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November 2014

Small Groups, Deep Connections November 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
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
  • From the Heart: A Chalice Circle Story
  • Healing & Transformation in Small Group Ministry
  • SGM Notes from Congregations
  • Small Group Ministry Resources
  • Web News
  • Publications
  • Who We Are
  • Contact Us

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Letter from the Editor


Welcome to the November 2014 Covenant Group Newsletter. As you can see from the directory printed below in the sidebar, there is a wide variety of articles in this issue.

As a new member of the Publications Team and Guest Editor of this issue, I have chosen to "lift up" some parts and draw attention to key components that appear to me to be very informative, interesting, and relevant.

First, I would highly recommend that you begin by reading George Rehrey's article about his journey into the Chalice Circle program. He offers a vivid description of the personal obstacles that he had to overcome to be able to join a group.

My question for George (and others who deal with these obstacles) is: How did you overcome those concerns? Was it something printed in the brochure? Was it current group members who talked with you? What made a difference? Help us know how to reach out to congregants who share similar roadblocks.

A must-read is the article about "Healing and Transformation" in SGM by Anne Haynes (also a Publications Team member) and Rev. Dr. M'ellen Kennedy. They make a strong case that it is time for a "larger view" of SGM. This article is compelling and merits consideration and discussion. I plan to bring it to our Coordinating Committee and to our Facilitator Meeting to seek their reactions. Perhaps you too could lead a discussion about the article and share with us what emerges from your discussions.

In the next section, the Newsletter offers notes from congregations about what they are currently doing to further develop their programs. The examples often help us examine strategies to see if they would work for us.

The final section is a compilation of available and forthcoming resources. I would challenge you to carefully read these descriptions. My guess is that you, like me, may find material unknown to you. For example, did you know that the 600 plus session plans online are now being organized by key word topics to permit better access? Get up to date so you can better use the resources by reviewing the extensive list in this newsletter.

In closing, I am remembering a quote by Thoreau: "It is not what you look at that matters, it's what you see." Look closely and let us know what you see. Share your questions, comments, concerns, and visions with us at We are eager to hear from you.

Anne Gero, Guest Editor
Chair, SGM Coordinating Team
UU of Cumberland Valley, Boiling Springs, PA 17007

From the Heart: A Chalice Circle Story
Contributed by George Rehrey, UU Church of Bloomington, IN

I have to admit I was really skeptical about making the year-long commitment to a Chalice Circle, since generally speaking, I shy away from group activities of any sort, but especially those that require abiding by any guidelines or rules. But one thing I have learned over the years is that if the thought of doing something makes me uncomfortable, then surely there is an opportunity for personal growth and development.

Through Chalice Circles I have come to understand how important it is to silently and deeply listen to another person, giving them the opportunity and the space to speak from the heart. And I have come to appreciate what it is like to be given that same opportunity and space, and to speak freely without fear of judgment, from my heart.

I have experienced just how mystifying it can be to simply allow someone to speak candidly about what they need to express. And I have become aware of the many ways I can become distracted and find myself wandering around in my own thoughts, instead of paying close attention to others.

Most importantly, I have come to realize how deep listening can be a powerful teaching and learning experience for myself and for others. I have come to see how each individual's life story uniquely shapes the way he/she views the world, and therefore, how important it is for each and every story to be heard.

To participate in a Chalice Circle is to be part of a collective story, one that weds the stories and personal journeys of each individual with the stories of fellow UU church members. Like any life story, it includes moments of joy, sorrow, laughter and kindness. But most importantly, it is a story about speaking and listening from the heart.

Healing and Transformation in Small Group Ministry
By Anne Haynes with Rev. Dr. M'ellen Kennedy

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington, IN was the setting for an all-day workshop on April 26, 2014, "Healing and Transformation in Small Groups," presented by the Rev. Dr. M'ellen Kennedy. The 28 attendees were from five UU congregations in Indiana and Ohio and represented congregational leaders wanting to implement small group ministry (SGM), members of covenant groups, and experienced facilitators in SGM programs. Rev. Kennedy is well known to the ministers and leaders of SGM at the UU Church of Bloomington because she led the original training when our program was getting started nine years ago.

I attended this workshop as an experienced facilitator wanting to learn more, knowing that Rev. Kennedy was one of the founders of the UU Small Group Ministry Network and has done a great deal of work with small groups in a variety of settings. The workshop included all the nuts and bolts of SGM as practiced and promoted by Kennedy and other leaders in the Network. During the day we were able to break into small groups twice to practice actual small group sessions according to provided session plans, and we debriefed about that process. I did indeed witness some healing and transformation among attendees as some of them discovered this process for the first time as members of ad hoc covenant groups and felt the power of deep listening. It was gratifying to see people learning how they could take such a program back to their congregations. I highly recommend that groups of congregations join forces to hold such workshops.

I later asked Rev. Kennedy to share her thoughts on this workshop with the readers of Covenant Group News. Here is what she shared with me:

" ... I feel that we're in a new place, that the Small Group Ministry movement has matured. The kinds of questions that facilitators and program leaders have are different. There are many folks and congregations who have tried SGM and most with good success. I sense that there are three basic groups of needs among those who attend trainings. First is the folks who are new to SGM who need the basics. Second is the folks who have been at it for a while and need a refresher. As we know, programs tend quite naturally over time to drift from the original intent and model. The groups and programs may not be as dynamic or effective as the leaders had hoped they would be, but they're not sure what's missing. A refresher and an infusion of enthusiasm is much needed by some of our veterans to bring the groups back from where they've drifted and to reinvigorate the leaders."

"The third need I sense is quite interesting. The title of the Workshop is "Healing and Transformation in Small Groups." In the workshop, I offer a larger picture of why SGM is so important in terms of the larger trends in our society and the needs of our members, visitors and congregations. What is the theological relevance of SGM? How is SGM addressing the agonies of our era? How is what's transpiring in the groups a process of spiritual healing and transformation? How do we enhance this process by how we structure the groups and programs? How is small group ministry different from therapy groups and why is this important for the effectiveness of SGM? What's the role of story in this healing process? How do facilitators learn to understand themselves as witnessing healing and transformation?"

"I think that our facilitators are ready and hungry for this larger view. For the new facilitators who attend the workshop, it gives them a deep understanding of just why this work is so important; why it is ministry and why it's healing work. And for the strong cadre of facilitators who have mastered the foundations of SGM, this larger view is usually very exciting and empowering for them. It re-energizes them about the vital ministry they are providing in their groups. My doctoral dissertation at the University of Illinois almost 20 years ago was on 'World View Transformation in Small Groups,' so this is a passion of mine. It's exciting to be sharing this level of training with both new and experienced facilitators. My aim is that folks get infused with the power and spirit of SGM as well as receive grounding in the details of how to set up and run strong, vibrant healthy groups and programs."

SGM Notes From Congregations

Main Line Unitarian Church, Devon, PA
Contributed by Pauline Broberg

The SGM Steering Committee at Main Line Unitarian Church offers short-term groups throughout the year to introduce congregrants to small group ministry. Groups meet four evenings a month at MLUC on rotating days of the month: Mondays in October, Tuesdays in November, Wednesdays in February, and so on. This allows as many individuals as possible to attend on a day that is convenient. Attendees are asked to commit to attending all four sessions. The minimum group size is ten individuals, and child care is offered.

The short-term SGM program is led by two trained group facilitators. Topics are carefully selected to give individuals new to SGM a well-rounded, positive experience. The first session lets participants meet each other and feel comfortable sharing in a safe environment. The next sessions progress through subjective topics - one's definition of success or coping with stress - and end with a future-oriented topic, such as where one would like to be in ten years. After the last meeting, participants have the option of continuing as a long-term group or joining an existing group.

First Parish Church of Groton, MA
Contributed by Kathryn Ellis Moore

The SGM Working Group at First Parish Church of Groton offers a "Taste of Small Group Ministry" prior to each fall and spring series to introduce new participants to the program. In a Taste of Small Group (TSG), they explore a thought-provoking topic through guided sharing and listening in just 30 minutes. Childcare is provided.

Taste of Small Group and coffee hour sign-ups for the next SGM series are announced during Sunday worship service one to two months in advance. The SGM flyer, a separate insert in the order of service, can be viewed here:

The sign-up table offers food, flowers and sample SGM materials, with "SGM Ambassadors" (prior participants) on hand to share their experience. Sign-ups continue through the office, but most sign-ups take place on TSG morning. Taste of Small Group has greatly increased participation at First Parish and the Small Group Ministry program is thriving.

New Resource for Small Group Ministry (Chalice Circles)
Reprinted from the UUA Southern Region Newsletter: Mid-September 2014

Small Group Ministries are one of the best ways to grow your congregation. The Southern Region has two new resources for your congregation to use to help keep your Small Group Ministry vibrant. They are the Smart Church - Chalice Circle Handbooks by Connie Goodbread, a Congregational Life staff member. They are designed to help your Chalice Circle Facilitators lead deep discussions. They are each set up as one session per month for ten months. Holidays are worked into the sessions. They are based in the Smart Church philosophy of systems thinking and grounded in Unitarian Universalism. Download the free handbooks from Southern Region Resources:

Session Plans: Keep Them Coming!
By Rev. Helen Zidowecki, UUSGM Network

Over 600 Small Group Ministry session plans submitted by individuals and congregations are now listed in the Network website Session Plan Directory

Such wealth and generosity has led to three new developments to make session plans accessible and available:

1. A key word system to sort and search topics and themes. For some time, sessions have been identified through titles - UU Principles, for example - and by topic markers such as Beliefs, Celebrations, Congregations, Life Passages and Witness. The Session Plan Group is now creating a key word system to search for topics. In the meantime, we ask that plans submitted for posting include suggested topic and key words.

2. A collection of celebration and special day sessions. We invite submissions of sessions related to Earth Cycle and other religious celebrations, Congregational and Church Life Celebrations (such as Flower Communion or Child Dedication), and civic celebrations. The working title is Session Plans Around the Year. The publication mode we use will allow us to add new sessions on a continuing basis.

3. A session topic request area. Look for a new section in the Small Group Sessions on the website where you can request a specific topic, and individuals and congregations can respond by sending topic-directed session for posting in the online collection. In addition, become part of a pool of people who are interested in writing session plans around topics requested.

To respond to this article, contact
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* To submit and/or participate in developing Session Plans Around the Year.
* With ideas for a request-development partnership.

We look forward to hearing from you. And do keep those Session Plans Coming!

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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.

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