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May / June 2014

Small Groups, Deep Connections May / June 2014
The UU Small Group Ministry Network
Covenant Group News
is an interactive Small Group Ministry and Covenant Group newsletter distributed by the UU Small Group Ministry Network.
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SGM Network Publications Team
Alan Backler, UU Church of Bloomington, IN
Susan Coe, UU Church of Belfast, ME
Diana Dorroh, Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, LA
Marilyn Eanet, First Unitarian Church of Providence, RI
Anne Gero, UUs of the Cumberland Valley, Boiling Springs, PA
Anne Haynes, UU Church of Bloomington, IN
Susan Hollister, Eno River UU Fellowship, NC

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In This Issue
  • Letter from the Editor
  • Parting...
  • Recognition of Small Group Facilitators
  • Celebrate Covenant Groups
  • Small Group Ministry Seasonal Closure
  • SGM Notes from Congregations
  • Regional Events
  • Web News
  • Publications
  • Who We Are
  • Contact Us

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Letter from the Editor


I hope you've had an outstanding year of small group ministry and that the covenant group experience continues to invigorate, inspire, and sustain you and your congregation.

It's that time of year when small group ministries draw to a close. In this issue, Helen Zidowecki in Maine shares thoughts about saying farewell. We'd like to hear what happens at your congregation in the spring of the year. Do covenant groups take a summer break and resume in the fall? Do all groups dissolve with new groups forming in September? Do participants recommit to their groups for the coming year?
Tell us at the address below.

We follow up on year-end celebrations for SGM facilitators and participants in this issue. See how several congregations marked another successful year of small group ministry. We invite you to share your program's event also. Send to the address below.

Following our April issue, SGM brochures are coming in from across the country. This is a great resource for congregations who are starting or rejuvenating small group ministry. Brochure examples are very popular at the SGM Network's booth at General Assembly.
Send your brochure in .pdf format for posting on the SGM Network website.

Also in this issue we have program news from the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, LA, and a participant's experience at a recent SGM workshop in Bloomington, IN.

If you'll be at General Assembly in Providence, be sure to visit us. This is the SGM Network's ten-year anniversary! Come by Booth #723 to meet members of the Network board and talk with UUs involved in small group ministry across the country. See you there!

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

Send contributions, questions, and suggestions to

Contributed by Helen Zidowecki, UU Community Church, Augusta, ME

We need introduction when relationships start and closure when they end. This is true with small group ministry and covenant groups, whether it is with members coming and going, or with total change in a group, such as at the end of a designated period. The closure at this time of the church year encourages reflection on the impact of the experience on our individual spiritual journeys and the group process that allowed growth. Whether groups are ending based on a designated schedule, or altering a schedule for a summer with the intent of resuming regular meetings in the new church year, it is important that there be a time set aside for this reflection.

I have appreciated receiving session plans from the UU Church in Eugene, OR, over the years. At the beginning of the year, they have a session titled "Getting Acquainted. SGM Program and Covenant Review." The year closes with sessions such as "Farewell (and Evaluation)" and "Ending and Beginning" and "Ending and Leave-Taking." The Eugene sessions include the opportunity and expectation of evaluation. And the evaluation relates to the group participants as well as the facilitators. I also suggest that you consider "Ending" from Kitsap UU Fellowship in Bremerton, WA.

These and other similar sessions are available on the Small Group Sessions section of the Small Group Ministry Network website and are listed in the website directory.

The SGM Network will expand the online Implementing Small Group Ministry resource by adding processes for ending and leaving covenant groups. To help develop the "Introductions and Partings" section, please send:

  • Sessions that you have or as you develop them.
  • Your comments and key thoughts of what needs to be included.
  • Specific rituals that you have developed.

I look forward to receiving these at

Following are quotes from the Eugene session plans:

"We have come to our last session of this Small Group Ministry series likely with a mixture of emotions. We may perhaps have gratitude for our time together, our learning, our sharing, and our connections. We perhaps may have disappointment and sadness that this is our last session, or that we did not get as much from our shared time as we had hoped. We might have a sense of relief that our sessions are ending, and we will be on to other experiences. May we honor our various experiences and feelings as we continue our personal and spiritual growth, and our varied connections with each other." - From Ending and Beginning

"We have reached the end of this time for the gathering of memory and for letting the imagination play with future possibilities. We have enjoyed magic moments and edified each other. Shall it be concluded, then? Or will this adventure, now commenced, continue?...Is this ending to be an ending, or merely prelude to new, more glorious beginnings?...In your hearts lies the answer." - Adapted from Michael A. Schuler in Farewell (and Evaluation)

"We seek the courage and compassion to hear with care the memories and current experiences we share with each other. We wish to be a community of understanding, hope, and support. May we find ways for our stories to enrich our connection and enhance our appreciation of each other." - From Ending and Leave-Taking

"Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." - From Dr. Seuss, quoted in Ending and Leave-Taking

Recognition of Small Group Facilitators
Contributed by Alan Backler, UU Church of Bloomington, IN

For the facilitators engaged in Chalice Circles at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington, IN, the year begins with training in late August. The Circles themselves begin in September and meet regularly through May. Each month the facilitators meet with the ministers to discuss progress and share issues that come up in their Circles. In early June, we hold a simple celebration with a facilitator recognition event. We eat together - a meal catered by a local restaurant - and then share a fond memory from our Chalice Circles, just ended. The event also gives us a chance to recognize the facilitators and ministers for their efforts in making the Chalice Circles a success.

Celebrate Covenant Groups & Chalice Circles
Contributed by the Covenant Group Steering Team
Eno River UU Fellowship, Durham, NC

At the recent year-end celebration dinner for Covenant Group and Chalice Circle leaders and group members at Eno River UU Fellowship in Durham, NC, the steering team received valuable feedback about the small group ministry program.

Group members said the most positive things about being in a covenant group are meeting new people and feeling connected, deep relationships, spiritually rich discussions, participation in a small spiritual community, and learning about the spiritual core of the UU faith.

Participants felt their covenant groups had grown in intimacy because of commitment to attendance and the group covenant, service projects, personal topics, sharing openly, deep listening, and letting barriers down within the group.

Service projects this year included cooking and serving at Durham Urban Ministries, highway trash cleanup, Get Out the Vote assistance, the Moral March on Raleigh, working at Durham Public Schools' vegetable garden, helping with the annual church auction, and serving refreshments at two ordination receptions.

We look forward to expanding small group ministry in the coming year by offering sampler sessions, linking session topics to sermons, and starting groups for new members. As our leaders and participants said, "If you've enjoyed being in a group, talk it up within the congregation. Spread the word!"

Small Group Ministry Seasonal Closure:
Celebration, Reflection, Evaluation & Planning
Contributed by Rev. Dr. Jan Carlsson-Bull, UU Church in Meriden, CT

Perhaps you have read those two articles in the SGM Journal on "Resurrecting Small Group Ministry," specifically at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Meriden, CT. Whether you have or haven't, know that we have just celebrated closure of the first season. It has not been a full season, since it didn't really launch until February. Think gardening. The most challenging work of gardening is preparation of the soil. So it was that we "prepared the soil" from September through February before those first groups gathered in mid-winter to experience for themselves the gifts and challenges of this multifaceted ministry of small groups.

Summer is when SGM hibernates (although the flow of congregational life doesn't). We don't close up shop. We simply take a needed nap. Before that nap comes an evening of shared food (aka, a potluck), celebration of what participants deem has worked well, assessment of strengths and challenges, and anticipation for the 2014-15 season slated to launch with Small Group Ministry Sunday on September 21.

May 30 marked this evening of seasonal closure. Attending were facilitators, most SGM group participants and family members, and the three-person Coordinating Team. Commentary flowed freely and was solicited through questions on the difference SGM has made for individuals and the church as a whole, suggestions for next year, most memorable sessions, and topics desired for next year.

Personal positives included: deeper listening skills, not being alone in how I think about life, non-judgment, in-depth getting to know one another, and the sense of safety and comfort provided by facilitators. Communal positives included a stronger sense of fellowship, bonding, and empowerment.

Suggestions for next year included more say in the topics on the part of facilitators and participants, knowing the topic and questions beforehand, less structure, and an option for affinity groups (e.g. parenting, cancer survival, and LGBTQ matters). Most memorable sessions included How We Are Named, Friendship, and What Is Sacred? Twenty-five topics were suggested for next year. Most of this year's facilitators have agreed to co-facilitate again, with suggestions for new co-facilitators.

SGM Service Ventures with a congregational focus included scraping and priming the front porch and railing, coordinating two rounds of post-service refreshments, and planting flowers around the outdoor signs and pillars. Those with a larger community focus included mulching and weeding the Spiral Garden and organizing a collection for the Meriden Food Pantry.

Joanne Edwards, part of the SGM Coordinating Team and a SGM co-facilitator, eloquently shared her perspective in an article she wrote for the June UUCM newsletter on "One Person's Experience with Small Group Ministry:"

The beauty is in the listening. Hearing others voice opinions, thoughts and feelings; really listening, and not trying to fix or figure out what you will say back to them is a profoundly freeing and deepening experience.

With high anticipation that SGM at this congregation and hundreds of others will continue to blossom and evolve!

SGM Notes From Congregations

Branches Covenant Groups at Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, LA
Contributed by Dottie Kelly, UCBR Connections Director

The Small Group Ministry program of the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge is called Branches and began in 1999. In our congregation of 450 members, there are currently 23 Branches groups with 270 participants, including 44 Branches leaders.

This year we added a Sunday afternoon on-campus group to meet the needs of an unserved portion of our membership. A second group was added on an evening when staff provides free child care. Several long-term leaders passed the torch to trained group members, thus growing more leadership.

Our outgoing program coordinators, Ray and Kristie Boudreaux, hosted a Sunday afternoon by-the-lake party for Branches leaders after a Leader Appreciation and Recognition Service as part of Sunday worship.

We are gaining new Branches members from long-time church members as well as from new graduates of our "Roots" (Intro to UUism) classes. One challenge has been absenteeism and striking a balance between respect for personal circumstances and the need for consistent attendance to promote group cohesiveness.

Regional Events

SGM Workshop with M'ellen Kennedy
Contributed by Alan Backler, UU Church of Bloomington, IN

In early spring of this year, Rev. Bill Breeden arranged for a workshop at our church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington, Indiana. The workshop, called Healing and Transformation in Small Groups, was led by Rev. Dr. M'ellen Kennedy, a leading voice for UU small group ministry. Many of our Chalice Circle facilitators and future facilitators attended, as did members of other UU churches in the district who were interested in starting or growing their own small group ministries.

During the workshop, we twice gathered in small groups, partly with attendees from other churches. We ran the small groups like Chalice Circles, with deep listening as the central focus. While participating in those small groups, I was again struck by the deep spiritual power of deep listening - as we all connected deeply with one another, even though we had just met.

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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
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Write to us by email:, Attn: Rev. Helen Zidowecki

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