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July / August 2013

Small Groups, Deep Connections July / August 2013
The UU Small Group Ministry Network
Covenant Group News
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In This Issue
  • Letter from the Editor
  • SGM Institute Notations
  • News from General Assembly 2013
  • SGM Notes from Congregations
  • Resources from MidAmerica Region
  • Web News
  • Publications
  • Who We Are
  • Contact Us

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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. The Network is financially independent of the UUA.Your membership funding enables us to continue this important work. Download a Membership form or join online:

Member benefits include a 40% discount on Network publications, subscription to the SGM Journal, and consultation with experienced Network leaders.
Letter from the Editor


As we head into a new season of small group ministry, Covenant Group News transitions to a new focus and format. We look forward to bringing you SGM news, events, resources, and announcements from congregations, districts, and regions.

The term "cross-pollination" is often used to describe the interchange of ideas and practices during the annual Small Group Ministry Leadership Conference. In this issue, clergy and lay leaders share their experiences of the Summer SGM Institute at Murray Grove. SGM Notes reports current covenant group activities in three congregations. Also read about small group ministry's huge draw and magnetic presence at General Assembly 2013 in Louisville.

Let us know what's going on in your congregation: program promotion, group formation, service projects, facilitator training, theme-based sessions--anything you think would be interesting and useful for our readers Send news items to

Look to the SGM Journal for timely articles written by and for ministers, coordinators, facilitators, and group members. Receive the Journal as a benefit of membership in the UU Small Group Ministry Network. See Join the Network in the sidebar of this newsletter. Your membership fees support CG News and Journal publication and the development of new resources and training materials.

Wishing you another great year of covenant groups,

Susan Hollister, Guest Editor
Eno River UU Fellowship, Durham, NC

Write to with comments, questions, and suggestions.

Institute Notations
Contributed by Rev. Helen Zidowecki, Augusta, ME, Institute Coordinator

The Small Group Ministry Institute, held at Murray Grove Retreat and Renewal Center, Lanoka Harbor, New Jersey, July 22-26, 2013, was indeed more than a conference on Small Group Ministry/Covenant Groups. We went deeper in exploring the structure and impact of small group ministry on us personally, as well as on our congregations and Unitarian Universalism as a whole. The wisdom and discernment comes from the sharing of the participants as we considered what we are doing and why, and various ways of implementing the model that fits our setting. Presented here are comments from the following participants; other comments will be shared as they are received.

Angela Sullivan, Colorado Springs, CO
Gail Marsh Saxer, Toms River, NJ
Rae Ramsey, New York City, NY
Susan Webb, Bowling Green, KY
Rev. Dr. Jan Carlsson-Bull, Meriden, CT
Anne Gero, Boiling Springs, PA
Diana Dorroh, Baton Rouge, LA

What is your favorite take-away from the Institute?
The importance of having a strong SGM steering committee that includes representation from minister, board member and at least one congregant. I like the idea of including one SGM session as part of our newcomer education series. Angela Sullivan

The most fun take-away was the SGM of wayward participants. However, all the material was appreciated and extremely useful. The small group sessions were excellent. Gail Saxer

I feel that I have a support group around me for my work, resources to use as I need them, and a manual to go back to whenever I have a question about any aspect of our small group work. Rae Ramsey

Becoming aware of the patterns that are emerging with SGM. I was somewhat skeptical when we first talked about the "closed" 9 month groups, but became very enthusiastic about this as an add-on to our open-ended groups -- especially for young adults in our congregations. Anne Gero

The span of options for implementing and sustaining SGM that are practical, imaginative, and accessible through the Institute workbook and the ongoing connections with Institute participants as well as the SGM website. Rev. Jan Carlsson-Bull

The new connections and renewal of older connections in new ways that translates into new energy for working with Small Group Ministry. Helen Zidowecki

How did the Institute meet your expectations?
I came away with some inspiration to continue working on SGM and serving on the Network Board. I was hoping that would happen. I enjoyed working with the other faculty members and I think we made some new relationships and bonds. That will help with the Board work over the year. So, my expectations were met. I always enjoy working with congregational leaders who are planning to enhance their program or start one. Diana Dorroh

As a SGM Network Board member, the preparation as well as the participation more than exceeded my expectations. I gleaned a number of core ideas that I can immediately use in resurrecting Small Group Ministry in the congregation I serve as minister. Jan Carlsson-Bull

It exceeded my expectations. Not only was the information valuable but the participants were welcoming and caring. I felt that I made friends by attending. I would like others to know that the Institute provided excellent information in a format that was inviting and very informative. Further, all participants were delightful and helpful. All in all it was one of the best conferences I have been attended. Gail Saxer

In summary, I get excited about an Institute where we come away with so much more than the written plan and material that is presented. It is the moments of awareness, of sharing, of clarifying even as we talk with each other; it is gaining new insights that move Small Group Ministry itself forward within UUism. This happens when people at all levels of work with Small Group Ministry converge, listen, and expect to learn from each other. And that happened at Institute 2013! Helen Zidowecki

News From General Assembly 2013
Contributed by Diana Dorroh, Baton Rouge, LA

The UU Small Group Ministry Network has had a GA booth almost every year since its beginning in 2004. The Network Board staffs the booth and has always had lots of visitors and wonderful interaction at the booth. We've finished GA feeling exhausted, but sure we've provided a service to people and their small group ministry programs.

In the beginning, people stopped by to ask what small group ministry was. In the middle years, they brought their problems, both with individual groups and their programs, often complaining that their minister didn't support the program. This year, many of our visitors were ministers and they stopped by to tell us how much success they're having with small group ministry. The majority of visitors said they use the Network website extensively, thanked us profusely, and said they felt guilty that their congregation wasn't a member of the Network. Others thanked us for providing the SGM Institute and giving them what they needed to start a wonderful program.

Popular topics this year included small group ministry as part of campus ministry and ways to use theme-based ministry in a SGM program.

SGM Notes

Westside Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Seattle, Washington, is gearing up for a major marketing campaign in September as we continue to see congregational growth, from 75 members four years ago to 213 today! In addition to personal pulpit-side testimonials, we have found the personal ask (often after someone has joined) to be very effective. This year, one of our Covenant Groups has started an ambitious 2-year community project to create a small Community Lending Library on our church grounds, thus demonstrating our community involvement. -- Steve Becker, Covenant Groups Coordinator

The Chalice Circle program at UU Church of Bloomington, Indiana (519 members) has been in place for about seven years. Groups run from September through May, starting over each year. In an effort to attract older church members to the program and retain their participation, we're working closely with the Elder Focus Taskforce (EFTF) to address hearing issues. For example, we'll make portable microphones/speakers available to Chalice Circles for members experiencing hearing loss. In addition, EFTF representatives have been invited to provide training on a variety of hearing-related matters at the facilitator training session coming up on August 24. -- Alan Backler, Chalice Circles Coordinator

Eno River UU Fellowship in Durham, NC (556 members) offers a Covenant Group information table from mid-August through mid-September and participant testimonies during two Sunday worship services. Last spring we revitalized the program and adopted new policies with the goal of deeper connections, stronger community, and increased spiritual growth. Before the end of August, participants are asked to make an intentional commitment to stay in their group for another year (or leave to join a new group), and to mark the decisions with a ceremony. -- Covenant Groups Steering Team

SGM Resources from MidAmerica Region
Peter Bowden, small group ministry enthusiast, explores the important role small group ministry plays in congregational growth and membership development in the webinar Small Group Ministry and Membership Development, featured under MidWest UU Leadership at

Purchase books and CDs from the Network using PayPal, credit card, debit card, or checks. Gift vouchers are also available. Visit the store:

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NOW ONLINE      Follow the link at the top right of the Homepage
Implementing Small Group Ministry, an evolving resource for starting, restarting, and enhancing programs, is based on input from congregations and program leaders, as well as workshops, SGM Institutes, and Network publications and electronic media. Implementing addresses these broad areas:

Small Group Ministry Overview
Starting, Rejuvenating and Restarting Small Group Ministry
Program Oversight    •     Visibility for Vitality    •     Group Leadership
Group Formation    •     Topics & Sessions    •     Service Activities

Each section presents general information and guidelines plus options to consider.
Comments and contributions welcome at

Two new members-only areas will soon appear on our website. A Members Section will feature Small Group Ministry activities in member congregations with the opportunity to communicate and add comments or questions. Specific Focus Sections for Ministers, Small Group Ministry Lay Leaders, and Religious Educators invite exchanges of present Small Group Ministry involvement and challenges. Based on these interchanges, new SGM resource materials will be developed to address congregations' present-day needs.

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UU SGM Network Publications

UU SGM NETWORK PUBLICATIONS - Order online or by mail
See for pricing & ordering information

Social Justice Work Through Small Group Ministry - Thirty-four sessions for preparation, action and reflection on topics of multiculturalism, radical hospitality, immigration, racism, marriage equality, and earth justice.

Small Group Ministry with All Ages - Implementation strategies, leader training, session development, and session plans for children through elders.

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.

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

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