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March / April 2013

Small Groups, Deep Connections March / April 2013
The UU Small Group Ministry Network
Covenant Group News
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In This Issue
  • Letter from the Editor
  • The Impact of Small Group Ministry, Eno River UU Fellowship, NC
  • Facilitator Communication: A Website Example, Rev. Michelle Collins, First Unitarian Church of Wilmington, DE
  • Covenant Circles in Action, Loretta Carmickle, UU Congregation, Amado/Green Valley, AZ
  • 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


I hope your participation in small group ministry is enriching your life. Please send your stories, issues and questions to for publication in Covenant Group News.

Here in Baton Rouge, we hosted Susan Hollister for a Small Group Ministry Enrichment Weekend on April 5 and 6. Thirty-five facilitators and prospective facilitators attended. It was a boost to their involvement, skill set, and motivation, and definitely strengthened our program. If you'd like to host a training with a UU SGM Network speaker, please let us know. Also let us know if you'd be available to speak.

If you're attending General Assembly, June 19 - 23, in Louisville, Kentucky, please visit the SGM Network Booth. It's Booth #419 in the Exhibit Hall. At the booth, you may purchase resources, share challenges and successes, speak with Network board members and sgm program leaders, and get answers to all your sgm and covenant group questions.

I continue to collect input on the impact of small group ministry on participants and your congregation. Please consider sending yours for the May/June 2013 issue of Covenant Group News. Either use these questions or write your own:
1. What difference has your covenant group made in your life?
2. What differences personally and communally have you experienced through small group ministry that might not have happened in any other way?
3. What difference does your covenant group program make in your congregation?
Send your facilitators' answers or your own answers, observations, and ideas to

This issue contains some answers to these three questions on the impact of small group ministry from a very thoughtful facilitator at Eno River UU Fellowship in North Carolina. I hope you enjoy reading his answers as much as I did. The answer to question three mentions the role of program leadership in guiding and continuing to enhance a program and its value to the congregation.

We also have an article by Rev. Michelle Collins, First Unitarian Church of Wilmington, Delaware, on facilitator communication and how to build and organize a web presence for your covenant group program.

From Loretta Carmickle, Director of Covenant Circles at UU Congregation of Green Valley, in Amado, Arizona, we have some comments from the facilitators about individual group meetings. Loretta shared with me that the program at Green Valley continues to be strong, after getting off to a vigorous start as a result of her attendance at the UU SGM Institute at deBenneville Pines in 2011.

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. The information and registration is on the website for the Network and for the Central Eastern Regional Group (CERG) of the UUA ( Registration is done on line and payment is by credit card or check In addition to the specific tracks, special focus sessions, and meetings for various groups, we are planning time for case conferences. Bring a situation that you would like to present for discussion and for suggestions toward resolution. Bring the great things that your congregation is doing to share with others. Come, join us and enrich our time together.

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. 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 Spring/Summer issue of the SGM Journal will go out to members of the UU SGM Network in early May. It includes Expanding Small Group Ministry Beyond the Congregation, SGM Introductory Sessions at Main Line Unitarian Church (Devon, PA), Inviting People Into Small Groups, Celebrating Our Tenth Year of Covenant Groups (UU Church of Buffalo, NY), and Sticky Groups: Small Groups That Work. 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 Journal. See the News section below on some exciting enhancements to the Network website----an enhanced resource for starting, restarting, and enhancing your programs and a new Members Section.

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 or directly:

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

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

The Impact of Small Group Ministry - Responses to 3 Questions -
Facilitator at Eno River UU Fellowship, Durham, NC

1. What difference has your covenant group made in your life?
My covenant group experiences have motivated me to think about - and reflect upon - my faith more often and more intentionally.
This might sound small or subtle, but, in my life, it actually turns out to be important, powerful, and sometimes dramatic. My covenant group experience has given me practice in both listening and sharing in deeper ways; this has led to experiencing deeper connections with all kinds of people - and not just those in my small group. This has spilled out naturally (and sometimes unexpectedly) in how I relate to those in our larger UU fellowship community and beyond.
I would say my covenant group experiences have made me more intentional about how I am living my life... and more self-aware of my core beliefs, and my own behaviors. I am finding that I am connecting more authentically - and often in deeper ways - to all those around me, whether it be friend, family or even stranger.

2. What differences personally and communally have you experienced through small group ministry that couldn't have happened in any other way?
I don't relate to the phrase "that couldn't have happened in any other way." But I can say that my covenant group experiences have offered me opportunities to move forward spiritually in faster - and more dramatic ways - than otherwise. Specifically:

  • I have a sharper personal focus on what's important to me. This helps me in my day-by-day existence with the decisions I make. It has also helped me let go of a lot of things that I now realize are not important and have tended to bog me down or distract me from my real priorities. Finally, I have become more self-aware - which, in some mysterious way, has helped make me more consciously - and routinely - grateful for so many things in my life, on a daily basis. My altered relationship to 'gratitude' has unexpectedly impacted my life in a positive way - to the point where I have recently concluded that practicing gratitude is one of those few, precious 'secret ingredients' to finding some happiness in this life.
  • Changes in me, communally, might best be viewed simply as natural extensions of the personal changes I just described. With a clearer focus on what's important to me and with a more deliberate intentionality with which I now try to approach my everyday life, I find that I can let go of lots of stuff... so that my ego and my appetites for all kinds of things are easier to manage - making me a bit more effective and, I hope, a little less strident. I'm better able now to say 'no' more cheerfully to requests and opportunities that I don't see as important... and to say 'yes' with more passion and commitment when I find something meaningful. This makes me happier and, I believe, a more positive and enthusiastic contributor to the different communities to which I belong.

3. What difference does your covenant group program make in your congregation?
I see the covenant group program as having the potential to be the foundation block for all that happens within a congregation - especially a large congregation like ours. Covenant groups provide a precious real-life opportunity, within the church/fellowship structure, for congregants to find what so many are hungry for: feeling connected to others and finding support for living a more spiritually focused, intentional life.
In my congregation, covenant groups are slowly growing and, at their best, are providing models and clues for how to make - and keep - our large congregation personal, nurturing, and more intimately interconnected than happens randomly - even with the wonderful people who comprise our congregation. We're not there yet, but the word is spreading. Yet, it's slow because it's a case of 'a picture truly worth a thousand words' - perhaps more than a thousand words in this case... because hearing about the value of covenant groups seems to never do justice to the actual covenant group experience, at least when a group is well functioning.
And, as we're finding out, even when covenant groups run into trouble - or have difficulty understanding and executing... or even grasping - the spirit of this ministry, we - the covenant group leadership - have been provided valuable 'teachable moments' to raise the consciousnesses of those engaged in this process. So even in its imperfections, our covenant group ministry is giving us opportunities that would not otherwise exist... opportunities for helping our many congregants stretch, and grow, and move forward in the process of becoming our best selves. Yes, we are a work in progress, but we're moving in the right direction.

Facilitator Communication: A Website Example
Rev. Michelle Collins, First Unitarian Church of Wilmington, DE

First let me admit that I'm a bit of a geek when it comes to things like this. And the idea that I could successfully create a website and not have to pay anything for it definitely fired up my geeky interest.

There are many different ways for coordinators or leaders of a small group program to communicate with their facilitators. Email of course, but when it comes to sharing session plans and other resources, I wanted to do a little more than just email them out or hand them out in hard copy form, which is what I've done in the past. I wanted a central place where sessions and resources could be shared and then be able to be accessed throughout the year. And I wanted it to be easily accessible to all of my facilitators. And given my initial success making a Google site last year, this is where I turned first.

A variety of means exist for sharing information over the internet - there are blog-making websites, discussion boards, shareable cloud software like Dropbox, and then ways to create websites, like Wordpress for instance - the options can get overwhelming! I chose Google sites to use because it wasn't too terribly difficult for me to learn and it didn't require any special software or skills on the part of my facilitators to be able to use. And on top of that, it's free!

With Google sites ( one can start with a template and then modify it to meet one's specific needs. Here are the sections on my site:

Some of my sections have subpages, like the circle sessions page where the sessions are organized by month, since we correspond with the overall monthly worship themes. The content on pages includes text and also files which can be downloaded. Overall, it's really helped out with coordinating the seven circles that we have running right now. And I've gotten feedback from my facilitators that they like this way of sharing our resources.

Here are some other lessons that I've learned (some of them the hard way):

  • First thing, change your site's permissions - it defaults to being searchable on the internet; given that I was including my facilitator's contact information, I wanted it more secure than that.
  • At the request of my facilitators, I started posting sessions in both .doc format and .pdf format. Some of them prefer one, and some prefer the other.
  • I was initially hoping to use the comments feature in Google sites, but that would require folks signing in to the site - this never worked out since I didn't want to add that layer of complexity to accessing it, but I'm hopeful in the future to add this in.
  • Once you get a little more advanced, it's fun to play with Site Layout and with Manage Site-> Colors & Fonts to change the feel of your site. But there's no need to start out there.

It took a bit of up-front effort to learn how to fiddle with Google sites, but I think that overall it is worth it. I am looking forward to the future as our program's cache of resources continues to grow. I recommend giving it a try!

Covenant Circles in Action,
- Loretta Carmickle, Director of Covenant Circles at UU Congregation of Green Valley, in Amado, AZ

For the past two years, facilitators of our UUC covenant circles have written brief reports of their meetings which provide helpful insights into what actually goes on in a covenant circle, where the emphasis is always on sharing personal thoughts and experiences about an assigned worthwhile topic, coupled with attentive listening by other members of the group that allows the speaker to talk without interruptions from the listeners.

These reports contain useful material for inclusion in training sessions for facilitators.

Following are some excerpts from a fairly large number of reports that were generated over the years from our various covenant circle meetings: (Session topics are in bold caps.)

• Following the candle lighting and some shared readings, we did an "On Our Hearts" segment of bringing up special things affecting our recent lives, before getting onto the topic. On the topic of RESILIENCE, we were guided first into thinking about how we would react if suddenly told that we would never walk again. This prompted responses about undone things wished completed, about ways of adapting selves and living environments, as well as perhaps "fighting or denying the message" and taking positive steps to prove the prognosis wrong. We then had a couple of rounds about stories of resilience (or not) in our lives.

• This was our eighth and last meeting. It was with mixed sadness and laughter that we discussed our MINISTRY, and although some felt they had none, it was pointed out by the leader of the session, that we all ministered to each other by our attentive listening and by attending each session so faithfully - it was rare to not have all eight of us there. We have enjoyed the sessions and the 3-5 p.m. timeframe. One member so hated to see the end that he invited us all to his house after the last meeting, and we had a lovely party of food, sharing, and gifts.

• I am amazed by the depth of sharing that is happening in our group, which reveals how deep the trust has grown since our first session. It is interesting to note that many, in discussing BOUNDARIES, linked them back to what they had learned about them in childhood and, in some cases, discovered them only as a result of this session on boundaries today.

• It felt to me that we had a very good deep-sharing, deep-listening time in a great variety of ways as we looked at TRUST (or the lack thereof). I believe it was done well, and respectfully, without what would be called cross-talk or interruption of the speaker. Topics ranged from childhood to recent, from semi-humorous to sad and difficult.

• Our eight members shared thoughts on the topic of HOSPITALITY AND THE STRANGER. I think we did quite well in responding to this topic with descriptions of personal experiences in being the stranger and/or meeting the stranger. At the conclusion of our sharing time, we had a few minutes of open discussion, and we all agreed that it was a difficult topic but that it was a good challenge for us.

• Some considered the topic - CALLING - more of a struggle than usual, seemingly related to uncertainty about what constituted a "calling" - whether it had to be clear and strong and possibly career-oriented or whether it could be any of various pulls that led to decisions and turning points.

• Once again, members expressed gratitude for the deepening intimacy and connections that small groups like this foster. It is clearly very meaningful to many and a great way to get better acquainted.

Share your insights, strategies and experiences.
Send your comments to Diana at
We'll print them in the next CGNews.

Website Updates

Check out the new section of the Network website! "Implementing Small Group Ministry For Starting, Restarting, and Enhancing Small Group Ministry and Covenant Groups" is now ON LINE. Check out the link at the top right of the Home page! There is more complete article in the Spring SGM Journal.

We are in the process of establishing two new areas on the website that are specifically for Network members. The first is a Members Section. Invitations have been sent to all current members inviting information and updates on their programs. We are hoping to have this section developed by May. The second is the Specific Focus Sections for Ministers, Small Group Ministry Lay Leaders, and Religious Educators. We are looking forward to working with these groups in capturing their present involvement with Small Group Ministry, identifying their specific challenges and developing resources. This will be a focus of the Small Group Ministry Institute "Meetings for Ministers, Religious Educators and Lay SGM Leaders" on July 24, 2013, at Murray Grove. Join us for Social time and dinner at 5:30pm, followed by the meetings 7-9pm. Join us at the Institute or send your comments to These sections will be developed over the summer 2013.

Comments and ideas are welcome through
Helen Zidowecki

Small Group Ministry Institute

The information and registration for the Small Group Ministry Institute is on the website for the Network and for the Central Eastern Regional Group (CERG) of the UUA ( Registration is done on line and payment is by credit card or check. (

In addition to the specific tracks, special focus sessions, meetings for various groups, we are planning time for case conferences. Bring a situation that you would like to present for discussion and for suggestions toward resolution. Bring the great things that your congregation is doing to share with others. Come, join us and enrich our time together.

The deadline for early registration discount (May 1) is fast approaching! The member discount continues.

News & Events

General Assembly <> June 19-23 <> Louisville, Kentucky

BOOTH # 419 - Exhibit Hall

Open Wednesday through Sunday

See full schedule in the GA Program or online at

Revitalize, Strengthen, or Grow your Small Group Ministry

» Purchase resources: facilitation, program management, sessions
» Share SGM/Covenant Group challenges and successes
» Speak with Network board members and SGM program leaders
» Get answers to all your SGM & Covenant Group questions
Booth Volunteers Welcome

See you in Louisville!

Murray Grove Murray Grove Retreat and Renewal Center
Lanoka Harbor, NJ 08734
Monday, July 22 (3pm) to Friday, July 26, 2013 (11:30am).

We are planning to have
  • Tracks for New and Revitalizing SGM, Facilitator Training, and Small Group Ministry With All Ages
  • Small Group Ministry Sessions daily
  • Open evening sessions on topics such as Best Practices in Small Group Ministry; Meetings for Ministers, Religious Educators, Lay SGM Leaders; and SGM as Congregational Outreach and Service
  • Material related to various congregational sizes and length of time with SGM program.
An Institute is more than a workshop. While learning from each other, we are defining critical parts of implementation and "growing edges." Participants will be major presenters of the content. Contribute to the evolution of UU Small Group Ministry

See the Flier for more information and the sample registration. However, registration is done on line with credit card or by sending a copy of the registration with a check to the address given. Thanks to Metro New York District for making this online registration possible. Cost for full Institute at Murray Grove $400, with early registration and membership discounts. Options are available for commuters.

For information about Murray Grove, see There is a pool, and there is some open time for 'vacation' activities.

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 Journal.

For information on training opportunities see the Event Announcements

UU SGM Network Publications

Order forms available from

Social Justice Work Through Small Group Ministry Features 34 covenant group sessions for preparation, action and reflection on topics of multiculturalism, radical hospitality, immigration, racism, marriage equality, and earth justice.
BOOK Network Members: $15 plus $6 S&H Non-members: $25 plus $6 S&H
CD Network Members: $15 plus $2 S&H Non-members: $20 plus $2 S&H

Small Group Ministry with All Ages Implementation strategies, leader training, session development, and session plans for children through elders.
BOOK Network Members: $20 plus $6 S&H Non-members: $30 plus $6 S&H
CD Network Members: $15 plus $2 S&H Non-members: $20 plus $2 S&H

Soul to Soul: Fourteen Gathering for Reflection and Sharing Topics such as addiction, aging and personal resilience offer new opportunities to explore life issues with others.
Skinner House Books, $14.

ALSO AVAILABLE See our website for details.
Facilitator Training and Development Manual. A guide for training and support plus a handbook on CD to customize for group leaders and facilitators.

Spiritual Journeys: 101 Session Plans for Small Group Ministry Programs
Sessions on Spiritual Journeying, Personal Beliefs and Values, Spiritual Challenges, Just for Fun, Being Human, Holidays, and Special Use subjects for life events.

Small Group Ministry for Youth. Twenty-five sessions for middle and high school youth

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.

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.

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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