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May 2015

Small Groups, Deep Connections May 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
  • Reflections on Covenant Group Ministry
  • Recommendation for SGM Structure
  • SGM Notes from Congregations
  • Theme-Based SGM on UUA Website
  • Small Group Ministry at GA 2015
  • Web News
  • Publications
  • Who We Are
  • Contact Us

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Letter from the Editor


Welcome to the May 2015 issue of Covenant Group News. We hope that your Small Group Ministry activities have gone well this year and that you are beginning to plan ahead for next year. We invite you to share your thoughts and experiences, including your challenges as well as your successes, with us.

In the first article this month, Chuck Battaglia reflects on an event celebrating ten years of involvement in SGM at the UU Church of Buffalo, NY. He describes how the process of intentional sharing within a safe, non-judgmental environment profoundly affected his own spiritual growth as well as his relations to others in the congregation.

In the next article, Anne Gero outlines a series of basic recommendations for structuring small group ministry. The article is essential reading for congregations just starting out in small group ministry and for those who are interested in rethinking or simply affirming how SGM is structured in their congregation.

In the news from local congregations, Shirley Farmer describes how First Parish Church of Stow and Acton, MA, incrementally introduced SGM to the congregation. Anne Haynes, of the UU Church of Bloomington, IN, shares rituals that are used to mark the end of the SGM year.

The National News segment focuses on SGM resources available to congregations that are engaged in theme-based ministry. This segment also draws attention to SGM activities available at the 2015 General Assembly to be held in June in Portland, Oregon.

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

Alan Backler, Guest Editor, UU Church of Bloomington, IN

Reflections on Ten Years of Participation in Covenant Group Ministry
By Chuck Battaglia, Unitarian Universalist Church of Buffalo, NY
Adapted from
Reprinted with permission.

This article is being written on the day after having attended a wonderful pot-luck dinner with other members of the Covenant Group Ministry program to celebrate the ten years since it was introduced to our congregation. The evening afforded us the opportunity to meet and interact with some new people and share some of the intangible gifts that we have received as a result of our participation in this simple yet powerful spiritual discipline. After a delicious meal, we had a chance to divide into groups and share our experiences about the role that our covenant groups play in our lives. I am always humbled and amazed at how quickly deep connections can be made between people through the process of intentional sharing within a safe, non-judgmental, and welcoming environment. I left the evening inspired with the renewed sense of purpose and hope for the possibilities that these groups have for the future in the growth and spiritual development within the UUCB.

I consider it to be a blessing to have had the opportunity to meet on a regular basis with the kindred spirits who have entered my life via my involvement with my covenant group over the years. Regular attendance in my covenant group provides for us the sacred space from which we can share our personal statements of faith and explore our feelings and insights about various provoking topics. Through active listening to others and sharing my stories, my thirst for a more personal and deeply enriching spiritual experience is being quenched. For me, this is an ongoing spiritual journey that has over the years had a profound impact on helping me better understand myself and my relationship with others and the world. If you are presently a member of a covenant group, you may relate to similar experiences that you have had as a result of your involvement. I invite you to share some of your experiences so others can learn more about the power and benefits of engaging in this simple spiritual practice. To those of you have yet to join a group, I invite you to consider exploring the many possibilities that Covenant Groups hold for anyone willing to make the commitment to attend. Quench your thirst and partake in the unique gifts that await you. Also, consider being a facilitator of a group so that you can have a role in promoting this healthy practice throughout your congregation.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
When you listen generously to people, they can hear the truth
in themselves, often for the first time.
~ Rachel Naomi Remen
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A Recommendation for Small Group Ministry Core Structure
Contributed by Anne Gero, Publications Team, UU SGM Network

Do you need a new structure for your Small Group? If so, you may want to consider this straightforward, yet simple approach.

There are two common reasons why a group may want to consider a new structure. When a covenant group is just beginning to function, it is wise to start out with a solid approach that has been used successfully by others. Otherwise, you may try a variety of interesting approaches but never make progress towards fulfilling your purpose of growth and development.

The second reason to seek a new structure is when your existing covenant group is not fully functioning. Perhaps bad habits have become the norm. Maybe your group has a history of interjecting comments, asking questions, or adding humor instead of allowing the members to be heard. Any of these habits create diversions away from an optimal environment in which everyone can listen deeply. Consequently, it is very difficult to attend to others or to yourself.

Deep Listening is a prerequisite for each member that enables all to pursue and achieve personal growth and development. In addition, members may want to do some processing to be able to clarify what has happened individually or collectively during the Deep Listening time. Experiential learning is best retained when we reflect about the outcomes.

The core structure is recommended for the session's primary focus, the deep sharing and listening centered around the chosen topic. The following guidelines are a three-step process for the heart of the session:

Step 1. Speakers are listened to as they all share their responses to the questions they each had chosen from the topic list. (Deep Listening throughout with no interruptions.)

Step 2. Each member shares the thoughts/feelings/growth evoked from listening to the speakers or being the speaker (sharing how the deep listening affected you.) Use "I" messages and elaborate about how the first phase was for you. (Deep Listening throughout with no interruptions).

Step 3. Additional comments, feelings, and the interaction are encouraged. Members can respond, ask questions, make statements, and express feelings. At the end, all will be asked "how has this session been for you?" (Respectful reflection and interaction).

Ask the group to try using this process for at least three sessions, then evaluate the outcome. Change is uncomfortable and it is difficult to make good decisions without ample opportunity.

I would welcome comments at about this article, your ways of structure if they are different, or questions you may want to ask.

SGM Notes From Congregations

History of SGM at First Parish Church of Stow and Acton, MA
Contributed by Shirley Farmer, SGM Program Coordinator

The Small Group Ministry program in Stow, MA, began in 2004. Several interested members joined our minister, Rev. Tom Rosiello, to attend a four-day training program for facilitators at the Ferry Beach Conference Center on the coast of Maine.[August 2005 by the UU Small Group Ministry Network.]

It was a concentrated and intensive few days, and the participants returned full of enthusiasm. For a few months, these trainees formed their own Small Group Ministry group. At first we used the topic outlines from UU Community Church in Augusta, Maine.We soon branched out and started writing our own.

After several months, we offered a Small Group Ministry program to the entire congregation. We just started our eleventh year and SGM remains a solid part of our Adult Program offerings. Groups are reformed each year in January, and members have the option of signing up for the same group or choosing a different group. Each month, all groups share the same topic. We currently have 7 groups, both day and evening, to meet the needs of participants. Membership in any group is limited to ten, including the facilitator(s). Most groups have both a facilitator and co-facilitator.

Over the years, new facilitators have emerged from our program. Facilitators meet monthly with the minister to share any issues that may have arisen, review the topic outline for the current month, and to choose a topic and writer for the next meeting. We look forward to accessing the session plans in the SGM Network files. We are also interested in providing more training for our facilitators. Plans are underway for a joint facilitor training for several area churches.

End of the Chalice Circles Year
Contributed by Anne Haynes, UU Church of Bloomington, IN

At the UU Church of Bloomington, we have several procedures or rituals to mark the end of the year. The Chalice Circles year begins in September or October and ends at the end of May, and groups do not continue year after year. Each Fall, about twelve new groups are formed, and each Chalice Circle meeting is based on one of the many session plans used in common by all the groups. In May the groups' participants are encouraged to have closure by using a specially designed session plan, "Saying Goodbye." This session acknowledges the special relationships we have formed during the year.

Evaluations are distributed to each member of a Chalice Circle at the end of the year also, and returned by someone other than the facilitator to the Chalice Circles steering committee. These are meant to give the leadership information on what has worked and what has not and how well the mission of Chalice Circles is being met.

In June the Chalice Circles steering committee hosts an informal facilitator recognition dinner for all the facilitators. This is a lovely way to end the year, to evaluate how things have gone, and to enjoy camaraderie with each other and the ministers.


Theme-Based Ministry & Small Group Ministry

Theme-Based Ministry is multi-generational worship and activities that focus on a monthly theme. The UUA announces a series of web pages about Theme-Based Ministry now online at

Included in the resources is "Theme-based Ministry and Small Group Ministry" re-published from the Fall 2013 SGM Journal. The article features theme-based ministry designs from Small Group Ministry leaders at Wilmington, DE; First Universalist Church, Minneapolis, MN; Charlotte, NC; and Augusta, ME.

The UUA invites stories and pictures of SGM/Covenant Group sessions using Theme-Based Ministry. Share your story by emailing

Send articles about using Theme-Based Small Group Ministry sessions to the UU SGM Network,

UU Small Group Ministry Network
General Assembly, Portland, Oregon, Booth #214
June 24-28, 2015


Congregational and Individual Members of the UU SGM Network are invited to be Booth Assistants and Volunteers. As Booth Team members, you will discuss SGM/covenant groups, answer questions, cite Small Group Ministry resources and initiatives, and share your experiences with Booth visitors.

GA Booth Assistants work in blocks of 2-4 hours, with modest reimbursement. Booth Assistant candidates are knowledgeable about SGM/covenant groups and the UU SGM Network, and are enthusiastic about sharing the Small Group Ministry model.

GA Booth Volunteers assist at the Booth in blocks of 1-2 hours. Booth Volunteer candidates have experience as SGM/covenant group members, dedication to the SGM model, and knowledge of the UU SGM Network.

Booth Assistants and Volunteers will work with the Booth Coordinator, a member of the UU SGM Network Board. There will be a one hour orientation via conference call before GA.

Apply for either position by e-mail to by June 1, 2015.
For more information see full notice.
Download Invitation Here

The SGM Network invites session plans from individuals and congregations for listing in the Session Plan Directory

Send sessions to

1. Theme sessions: The new key word system sorts by topics and themes such as UU Principles, Beliefs, Celebrations, Congregations, Life Passages and Witness. Include a suggested topic and key words with session plan submissions.

2. Celebration and special day sessions: Submissions of Holiday, Earth Cycle, and Congregational Life sessions are welcome. Include a theme such as "Celebration" and a key word such as "Advent."

3. Session topic requests: Look for a new section where you can request a specific topic. Individuals and congregations can respond by sending topic-directed sessions for posting in the online collection. To join the session-writing group, write to

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

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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 (
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Susan Hollister, Treasurer (

The UU Small Group Ministry Network
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