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February 2015

Small Groups, Deep Connections February 2015
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
  • Hearing Impairment: A Guide for Covenant Groups
  • SGM Facilitation Workshop in Atlanta
  • Book Review
  • SGM Notes from Congregations
  • Regional News
  • Web News
  • Publications
  • Who We Are
  • Contact Us

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Letter from the Editor


Welcome to the February 2015 issue of Covenant Group News. We hope that your Small Group Ministry program is thriving and, once again, we invite you to share with us your experiences --including your challenges as well as your treasured successes.

In reviewing the content of this issue, we were struck by the way the common theme of "better meeting the needs" threaded its way throughout.

In the first article, Anne Gero tells us how SGM facilitators in the program at UU's of Cumberland Valley (Boiling Springs, PA) convened and, with the help of a hearing impaired member of the congregation, worked to develop guidelines for better addressing the needs of people with hearing impairment in their groups.

In the next article, Jessica Seales, Director of Congregational Life at the UU Congregation of Atlanta, Georgia, shares the inspiring experience of participating, along with SGM leaders from two other congregations in the area, in the Rev. Dr. M'ellen Kennedy's workshop "Healing and Transformation in Small Groups."

This issue's book review of Mark Nepo's "Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What is Sacred" speaks to that essential and central element of our small group practices -- listening. Anne Gero's review of the essays and the processes that Nepo presents motived us to add this to our "to read" list.

In news from local congregations, we hear from Judy Hartner of the UU Church of Amado, AZ about how they have adapted to being in a retirement community with many winter-only residents.

And in Regional News, we learn about three congregations in the Central East Regional Group in New Jersey that have joined together to offer small group ministry.

Share your questions, comments, concerns, and visions with us at We are eager to hear from you.

Marilyn Eanet/Anne Haynes, Guest Editors
First Unitarian, Providence, RI/UU Church of Bloomington, IN

Hearing Impairment: Guidelines for Covenant Groups
Contributed by Anne Gero, UU SGM Network Publications Team

During a recent training session for facilitators of our Small Group Ministry program, we addressed hearing impairment and asked what facilitators could do to make a difference.

In preparation for the training, I approached Joan Bechtel, a congregation member with significant hearing loss, and asked if she would help us. She willingly agreed and drafted a list of suggestions. Two facilitators shared that they had hearing losses and would represent the needs of the hearing impaired during the training.

Joan's list generated a very lively exchange. Among the suggestions was that each facilitator initiate a group discussion about ways to encourage members to talk louder and to enunciate their words. A participant asked if articulation was as important as loudness. Our experts asserted that speaking clearly and distinctly was more important than volume.

Another important question was how members with hearing impairment can let the group know when they cannot hear the speaker. Initially we proposed hand-raising as a good way to communicate the need. Later in the conversation, however, all agreed that cupping one's hand around an ear was the preferred signal.

Final remarks were very positive about dealing with this issue. In closing, I thanked everyone and offered a quote from Joan: "Having a hearing impairment is very frustrating - partly because it is usually invisible. Often a person with this problem will cope by leaving." The group emphatically agreed that it is important to make changes that optimize the covenant group experience for all participants.

"Healing and Transformation in Small Groups" Hosted By UUCA
Contributed by Jessica Seales, Director of Congregational Life
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta, Georgia

The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta hosted Rev. Dr. M'ellen Kennedy's workshop "Healing and Transformation in Small Groups" on Saturday, January 24, 2015. Eighteen attendees from three UU congregations across North Georgia attended, with most currently serving or looking to serve as a leader of a covenant group.

I had the opportunity to take this workshop from Rev. Kennedy in late 2014. Looking to strengthen my leadership skills as Director of Congregational Life at UUCA, Rev. Kennedy's workshop gave me the tools and experiences I needed to confidently supervise a covenant group program of about 20 small groups, and learn a little bit more about myself in the process! I recognized the value, healing, and transformation that I experienced during this workshop, and asked Rev. Kennedy to return to Atlanta to host the workshop at UUCA.

The workshop received lots of wonderful feedback, with nearly every attendee commenting on how easily Rev. Kennedy's facilitation methods inspired them to make themselves more vulnerable and open. Many new facilitators found the fundamentals of facilitating a covenant group presented to be very inspiring and supportive. Each new facilitator left feeling like they were empowered not just to facilitate a covenant group, but to take on the ministry of changing lives.

For the experienced facilitators, the workshop gave an infusion of energy, enthusiasm, and dynamism. It is my hope that this energy will allow our covenant group program to expand and become more vibrant than ever. Several people who attended also hope to bring these skills back to other programs they volunteer with, such as religious exploration and weekly discussion groups.

All in all, it was a wonderful, refreshing day with a room full of inspiring people!

Book Review

Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What is Sacred
By Mark Nepo, 2012, Atria Paperback, A Division of Simon and Schuster

Contributed by Anne Gero, Unitarian Universalists
of the Cumberland Valley, Boiling Springs, PA

Mark Nepo, poet and philosopher, has written a book that addresses the spiritual aspects of listening. It is grouped into three sections of essays: 1. The Work of Being, 2. The Work of Being Human, and 3. The Work of Love. Each section corresponds to a type of relationship with the world and a different type of listening.

The first thing that struck me was how Nepo justified his title, "Seven Thousand Ways to Listen." Nepo had experienced hearing loss and believes that listening can be both enlightening and challenging. "Whatever difficulty you face, there are time-tried ways you can listen your way through. Because listening is the doorway to everything that matters. It enlivens the heart the way breathing enlivens the lungs. We listen to awaken our heart. We do this to stay vital and alive."

After reading only a few essays in each section, I was drawn in and each essay made me eager to read more. Besides the themes, I became enchanted with the structure of each chapter that followed the theme. Nepo has a reflective pause that leads the reader through a meditation. After that, he lists what he calls "table questions" for discussion. The third and final directive offers questions for one's journal.

I found this content, complemented by process, to be an excellent approach to learning and I was eager to engage in doing the exercises. In fact, I began immediately jotting down notes for my own journal. The book references a wide range of resources that will be valuable for further explorations of the importance of listening.

As the Quaker educator and spiritual activist Parker Palmer says about Nepo's book, "Learn to listen anew - to those closest to you, to strangers, to nature, to your own heart, and to the great silence."

SGM Notes From Congregations

Covenant Circles at Unitarian Universalist of Amado, AZ
Contributed by Judy Harmer, Program Leader

Our church, Unitarian Universalist of Amado, Arizona, has been holding covenant circles since 2010. I recently took over program leadership when our leader of 5 years stepped down. Our church is "seasonal" in that we are in a retirement community with a fairly large number of winter visitors. For this reason, we try to host more Circles in the winter months.

In 2013-14, using "Living in Gratitude" as our theme, we had monthly Circle meetings over the many aspects of gratitude for the entire year. We also used the book "Heart to Heart" by Christine Robinson and Alicia Hawkins for an 8 bi-weekly winter session. We started 2015 using Robinson and Hawkins' book "Soul to Soul" for 8 bi-weekly sessions.

Our other covenant circle meets in the home of one of our older members who has been too ill to attend church, so we are taking the Covenant Circle to him beginning in February. Our challenge is to have people continually joining and being interested, and when they do they find the deep connections to be very soul-satisfying.


A Small Group Ministry Partnership
Adapted from

Three congregations in the Plainfield, NJ, area of Central East Regional Group have partnered to offer small group ministry. First Unitarian Society, the Unitarian Church in Summit, and the Somerset Hills UU Church jointly sponsor "Spirit in Practice Circles." Participants register online to join a small group focusing on one of three areas. The first is for the Small Group Ministry that is based on themes for the year. The next is for RE families, also theme-based, and the third is Beloved Conversations which focuses on race and creating the beloved community.

At First Unitarian Society in Plainfield, NJ, this year's ministry theme "Becoming Long Haul People" shapes both worship and small group ministry. Each month a theme-related archetype such as storytellers, ghosts, or gamblers is explored.

Storytellers: What stories do we tell that shape what we know about ourselves? How do the stories we tell affect our mission and vision as Unitarian Universalists?

Ghosts: What things must we let go to help us move forward? What things are present but need help to be made visible? What shall we carry from our past into a vibrant new future?

Gamblers: Long-haul people know when to hold back, when to take risks, and when to take a stand for what they believe in. They have mentors, perhaps disguised as Gamblers, who can share widom and offer real advice.

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