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September 2015

Small Groups, Deep Connections September 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
Susan Hollister, Eno River UU Fellowship, NC

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In This Issue
  • Letter from the Editor
  • Small Group Ministry at GA 2015
  • Reflections on the GA Booth Experience
  • Preparing For a New Season of SGM
  • Theme-Based SGM on UUA Website
  • Web News
  • Publications
  • Who We Are
  • Contact Us

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


Welcome to the September 2015 issue of Covenant Group News. As we begin this new year of covenant groups, we invite you to share your thoughts, experiences, challenges, and successes as we all learn from each other.

In the first article this month, Helen Zidowecki gives highlights of the Small Group Ministry Network Booth at GA 2015 in Portland, OR. As the Booth Assistant, I had the opportunity to talk with many of the people who stopped by. I consistently heard about the connections that SGM offers people as well as the transformative power of these groups. Visitors to the booth also expressed appreciation for the wealth of resources available on the SGM Network website, especially the session plans. Helen also invites us to participate in the SGM Network Survey and to share our experiences of taking SGM beyond our congregations and out into the world.

In the next article, "Reflections of a SGM Network Booth Volunteer," Dick Loescher of Eugene, OR, tells about his interactions with visitors to the GA booth.

In local news, we learn how congregations in Bloomington, IN, Providence, RI, and Durham, NC, prepare for and launch a new season of Small Group Ministry.

The National News segment focuses on SGM resources available to congregations that are engaged in theme-based ministry.

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

Kathryn Warrior, Guest Editor, Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Washington County, Hillsboro, Oregon.

Contributed by Helen Zidowecki, GA Booth Coordinator

The Exhibit Hall Booth at the UUA General Assembly is a highlight for the UU Small Group Ministry Network. Over 80 people came by the Booth to talk with us in June at GA 2015 in Portland, OR, and many more visitors stopped by to pick up literature and brochures. Our conversations included where people and congregations were in their experience with Small Group Ministry and what they might want or need from the Network. Almost every person who came by took some piece of information about Small Group Ministry and the Network. Thanks for visiting us!

In addition to general discussion, we drew people's attention to several specific areas. We will be planning Network activities around these initiatives. You are welcome to contact us to add your comments and suggestions, and to get involved with implementation as activities evolve.

The UU SGM Network Survey 2015 is designed to provide feedback that:

  1. Shows how the SGM Network and its resources are being used and by whom.
  2. Indicates the most-needed SGM resources.
  3. Helps determine how the Network can best support those involved in Small Group Ministry.

Several people completed the survey at the booth, and many more took the blue slip reminder to take the 10 minute survey at To receive a copy of the survey via e-mail or mail, contact We look forward to receiving your survey and comments. The results will be compiled in mid-September. Thank you for participating!

Congregational Survey
The SGM Network is frequently asked by the UUA and its members how many congregations have Small Group Ministry/Covenant Groups. The Network has interacted with 350 congregations at workshops and events in the last ten years, and has received articles and session plans from 170 congregations.

We connect with hundreds more program leaders and participants at General Assembly and through Facebook. We plan to add the listing of congregations with active small group ministry to the Network website in the near future. Contact to make sure that your congregation is on the list!

Small Group Ministry is a powerful and traceable movement within UUism. Direct contact with congregations plus a website review would give us a more complete picture of the impact of Small Group Ministry within UU circles over time.

Creating and Accessing Session Plans
With over 700 session plans on or linked from the Network website, we look for comments on both creating and accessing them. The new key words system makes it easier to sort the online directory of sessions plans. Developing key words is ongoing, and your input is welcome.

The new Holidays and Celebrations section of the online directory was developed as a result of visitor input at the Booth. Included are seasonal/earth-centered holidays, religious and secular traditions, and special celebrations within our congregational life, including child dedications, memorial services, weddings, divorces, and bridging ceremonies. Session plans for this section can be submitted at any time to Please send seasonal sessions about 3 months ahead so they will be available online at least one month before the event. The new section is expected to be up by September 15th.

Suggestion for session topics arose during these informal Booth discussions and will be added to the website soon. In fact, look for a series on "Food" that was sent to us after GA!

Session Plans in Spanish and other languages
We were asked about the availability of sessions in Spanish. Hopefully, raising the question will spark interest in making Small Group Ministry more inclusive. Please write to to share your session plans in Spanish and other languages, and to volunteer to help with finding, writing, and translating sessions.

Bringing Small Group Ministry Out Into The World
We introduced a new brochure which describes the vision of expanding UU Small Group Ministry/Covenant Groups beyond congregational "walls" to specific groups such as retirement and assisted living communities, prisons, Young Adults gatherings, and others. Let us know about your SGM experience in alternate settings. How has your involvement been transformative, challenging, and rewarding? A new "SGM in Community Settings" website section is under development. Please join us in its creation by responding to the questions in the online brochure at

Our thanks go to Kathryn Warrior (Hillsboro, OR), who was Booth Assistant, and Richard (Dick) Loescher (Eugene, OR) and David Tucker (Durham, NC) who volunteered at the booth, and to Board members who contributed to booth preparation. We extend deep appreciation and gratitude to all who contribute to the growth and development of our SGM Network.

Contributed by Dick Loescher, Small Group Ministry Steering Committee Chair Unitarian Universalist Church in Eugene, Oregon

I worked a two hour shift as a volunteer at the UU SGM Network Booth at the UUA General Assembly in June 2015 in Portland, Oregon. I also visited the booth and helped out a few other times more briefly. I enjoyed the experience very much for several reasons. It was a pleasure to meet Helen Zidowecki, President of the UU SGM Network, with whom I have corresponded many times. It was enriching to hear her perspective and experience.

I also enjoyed conversations with other booth volunteers and with visitors to the booth regarding their SGM programs and some of the experiences and materials from the SGM program at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Eugene, OR. I thought the exchange of ideas was stimulating and valuable for all of us. I also appreciated reviewing the UU SGM Network written materials in the booth.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to volunteer in the booth, and encourage others to consider doing so.

SGM Notes From Congregations

Preparing For the New Season of Small Group Ministry

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington, IN
Preparation for the September start-up of Chalice Circles at the UU Church of Bloomington begins with the Chalice Circle evaluations done in April, at the end of the previous session.

The main purpose of the evaluations is to provide the Chalice Circles Executive Committee with information to improve the Circles for the coming year. The evaluations also help us identify people who are willing to give oral and written testimonials about their Chalice Circle experience during the enrollment period in the fall.

About a month before Chalice Circles are scheduled to begin, a letter of invitation and an accompanying brochure, describing the elements of Chalice Circles, are sent to all congregants. The letter also specifies registration dates for Chalice Circles. At the same time, and extending into the registration period, testimonials by Chalice Circle participants appear in the church newsletter.

A training session for all facilitators is held just before the registration period begins. Each facilitator is provided with an updated handbook containing basic guidelines for running Circles, topical plans for use in individual sessions, and listings of social service opportunities in the church and the community. The handbook is used as a guide for conducting the training. Emphasis is placed on issues that emerged from the evaluations done the previous spring. The church hearing committee is invited to make a presentation and conduct a demonstration related to hearing issues in small groups.

On the first of three registration Sundays, the sermon focuses on deep listening and the role of Chalice Circles in the life of the church. An oral testimonial on Chalice Circles is given that day and on the second and third registration days.

After all of this preparation and the initial registration is completed, the Chalice Circles begin, usually in the middle of September. As the year goes on, additional participants are encouraged to join Circles as space is available.

First Unitarian Church, Providence, RI
At First Unitarian Church in Providence, our Small Group Ministry program has experimented with a number of ways to help members of the community, especially newcomers and newer members, become aware of the program and of the value of participating in a Chalice Circle.

Providing "samplers", single short pick-up sessions, after church on a couple of Sundays at enrollment time each semester has been really helpful. We reserve the auditorium for the sampler sessions and set it up with circles of 8 or so chairs. Experienced facilitators are invited to be available as leaders.

In both the printed material and in an announcement made during the church service, folks are invited to pick up their coffee and snack at the Coffee Hour tables and bring them to the auditorium to learn more about Chalice Circles. As soon as 5 or 6 people enter the room, a facilitator takes them to a circle of chairs and conducts a short sample session with an opening reading, a check in which provides an opportunity to share, and a closing. Then there is a time for debriefing and questions.

At the beginning, the facilitator talks briefly about what Chalice Circles are and are not. Although various topics for the sharing can be used, simply asking people to share what first brought them to First Unitarian seems to work best.

And, of course, registration materials are available. We have found that the attendees enjoy the experience and that many sign up on the spot.

Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Durham, NC
The new Covenant Group season gears up in late summer at Eno River UU Fellowship (ERUUF). Testimonials about the Covenant Group (CG) experience are scheduled during two Sunday services. The registration period is announced in the weekly E-News, along with an article that describes the program purpose and design.

During coffee hour from late-August through mid-September, group facilitators join the the CG steering team at an information table for all those interested in joining a covenant group. Questions are answered and program guidelines, sign-up forms, and orientation dates are provided.

Before the groups begin, all new participants attend a 30-minute orientation session with the minister and members of the steering team. Two times are scheduled: Sunday after service and a weekday evening. Orientation covers program purpose, participant responsibilities, meeting format, covenant, service, and commitment, and includes a deep listening exercise. It prepares members for a positive and rewarding experience from their very first group meeting.

New facilitators attend a training session and receive a Leader's Guide that includes program policies, resources for developing session plans, guidelines for creating the group covenant, service project suggestions, and strategies for managing group issues. Each facilator is paired with a steering team liaison to call on when problems arise within their group.

Members are assigned to groups according to chosen meeting day, time, and place, with attention to group diversity. Facilitators make personal phone calls to welcome members to the group, give meeting logistics, and answer questions. When groups begin meeting in October, the first session includes a welcoming ceremony for new members.


Theme-Based Ministry & Small Group Ministry

The UUA announces a series of web pages about Theme-Based Small Group Ministry now online at

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,


The SGM Network invites session plans from individuals and congregations for listing in the Session Plan Directory Please include a suggested topic and key words with session plan submissions.

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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
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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 (
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

or by mail: UU Small Group Ministry Network
c/o Treasurer
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Durham, NC 27707

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