Action and Reflection Through Small Group Ministry. (See description elsewhere in this CGN and on the Network website.)

The partnership established in offering the workshop is an example of the focus of the UU Small Group Ministry Network -- networking! Now we look forward to hearing more from individuals and congregations about the use of Small Group Ministry and Social Justice!

Response to May/June Topic: Our Fourth Myth: No Response or Interchange During a SGM Session from Evan Rose, Unitarian Church of Los Alamos, NM

One aspect of Covenant Groups that I find particularly rewarding is the practice of deep listening and the connection that I gain with my inner self when it is my turn to speak. During normal conversation, there is a give and take. During normal conversation the speaker is aware of the listener and how that listener is likely to respond. That leads to the common mode of conversation that we all experience daily. Covenant groups take me out of the common mode into a unique and unusual mode of conversation. This mode involves deep listening - where my sole task is to listen and hear the message from my fellow covenant member. I receive this message without the distraction of considering a response to what I am hearing. When I speak, I connect with myself and speak in a manner that does not consider the response that my words might elicit.

In my group, people may speak in their turn and mention that something spoken by another has caused them to think of one of their own personal experiences. This is done with some diplomacy - usually an acknowledgement that they are stretching the rules just a bit.

We do not engage in "verbal exchanges" - which I interpret as a two-way conversation or a group discussion. It seems to me that verbal exchanges "break the spell."

Review, Renew, Recommit -- Tania Nyman, Leader of a Parents Group, Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, LA

One tenet of the Branches covenant is to "give attendance [of meetings] a very high priority in our lives." Of course, everyone begins with the best intention to do just that, but attending regularly can be challenging for even conscientious members.

Attendance certainly became an issue in my own Branches group. Initially, my co-leaders and I ignored the erratic attendance due to our special circumstances: the group was organized around church-provided child care and each of us were parents of small children. In other words, we were in desperate need of thoughtful, adult conversation small group ministry could provide, but we were busy and tired. We came to tolerate irregular attendance as we could all commiserate with a parent's schedule being upended by a sick child, a child's activity, or exhaustion. But as time passed, it became increasingly clear that while a Branches group might continue to exist if its members did not attend regularly, it would not thrive. It was impossible to build a community and foster a sense of intimacy among members who did not show up on a regular basis. The issue had to be addressed.

After consulting with our church's program director and Branches coordinator, Diana Dorroh, the leaders decided to renew our covenant with an emphasis on the need for regular attendance. To that end, we did the following:

  1. We picked a number: 9. Our group meets 11 times during a year. We concluded that no matter the reason--work schedule, soccer schedule, travel schedule--if a member did not envision she could attend nine of the 11 meetings in the upcoming year, she should consider resigning from the group.

    The number might seem reductive, but it's useful. To say one will make attendance a "high priority" is a bit abstract. To say one agrees to attend a specific number of meetings sets clear expectations. We acknowledged that life might (would probably) intervene to prevent a member from attending nine meetings, but we believed that if one's schedule at the outset did not allow her to plan to attend at least this number, she would not be able to fully participate in the group. And that member's inability to fully participate didn't just affect her own experience. It would undermine the entire group's experience and prohibit potential new members from joining the group. A goal had to be set.

  2. At an informal meeting, we discussed the purpose of a Branches group, how our own group was falling short, and the plan to renew our covenant to address these shortcomings, emphasizing the need for regular attendance--mentioning nine meetings as a guideline--as key to our success. We asked our members to review the covenant, carefully consider whether their schedules would allow them to fully participate in the group in the coming year, and decide whether they were in a position to recommit to the group. They were to notify us of their decisions by the time of our next meeting. The group leaders followed up with emails or phone calls to individual members if necessary to receive a response.

  3. At the next meeting, the remaining members discussed why each of us initially joined Branches and what we hoped to get out of it in the coming year. We reviewed the covenant and made some minor changes. And we conducted a session carefully adhering to the suggested protocol--discouraging cross-talk, ensuring each member had an opportunity to share, and staying on topic. And with that, we began anew.

A few members chose not to recommit, and while it is always a little sad to see a member leave, I think the outcome was best for all and probably a relief to those who did resign. I suspect at some point, if one's schedule is too hectic or one is emotionally stretched, a Branches meeting no longer offers an opportunity to connect and rejuvenate but becomes a burden. Asking members to recommit provides them the opportunity to objectively consider whether they are in a position to fully participate and fully benefit from the Branches' experience.

Thankfully, most members did recommit to the group and though it's only been several months, all have kept their commitment to attend regularly. Moreover, the group appeared energized by the determination of those who remained to build a community that provides the safe space critical for thoughtful conversation. Will it hold? Time will tell. In light of this experience, I believe calling for members to recommit should become an annual practice. It allows the members to objectively assess their lives and determine whether they have the time and energy to devote to the Branches group so that their lives might be enriched by the experience.

Note from Jackie Hall, Hammond Unitarian Church, LA

The Hammond Unitarian Church adapted the small group ministry technique to serve its small congregation (fewer than 50 members). We call our group "Uncommon Conversations" which is adapted from the UUA's "Uncommon Denomination."

For the past six years, we have been meeting once a month in members' homes and have used materials from the UUA website both from Rev. Glenn Turner and from various church postings. Although there is a core of about eight people, we encourage drop-ins. Rather than disrupting the flow of the session, we find that it energizes the discussion regardless of the topic. And although there is sometimes a broad theme to a series of session topics, each stands on its own in any one meeting. Because we only have Sunday services twice per month, scheduling the Uncommon Conversations meetings in an alternate week helps to maintain a sense of community.

Because we depend significantly on lay-led services, we recently decided to try modifying the Uncommon Conversations format to use as a Sunday service. With the addition of Announcements, Joys and Concerns, and Offertory, we use the structure as is. After the Focus Reading, we get into two or three small groups where we do an individual check-in and discuss the questions provided in the session guide. We then return to the large group and share some of our thoughts or insights from our discussions. The service ends with the Closing Words from the session guide. This approach has been very well received by our members and friends.

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

NEW Social Justice Work: Preparation, Action, Reflection Through Small Group Ministry
The publication includes
--The Process of Social Justice work, with distinct phases of preparation, action, and reflection.
--Background and use of Small Group Ministry, and
--34 session plans for Social Justice work
Book $25/$15 for members CD $20/$15 for members
Order form is on line

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

Copyright © 2004-2012 the UU Small Group Ministry Network