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February 2016

Small Groups, Deep Connections February 2016
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.
Visit us online at

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, Durham, NC

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In This Issue
  • Letter from the Editor
  • Envision the Future of SGM
  • New Resource: Listening Hearts
  • Theme-Based SGM
  • Small Group Ministry Institute 2016
  • Updating Implementing SGM
  • Web News
  • Publications
  • Who We Are
  • Contact Us

Join the Network
The UU Small Group Ministry Network facilitates networking among SGM practitioners and makes current, practical information and resources available to ministers, program coordinators, and facilitators. The Network is financially independent of the UUA.Your membership funding enables us to continue this important work. Download a Membership form or join online:

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 February 2016 issue of Covenant Group News. We hope your small group ministry program thrives as we begin this new year.

What innovations have you made or will you make in your SGM/Covenant Group program in 2016? Share your hopes and dreams with us in the Small Group Ministry Survey featured in this issue. Inspire all of us with your answers, and contribute to the composite article that will appear in the May CG News. We can all learn from each other.

Under "New Resource", Lenora Harris-Field gives highlights from Listening Hearts, Robinson and Hawkins' new book of covenant group topics. In local news, we learn how UU Church of Bloomington, IN, uses theme-based ministry topics in their Chalice Circles. In addition, theme-based ministry resources from the UUA are available online.

See the announcement of the Small Group Ministry Institute 2016, April 1- 3 in Knoxville, TN. Join the Institute and learn all aspects of SGM/Covenant Groups through interactive workshops, small group sessions, and networking. Register by Friday, March 18, 2016.

Next, Helen Zidoweki details updates to Implementing Small Group Ministry, the ultimate online resource for starting, restarting, and enhancing SGM/Covenant Group programs. Implementing is based on input from congregations, program leaders, SGM Institutes and workshops, and Network publications and surveys. We'd like to hear from you!

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

Diana Dorroh, Guest Editor, Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, LA


Envision the Future

Share your vision for Covenant Groups & Chalice Circles
What do they look like now and what will they look like in the future?
What can we learn from each other?
Take the 10 minute survey here


Listening Hearts: Fourteen Gatherings for Reflection and Sharing
By Christine Robinson and Alicia Hawkins
Published by Skinner House Books, Boston

Contributed by Lenora Harris-Field, Eno River UU Fellowship. Durham, NC

This is a third in a series of resources for spiritual gatherings of Chalice Circles and Covenant Groups. It uses the same format as Heart to Heart and Soul to Soul, with background, quotations, essays, activities, and questions to ponder on 14 different topics. Topics include Serenity, Mental Wellness, Soul, Sanctuary, Miracles, Leaps of Faith, Happiness, and Bucket Lists. Each topic provides easy-to-lead session plans. This format facilitates quick group formation where members can experience deep sharing and deep listening.

Theme-Based Small Group Ministry
Contributed by Alan Backler, UU Church of Bloomington, IN

In the last two years, the UU Church of Bloomington has adopted theme-based ministry. Each month, the congregation focuses on a theme that is explored in worship and in small group ministry. Examples of themes include Truth, Forgiveness, Creation, Gratitude, and Desire. Our church has adopted the Rochester, NY, model in which a different set of themes is used each year.

The themes provide an opportunity to go deeper into essential issues. Each month we either develop our own session plan for use in small group ministry or identify a session plan available on that closely reflects that month's theme. At our monthly facilitator training meeting, we focus, in part, on working our way through the theme-based session plan for the next month to allow facilitators to become familiar and comfortable with the topic and plan.

Theme-Based Ministry & Small Group Ministry Resources

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,


Network Friday, April 1 (6 pm) -- Sunday, April 3 (Noon)
Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church
2931 Kingston Pike Knoxville, TN 37919

Presented by the UU Small Group Ministry Network

Find complete schedule and registration information at

This Institute is a "working conference" designed for:

  • Individuals & congregational teams of adults and youth
  • New and experienced program organizers, facilitators, ministers, religious educators, and other congregational leaders

Join the Institute and

  • Learn about and practice Small Group Ministry through hands-on workshops, presentations, small group ministry sessions and networking.
  • Explore the impact of Small Group Ministry/Covenant Groups in congregations.
  • Build facilitator skills, including problem resolution.
  • Consider the process of Starting, Vitalizing, and Restarting Small Group Ministry.
  • Hone capacity to build Small Group Ministry for various congregational sizes and settings.
  • Take home a resource packet for Small Group Ministry.

This institute brings a new level of Networking.
The focus is on contributions from participants. Each congregation has a story to share.
Each congregation is encouraged to contribute to the content of the Institute.
Bring your SGM brochures, materials, newsletter articles, and share your experiences.
Congregations are invited to bring teams of at least 3 to take advantage of offerings.

Registration: Register on line with PayPal or card:
Registration needs to be received by Friday, March 18, 2016.

Registration is $40 for members of the UU Small Group Ministry Network, and $65 for non-members. You may become a member of the Network with Registration for the Institute, and pay the Member registration rate (Congregational membership is $100 per year, for any number of participants. Individual membership is $40 per year for that member only.)
Lodging is separate from Registration. See "Selected Local Accommodations" for lodging available through TVUUC's Home Hospitality program ( and other suggested accommodations.
For more information, contact: Rev. Helen Zidowecki at or 207-582-5308

By Rev. Helen Zidowecki, UU SGM Network

Access Implementing Small Group Ministry on, upper right on Home Page.

Unitarian Universalist Small Group Ministry and Covenant Groups emerged in the late 1990's. As Small Group Ministry evolved, the model articulated in "Basic Elements of Unitarian Universalist Small Group Ministry" became more apparent. There is flexibility within the Basic Elements to design a program to meet the needs of a congregation.

But how? What have congregations done? How should -- or rather, could -- it be done? There is the broad concept of Small Group Ministry/Covenant Groups, AND how it becomes alive within your setting.

Suggestions and experiences come from congregations, publications, workshops, and informal discussions. When Small Group Ministry comes up for discussion, let the conversation be "How does that work?" rather than "It has to be done this or that way." Small Group Ministry is a dynamic concept that can influence the entirety of congregational life and Unitarian Universalism.

Implementing Unitarian Universalist Small Group Ministry: For Starting, Restarting, and Enhancing Small Group Ministry and Covenant Groups has been capturing these ideas and experiences on the UUSGM Network website Home Page for a number of years.

        Have you seen it? No? Then give it a try.
        Have you used it? Yes? How has it been helpful? What suggestions do you have?

This is the most complete description you will find of the intricacies and possibilities of Small Group Ministry, precisely because of how individuals and congregations have made it meaningful for their setting, and have shared their challenges and strengths along the way.

The Network is updating Implementing and will make it available in electronic version for General Assembly 2016. Please visit Implementing online, then GIVE YOUR INPUT AND CONTRIBUTIONS in the comment space at the end of the respective sections. You can also email comments to

Each week there will be a focus on a section of Implementing on the website Home Page, scheduled as follows:
February 22 Overview of Small Group Ministry: Evolution, Transformation, Ministry, Growth
February 29 Longevity: Starting, Rejuvenating and Restarting Small Group Ministry
March 7 Oversight: Direction and coordination (Leadership, Congregational Connections, Evaluation)
March 14 Group Leadership and Facilitation: Facilitator development and Support
March 21 Groups: Membership/Participant Function: Group formation and process.
March 28 (2 sections) Sessions and Service: Content Function: Session dynamics and plans
April 4 Visibility for Vitality: Promotion
April 11 New section: Expanding Small Group Ministry, in process.

A suggested approach is to:

  1. Look at a section in its entirety to get an overview of the content.
  2. Read to see similarities with your setting.
  3. Note ideas that you might want to consider at some time.
  4. Compose and send your comments at the end of the section or by email to

Send comments on any part by May 1, 2016 for inclusion in the Implementing update. We also would appreciate knowing that you read the section.

Thank You. Your participation in the networking strengthens us all.


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

Send sessions to

Purchase books and CDs from the SGM Network using PayPal, credit card, or debit card. Titles are listed below under "Publications."

Visit the store:

Share ideas and enrich the SGM community

Small Group Ministry Network Group - Now 186 members strong!

Complete archives of Covenant Group News and the SGM Journal
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Over 750 session plans for download
Network member list. See "Who We Are: Our Members"
Event Announcements
Resources for Sale
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UU SGM Network Publications

UU SGM NETWORK PUBLICATIONS - Order online or by mail
See for pricing & ordering information

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
4303 Swarthmore Rd.
Durham, NC 27707

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