November / December 2012
Covenant Group News
is an interactive
Small Group Ministry and Covenant Group
newsletter read by more than 1500 forward-looking
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In This Issue
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:
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Letter from the Editor
As you may have observed, Covenant Group News is now being published bi-monthly. There are several reasons for the change. First is the move to social media to make use of the wealth of excellent material already written and available on the UU SGM Network website. And, to generate more frequent and beneficial issues, we need to hear from YOU! Send us your successes and challenges. What's working well in your covenant group program? What would you like to learn more about or get help with? If you'd like to receive CG News more often, please consider contributing. All contributions received so far were timely and helpful to many other people grappling with the same issues. Please send your contributions to firstname.lastname@example.org
During 2013, we'll explore the transformative power small group ministry has for people's lives, congregations, and even families and communities. At a recent small group ministry leaders meeting at the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, we answered the following questions: What difference does the Branches program make in our congregation? What's different because we have it? I was amazed at the variety and depth of the answers. A representative list is included in this issue. As I compiled the list, it reminded me of a seminal article, Unintended Consequences of Small Group Ministry, written by Rev. Steve J. Crump and published in the April 2010 issue of Covenant Group News. That article is reprinted in this issue.
Please consider asking your facilitators similar questions. I promise you'll be inspired by the answers. Please send the responses to me for CG News, so we can all be inspired and motivated to continue enhancing our programs. Use any or all of the questions below or make up your own questions about the impact of small group ministry on participants, families, congregations, and the community.
The UU SGM Network will host its seventh SGM Institute this summer. The dates are July 22-26 at Murray Grove Retreat and Renewal Center in New Jersey, a Unitarian Universalist camp and conference site. Please consider attending or sending your group leaders. It's an exciting and energizing experience to share ideas, successes and issues with other leaders from all over the country. In addition, we always get to some cutting edge topics and explore new ground together. Sending facilitators from the Baton Rouge program to the last three Institutes has strengthened and grounded our program. These facilitators continue to give glowing testimonials about their experiences. See the Events section below for more information.
The UU Small Group Ministry Network is financially independent of the UUA. It depends upon membership and publications sales to cover its modest expenses. Check our website to see whether your congregation is a Network member. www.smallgroupministry.net/membership.html. 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 SGM Journal by email or by mail.
The Fall/Winter issue of the SGM Journal went out to members of the UU SGM Network in early December. It included articles about Newcomer and Family Covenant Groups; A Children's Covenant; Ten Things They Never Told You About Being a SGM Facilitator (ala David Letterman); Preparing to Experience Small Group Ministry; and A Good Method for Assigning Group Members, using multi-colored index cards. If you aren't currently a member, consider joining the Network to receive this and future issues.
The Network website, www.smallgroupministry.net, 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 Journal. We have recently asked CG News subscribers to reaffirm their subscriptions. If you know someone who is no longer receiving CG News, they can subscribe via a link on the UU SGM Network website www.smallgroupministry.net or directly: http://www.smallgroupministry.net/dada/mail.cgi/list/cgnews.
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. They will need to confirm when they receive the confirmation email.
Please share your ideas, questions, and experiences with the other Covenant Group News subscribers. Send them to me at email@example.com
Thanks to Anne Haynes, from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington, IN, for proofing this issue.
In faith that we're making this a better world,
The Impact of Small Group Ministry on Participants, Families, Congregations, and Communities
Some Initial Answers from the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge
At a leaders meeting in October 2012, we asked these questions about our small group ministry program, called Branches:
- What difference does the Branches program make in our congregation?
- What's different because we have it?
Here are some of the answers, given as heard:
- Given us the ability to handle conflicts
- Helped people learn interpersonal skills
- Given us a place where we practice meeting the world
- Makes us better church members and provides relationships
- Provides growth
- Works as a family for people who don't have one
- Creates a personal connection; you have to "be there"
- Makes us good listeners
- Creates a safe place for intimacy
- Is woven into the DNA of our congregation
- Teaches us generosity, civility, and duty
- Maintains personal church connection during periods of not attending church
- Provides congregational care and information for the care team of lay leaders and ministers
- Provides different dynamics: not there to fix, but to support and listen; the Branches model has helped us accomplish this
- Conflict resolution skills learned in Branches groups transfer to committee work and congregational meetings
- People feel "listened to" and don't need to act out
- Branches gave one member ownership, introduced him into the leadership, and then he "started doing things." (a direct quote from one of our leaders who recently became a co-coordinator of the Branches program)
Unintended Consequences of Small Group Ministry CGN April 2010
Remarks delivered at a conference of small group ministry leaders at the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, by The Reverend Steve J. Crump on March 13, 2010
(Originally presented with PowerPoint accompaniment.)
When you have a successful small group ministry program, you will know it and feel it. Our job in the church is to nurture and support the program and help other congregations take it to scale. Let's promote the program in our churches. Every chance we get, we should say, "If you're not in a small group, you may be missing out on a key connecting point in our congregation." When something goes awry in some group dynamic, it usually is not too difficult to troubleshoot the problem. What went wrong? What could we have said or done? Have we honored the spirit of our covenant? Certainly, programs require regular and steadfast attention and guidance. For that reason, we hold leader meetings, scheduled about every six weeks, with the minister attending.
One of the pivotal moments in our program occurred when we began to speak of holding symbolically an empty chair for a new member. Later, groups were able to do so concretely, welcoming new members to their groups, and adjusting group dynamics and content appropriately. The act of welcoming a new person shifts the relational dynamics of a group. To the extent we are able to welcome someone new, we learn and get to practice the art of hospitality, one of the key benefits of our small group ministry with beneficial consequences outside the group.
The benefits are twofold: a new person is welcomed and the group gets to practice a spiritual discipline worth cultivating in our lives, in and outside the church. In family life, a grandparent moves in, a child is born, or family members make new friends when they move into a new neighborhood. In congregational life, almost nothing is static: members are joining, moving, dying. Congregations are living, breathing bodies, always in the mode of change. The practice of hospitality genuinely welcomes new persons and their stories, and integrates change.
The presence of small group ministry in a church encourages right relationship and diminishes acting-out behavior in the larger church community because the modeling of right relationship in small groups extends to right relationship in other arenas of our lives as well. In The Company of Strangers, author Parker Palmer describes community as "that place where the person we least want to live with always lives." Want to end a divorce well? Practice right relationship. Want to learn how best to dismiss an employee if you are the one who must do it? Practice right relationship. Want to work through a child, sibling, or parent problem? Practice right relationship. Want to make this a better world? Practice right relationship as part of a simple discipline where ground rules and a covenant are honored. This is not country club membership. Country club membership is about trying to get the club to meet the pleasures of its constituents. Religious community is about taming the ego and sacrificing personal freedoms. In other words, we learn why not saying and doing everything we want to say and do is part of being in loving relationship with one another. Country club membership does not necessarily concern itself with love. We must be concerned with love and right relationship. Being in right relationship is critical in religious community and in small group work. Each time we meet, we hold out to one another mutual respect, hope, and expectation of a better world.
These are what we may call unintended consequences of small group ministry. And there are more. Mutual listening. Good communication. Mutual well-being. Not all of us have had the experience of speaking about our lives in the presence of peers -genuine, intentional listeners. A successful small group sets norms for the conditions of good communication and mutual well-being. Some members call it healing, especially when someone who has not been heard or has been misunderstood in life is heard and understood. Religious community is the place for finding one's voice -the place for healing the soul.
As members find their voices, church leaders emerge. Here in our church we proudly recognize our group leaders' involvement. Once a year, we ask them to stand for a brief recognition in Sunday morning church services. We remind them, "You leaders are hand-picked for your listening and group skills." We are not reluctant to call them leaders. A leader is a guide, a conductor, who exercises authority responsibly. Leaders most definitely set limits, often reminding the group of its covenant. "Leader" is the precise word here. A weaker noun sends a weaker message and might yield a weaker group.
One evening, several years ago at a leaders' meeting, we discussed a listening model we might apply if and when difficult or emotional material is shared during the check-in portion of a small group meeting. What should a leader do? Scuttle the format for the evening? Engage in cross-talk about the content of what was shared? What emerged was a better alternative: The leader asks the group members to be silent for one minute before proceeding with check-in. Allowing the evening to proceed after a minute of silence provides two benefits: we acknowledge that something significant was shared and we acknowledge we are carriers of trust by virtue of our covenant with one another. Something difficult having been shared does not oblige us to comment. Singer/songwriter Billy Joel has advice, fitting for a common situation in small groups: "Leave a tender moment alone." Later, outside of the group, any individual has the option for follow-up -a phone call or a conversation over coffee, for example. Even in a follow-up setting, deep listening are the watchwords. Attempting to fix someone's existential situation is outside the bounds of small group ministry.
I submit the benefits of small group ministry are both personal and societal, affecting the public and political realm of our existence. In meeting one another face-to-face, we are confronting a social reality of our culture and its loneliness. Remember the prediction decades ago that one day we would all be living in a high-tech, low-touch world? We now live in that world.
"Loneliness," says Parker Palmer "is not just a personal problem, it has political causes and consequences. We are lonely because a mass society keeps us from engaging one another on matters of common destiny. And loneliness makes us prey to a thousand varieties of political manipulations." (Parker Palmer, A Place Called Community.)
Under the power of strong consumerist influences, our culture appears to be run by the marketplace. But marketplace values must be held in check. The marketplace does not trump spiritual values. Desire fulfillment does not equate with a meaningful life. It is said that our culture is coarsening and we are all suffering from its incivility. Electronic communication has gone viral -insulting at times, promoting pseudo human connection all of the time. And in our era, except for those who serve in the military, American citizens are rarely asked to sacrifice freedoms for the sake of others. Consumerism, incivility, and virtual connection are features abundant in our culture, while meaning goes begging in the streets.
Welcome to the church and its small group ministry where, without a doubt, good leaders set norms. They gently, sometimes assertively, reset a conversation and get people back on track with the ground rules, the covenant. I know of leaders who courageously (after an evening session) spoke to an offending group member's comment about another person -all in a spirit of restoring a sense of the beloved community. Learning to live in right relationship is a spiritual disciple.
We are told Isaiah predicted, and Jesus reiterated, "... the rough ways shall be made smooth." How many rough edged people have we known who were transformed into more comfortable people to be around? Have they not also become more comfortable in their own skins because they have, in fact, changed? From the beginning, to change might have been their unintended consequence!
Adults, to be sure, look to us in a time of trouble. Those who lead successful programs believe adults are looking for maturational and spiritual growth though such needs may not be explicitly stated. We speak of the intimacy involved in meeting face-to-face; listening heart-to-heart. We speak of ultimacy and depth. Leaders, as your group members become more comfortable and trusting of one another, do not be afraid on some evening to say, "I hope we can plumb our souls a bit tonight. Let us risk together the seriousness of the material at hand." Ultimacy and depth suggest spiritual content. Spirituality suggests breath, holiness, ruach, even the breath of God.
Actively engaged, deep listening and sharing are attributes for a community of care. Often in small groups we are counter-poised to mass culture. We speak and listen to the countervailing small voices inside one another. By extension, our practice of right relationship cares for the body politic. The larger world is thus meaningfully touched, moved, and transformed by our work. How could it not be so?
Share your insights, strategies and experiences.
Send your comments to Diana at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We'll print them in the next CGNews.
News & Events
NETWORK ONLINE www.smallgroupministry.net
For information on training opportunities see the Event Announcements
UU SGM Network Publications
Order forms available from http://www.smallgroupministry.net
NEW Social Justice Work: Preparation, Action, Reflection Through Small Group Ministry
Small Group Ministry with All Ages
Spiritual Journeys: 101 Session Plans for Small Group Ministry Programs
ALSO AVAILABLE See our website for details.
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
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 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.
Write to us by email: email@example.com, Attn: Rev. Helen Zidowecki
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