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Covenant Group News 2004 Archive

CGNEWS * Vol. 6, No. 9 - November 2004

CGNews * Vol. 6, No. 8 - October 2004
CGNews * Vol. 6, No. 7 - September 2004
Vol. 6, No. 6 - August 25, 2004 - "Start as you wish to continue"
Vol. 6, No. 5 - July 10, 2004 - "CGNews Moves to UU SGM Network"

Vol. 6, No. 4 - June 20, 2004 - “NEW ORGANIZATION FORMED”
Vol. 6, No. 3 - June 9, 2004 - “HOW OFTEN TO MEET, GA DEADLINE”
Vol. 6, No. 2 - March 11, 2004 - “SERVICE via FROGS, MEMBER RETENTION”
Vol. 6, No. 1 - January 16, 2004 - “BIG NEWS: APRIL AND JUNE

CGNEWS * Vol. 6, No. 9 - November 2004

Covenant Group News is a free monthly electronic newsletter on Small Group Ministry read by 1087 forward-looking Unitarian Universalists (including 18 UUA staff members). CGNews is edited by Peter Bowden and distributed by the UU Small Group Ministry Network.

Know of someone interested in creating healthy congregations and growing our faith? Use the link at the top of this page to send this message to them. Subscription information may be found at the end of this message.



Is your congregation in search? I just received yet another email asking for small group ministry related questions to ask ministerial candidates. Our congregations in search, the majority now in year one through four with small group ministry, want their new ministers to know their SGM. All of us facing an upcoming search, my home church included, would like to know what questions YOU would ask. Whether you are in search or have a happily settled minister, send us your version of the ultimate SGM interview question.

Send us your interview questions! I will compile them and share.
Write to Peter Bowden

Here's one to get you started:

Our faith is undergoing a paradigm shift. Our congregations are shifting from being minister centered to ministry centered. The integration of small group ministry is one example of how this shift is manifesting. The response to small group ministry suggests that our members are ready and willing to do ministry.

Not all ministers have experience with intentionally sharing ministry or training, empowering and supporting lay persons in doing ministry. In some cases sharing ministry can challenge a minister, calling into question a minister's conception of his or her role in a congregations ministry system.

How do you feel about this paradigm shift?
How is this shift changing your ministry?
Tell us of one of your greatest challenges and successes when it comes to sharing ministry and supporting a lay person's ministry within a congregation.



On October 17th, 2004 the UUA Board voted to accept the UU Small Group Ministry Network as a new independent affiliate organization. With this status we will be eligible to sponsor two workshops at General Assembly. Traditionally affiliate organizations hold annual meetings at GA and present one workshop related to their mission. Make sure to look for UU SGM Network events when you are making your GA plans.

Speaking of GA, now is a great time to start working on getting your church president and small group leaders to GA. Funding is available to help your president.

Take a look at http://www.uua.org/ga



"Get every SGM resource you ever dreamed of having! We'll drive a truck to your house! Act now and receive an official UU SGM Network Prius!"

Really? All that just for joining our network?

No. But when you do join the UU Small Group Ministry Network something amazing does happen. Every time an individual or congregation joins our network ($35 and $60 per year) our community and resource development system is infused with new energy! It is like putting gas in a brand new fuel efficient environmentally friendly car. Put gas in the tank and together we can go anywhere. Where are we going? We are on a mission to help create healthy congregations and to energize our faith. How? By supporting the ministry of every one of our association's small group leaders and those who support them. We know that with adequate support and training your ministry transforms lives, your larger community and collectively our entire liberal religious movement.

How do we support your ministry? Thanks to our growing community of members we are developing new resources, publishing CGNews monthly, maintaining an ever growing website of free and member resources, offering resources and consulting at GA through an exhibit booth, coordinating regional conferences and a week at Ferry Beach, and more. All that is with the support of a few visionary small group leaders, all of them CGNews subscribers like you.

Not a member? If you want more small group resources and have faith that small group ministry is the key to the long term success health and growth of our faith, we invite you to join us.

You can join right now online.
Snail mail forms available there as well...


Interested in making a donation to help bring our work to the next level?

Call me, Peter Bowden, at 401 855-0037 or write to Peter Bowden


These resources and more online at

1. Recruiting New Members.
By The Rev. Calvin Dame. Following an initial period of enthusiasm after a new small group ministry is launched many congregations report a decline in participation. The Rev. Dame discusses what can be done to help small group ministry fulfill its potential as central aspect of congregational life. From Fall 2004 SGM Quarterly.

2. Toward a True Lifespan Ministry
Peter Bowden explains why our offerings for children, youth and adults are a recipe for losing the children we raise as UU's and what a lifespan SGM will accomplish. From Fall 2004 SGM Quarterly.

3. Is Your Group Too Polite? The Balance Between Safety and Risk
Mellen Kennedy discusses the impact of group members being “too polite” and the important balance between risk and safety. From Fall 2004 SGM Quarterly.



Have you ever wondered what the UUA is doing to support small group ministry? We often hear people questioning how our association is supporting this important ministry. The answer? All kinds of great things are being done! Without a web page or staff person dedicated to this ministry it has been harder to see than the support being offered other ministries. Whether or not you've noticed, there are UUA offices and individual staff members supporting small group ministry within their specific area. Check out the new page to see for yourself.

A special thanks to Tracey Robinson Harris, Diane Martin and the OEC for setting this up!

You can find the UUA's new SGM page at

C, D and what? CDE refers to the old Congregational, District and Extension Services department of the UUA.


See our event page for more information on the events below.

1. Saturday, November 20th - SGM Foundations Seminar with Peter Bowden.
Considering small group ministry? This half day seminar cover the foundations of small group ministry including the role of lay and professional leaders, issues related to designing, launching and nurturing a small group ministry, and review available resources. No knowledge of SGM required. First Unitarian Church, Providence, RI. Call Peter Bowden at 401 855-0037 with questions or to RSVP.

2. Saturday, December 18th -- SGM Introduction with Calvin Dame, UU Church of Greater Lynn, MA.
Here is a program for churches that would like to introduce Small Group Ministry into the life of the congregation. We'll cover these and other questions and provide participants with the tools to go home and get started. This training will be most effective for congregations that are be to send teams. And for new leaders in churches with existing programs, this might be a useful day to be grounded in the basic theory and practice of Small Group Ministry.

3. Saturday, January 22, 2005 -- UU SGM Network Regional Conference. First Unitarian Church, Providence, RI.
Join us for a day long regional UU Small Group Ministry conference. This event is being geared for those who are already working with small group ministry. We'll focus on the issues that come up particularly after the second or third year. Those getting ready to explore or launch should consider attending either the November 20th or December 18th events listed above. All may attend but presentations will assume basic working knowledge of small group ministry.

4. August 13-19, 2005 -- Ferry Beach SGM Week


RE: "Bending Toward Justice"

Dear Peter,

I am a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Worcester MA and I facilitate a Thursday night Small Group. We used your session plan “Bending Toward Justice” on November 4. You invited comments on how the session went.

Our members are grieving deeply over the election outcome. We arrived in a somber frames of mind. The session proved to be successful (although Question 1 was covered by our individual check-ins) in that we were able to discuss our feelings, fears, anger, and frustration.

However, unanimously, we were very disappointed with Rev. Sinkford’s message. None of us were interested in “healing”. We remain inspired to advocate for our “values” in as vigorous a manner as the law allows. We have no intention of remaining merely vigilant. Each is committed to seeking out the most effective manner to thwart the social, political, and legal ambitions of the President and his political party. We are not willing to compromise our values of equality, fairness, justice, stewardship of the environment, and peaceful participation in the community of nations for the sake of healing. If that means we will remain strident and divisive, so be it.

Peggy Veal
Mendon, MA



Based on the letters we received following the election there is no question that some of the people in our groups are not happy with the outcome. Please remember that their are UU's who voted from President Bush. I heard of one group participant feeling that their group was acting in a hateful way. We can support our small groups, in part, by helping them focus their energy. They are clearly chomping at the bit wanting to do something. Let me note that many are the very same groups you've said have resisted doing any sort of service project. I remember reading an Anne Frank quote on a UUA banner that said "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." Take this time to channel the energy of your groups into service and justice work. Anything they do to help move us toward justice will make a difference to both them and our world.

Let your groups know about the UUA's Justice Issue web page

and the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy

AND if you've developed any sessions related to social justice issues, please share them with us.
Submit them to me at peter@smallgroupministry.net

In faith,
Peter Bowden
CGNews Editor and Co-Coordinator,
UU Small Group Ministry Network

PS --A note on the map of RED & BLUE STATES

For those of you distressed by the maps showing a country divided into massive areas of red and blue, fear not! Those maps are not mature representations of the data. For a better picture of the real (and purple) America, take a look at the work of M. T. Gastner, C. R. Shalizi, and M. E. J. Newman. These researchers have prepared maps taking into account the percentage of people voting red/blue per county and the population of each county.

See http://www-personal.umich.edu/%7Emejn/election/



To subscribe send an email to: cgnews-request@smallgroupministry.net with the subject: subscribe
To unsubscribe send an email to: cgnews-request@smallgroupministry.net with the subject: unsubscribe

CGNEWS * Vol. 6, No. 8 - September 2004

Covenant Group News is a free monthly electronic newsletter on Small Group Ministry read by 1050 forward-looking Unitarian Universalists.

* Upcoming Events
* Readers write in - Singing in Small Groups
* Readers write in - Welcoming Ceremony for New Members
* Q&A - The Rev. Calvin Dame on Facilitator Training
* New UU SGM Network Resources
* Write us! / Submissions
* Share CGNews, Archives, Subscribe, Unsubscribe

CGNews is edited by Peter Bowden and distributed by the UU Small Group Ministry Network
Online at http://www.smallgroupministry.net/cgnews



Small Group Ministry Conference
October 9th, 2004 - Devon, PA

Building Connections: Starting and Strengthening Small Group Ministry programs.
With The Rev. Calvin O. Dame & Mellen Kennedy.

Sponsored by the Main Line Unitarian Church, the Joseph Priestley District and the UU SGM Network.
The Small Group Ministry (SGM) movement is sweeping Unitarian Universalist Churches as groups of ten gather with a facilitator to consider issues of spirituality, life stories and challenges. Small Group Ministry strengthens congregations by building connections among individuals, engendering compassion and supporting commitment to service. Whether you are considering starting SGM or have an established program, join in this full day of training and inspiration to further your efforts in SGM.

Home Hospitality: There is limited availability of Bed & Breakfast lodging with MLUC Small Group Ministry members for workshop participants arriving on Friday. For more information, contact Susan Hollister: sbhollister@juno.com; 610-359-9890 or Jenny Campbell: jwcampbe@brynmawr.edu; 610-747-0247.

For more information, registration materials and
additional event listings please visit our events page.

Online at http://www.smallgroupministry.net/events.html

Save the date

November 20, 2004 - Why Small Group Ministry, 1/2 day, intro, location in RI
January 22, 2005 - SGM Conference, full day, multi-track, location in MA or RI
August 7-13, 2005 - Tentative week long Small Group Ministry dual track (intro/advanced) intensive at Ferry Beach

Submit district, regional & national event listings.
Send details to peter@smallgroupministry.net


An F.A.Q. by Julia Rodriguez
First Unitarian Church of San Jose

Should we sing in small groups?
If you are in SGM at San Jose the answer is yes. In San Jose, we think of what happens in SGM as an alchemical process. Singing turns up the heat to allow transformation to take place. When a session has been particularly emotional, the singing can provide a release valve. Another reason to sing is to reinforce that these small group sessions are worship.

Is singing only for the talented?
Part of the experience of small groups is about risk. Risk is sharing our less than perfect selves. Singing together is a part of that risk. In my own small group, I find that the singing is most important to those with the least singing abilities. When a group of women first added their first man, it was in the singing that the new richness was first noted.

My group refuses to sing, what can we do?
For groups that are truly uncomfortable with singing, try chanting the words. In your monthly leader gatherings practice new songs that are coming up.

Tell us your experience with music and song in small groups!
Email us at survey@smallgroupministry.net


Submitted by Ines Hoster
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta

Dear Peter, you asked for input -- here is one.

Our group of 8 had been working together for about 7 months when we were told that two new members were going to join us. That idea was met with some resistance from some members. Being the co-facilitator of the group with my husband, I was concerned about the old members’ reluctance and the new people feeling like outsiders. To overcome “estrangement” I was guided to offer the following ceremony, which enabled the whole group to accept and welcome the new persons and to express an immediate feeling of warmth and caring presence.

At the beginning of the meeting, after lighting the chalice candle and a reading we started the welcoming ceremony. The chalice light stood in the middle of a platter and around it I had arranged as many tea lights as were people present. As we passed the platter from one person to the next, each lit a candle from the chalice candle and expressed in a sentence a wish for the new person representing what they had gotten out of the chalice circle membership. Then, at the end, the new person would light their candle and express what they wished to bring to the group. All the lights were burning throughout our meeting.

It is a very simple ceremony yet bestows enlightened significance to the moment and allows everyone to reach out to each other.

We are members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta and we thoroughly enjoy being a member of a chalice circle. Establishing a small group with meaningful, open sharing moments has enriched our UU experience – new people have come into our lives and blessed us with their richness we have established more caring relationships - I would not want to miss.

Thanks for your work

Ines Hoster,
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta

Tell us your experience with welcoming new members!
Email us at survey@smallgroupministry.net


Q & A WITH The Rev. Calvin O. Dame
Minister, UU Community Church of Augusta, ME
President, UU Small Group Ministry Network

QUESTION: I wonder if you could help a bit by making me some suggestions regarding facilitator training, like how many sessions do you recommend, and what to focus on as being most beneficial.

ANSWER: This is a central question for pretty much every congregation that seeks to get a Small Group Ministry Program up and running. And the answers may
vary across a the spectrum from months of training to a Saturday workshop. Here is what I think. I think it is imperative that you chose people as facilitators who have enough experience and self confidence to run an Adult RE course or give a workshop. You do not need people with Masters in Counseling, as SGM is not and should not be therapy, nor do people need to have theological training, as these are exploration groups, not courses in religion. So, if people can conduct an evening meeting or teach Building Your Own Theology, they can probably be a facilitator. Facilitator training should not be basic group skills training.

As far as I am concerned, the most important part of Small Group Ministry Facilitator Training is connecting people to a vision of small groups as a part of the larger vision and ministry of the church. Facilitators need to understand ow the whole program works: that the groups follow an agreed upon format, that groups are open to new members when there is a space, that the facilitators regularly meet with the minister or a designated coordinator, and that the groups engage in service beyond their meetings at least once a year, to the church or to the community beyond. That participants in these groups are engaged in the ministry of the church, by deepening their own spiritual lives, by connecting with one another in fellowship, by welcoming the stranger and through service.

If your facilitators share this vision, then the details will sort themselves out: when to meet, where to meet, starting on time, ending on time, giving everyone a chance to speak, whether there is discussion during check-in or whether everyone only listens, reaching out to those who are absent. All these are details that get worked out.

So, with new facilitators I start with the Vision and Model of SGM. With a group I'd run a session or two to see how that feels. I would spend a session dealing with fears and apprehensions. And then I let them get started. Most of our ongoing training now occurs in the facilitators meetings, were longtime facilitators share experience with newer facilitators and lend support and encouragement.

Tell us your experience with facilitator training!
Email us at peter@smallgroupministry.net



In June the UU Small Group Ministry Network launched a membership program to support the development of new small group resources. These resources are now being shared with our members via our website and new journal, the SGM Quarterly. In time these resources will be published and sold in book form.

Our first new resource is "The Role of Confidentiality". Groups closed? Ministry needs not being shared? Newcomers resisted?
Confidentiality plays an essential role in the life of small groups. This resource identifies key ways confidentiality impacts group life and the shared ministry of congregations.

Here is a partial list of what we are working on right now...

* facilitator quality control
* year overview of suggested facilitator meeting topics
* promoting small groups
* relationships that govern growth
At the end of September the first issue of the new SGM Quarterly will be mailed out. This issue will feature an article by The Rev. Calvin Dame on recruiting new members as well as facilitator tips from Mellen Kennedy, retaining the UU's we raise through lifespan SGM by Peter Bowden, information on organizing regional SGM conferences and other news/tips.

We invite you to learn more and join by visiting us
online at http://www.smallgroupministry.net/membership



Do you have a great resource, story, testimonial, sermon, session plan, or news item related to covenant groups or small group ministry? With over 1030 subscribers we know some of you do. We want to hear from you!

WANTED - Sermons on SGM from congregations working with small group ministry for over two years. We've been getting requests from congregations in their early years wondering what changes with time, how you talk about shared ministry after learning the ropes, etc...

Send sermon links to peter@smallgroupministry.net.

CGNews submissions due the 5th of the month for that months message.



Know someone who might be interested in this topic? Feel free to forward Covenant Group News to them. Unitarian Universalists may feel free to use this material in any manner consistent with the growth of our liberal religion. Otherwise, all rights are reserved.


Archived back issues are available at http://www.smallgroupministry.net/cgnews


To subscribe send an email to: cgnews-request@smallgroupministry.net with the subject: subscribe

To unsubscribe send an email to: cgnews-request@smallgroupministry.net with the subject: unsubscribe


Covenant Group News is a free monthly newsletter on Small Group Ministry read by 1034 forward-looking Unitarian Universalists.

          CGNEWS * Vol. 6, No. 6 - August, 2004

>  Start as you wish to continue
>  Are you guilty of being a Unitarian Universalist?
>  New Augusta, ME Session Book
>  We want to hear from you
>  Join the UU Small Group Ministry Network
>  Share, Archives, Subscribe, Unsubscribe

Don't miss the upcoming fall issue of the SGM Quarterly, the new journal of the UU Small Group Ministry Network.  This issue will feature an article by the Rev. Calvin Dame on recruiting new members as well as facilitator tips from Mellen Kennedy, retaining the UU's we raise through lifespan SGM by Peter Bowden, information on organizing regional SGM conferences and more.

Get the Quarterly mailed to your home. Join the UU SGM Network


With the start of the church year there are many opportunities.  One of them is to gather your small group leaders together and to affirm the vision for your church and its ministry.  Don't let the year start with facilitators wondering when groups will be formed, when to expect session resources and if there will be a September facilitator meeting.  Explain your startup plans by early September.  Letting these questions go unanswered can produce anxiety and a sense that facilitators are either not valued or are taken for granted.

Remember, how you start the year can set the tone for the coming months. If you want to have strong group enrollment make small group ministry part of your in-gathering plans. Include an invitation to join a small group in your spoken and written announcements.  Have a staffed registration table for small group ministry next to your religious education registration table.

Do you have ideas for starting up the church year right?

Send your ideas to survey@smallgroupministry.net



In his book, Growing a Beloved Community (Skinner House, 2004), the Rev. Tom Owen-Towle offers the following question:

"If you were on trial for being a Unitarian Universalist, would there be enough evidence to convict you?"

The above question came to mind recently while I was on the phone with one of our ministers. She shared the following common problems with her congregation's small group ministry.

1. Groups tend to become closed.
2. Groups do not want to do service projects.
3. Group leaders say they do not have time to meet with minister.
4. There are not enough leaders to form groups for newcomers.

Many of these problems have roots in Rev. Owen-Towle's question.  Your groups are greatly impacted by the vision you uphold, leaders you select, and the content/quality of your ongoing facilitator sessions.  It takes a clear vision, committed UU's and consistent effort to engage in the ministry of sharing our faith.  If your small group ministry is facing some of the problems mentioned above you may want to stop and reflect. How committed are you and your fellow group leaders to your vision? Do you have one?  Are the groups being created to meet the needs of existing members of your community or is there a larger goal?  In the book, The Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren suggests your congregation’s mission and vision need to be communicated in some way at least every 28 days.

VISION:  Make sure you know the purpose of your small group ministry. Then be sure to communicate it regularly to the full ministry team, staff, lay leadership, members and friends.

LEADERSHIP:  In order to fulfill the mission of your ministry your group leaders need to be willing and interested in participating.  Reluctant UU's tend to have groups that are reluctant to welcome newcomers, encourage participants to go to church on Sunday, and to engage in service projects.  Choose your leaders carefully.  

If you are looking to grow your small group ministry try identifying leaders willing to follow the following recipe for being convicted of being a UU:

1.  Lead a small ministry group that intentionally welcomes newcomers on a regular schedule.
2.  Regularly go to church, inviting group members to attend with you.
3.  Engage in service projects as a group both within the congregation and the larger community.
4.  Participate in a monthly small group for leaders led by the minister for ongoing training, support and spiritual renewal.
5.  Actively mentor new UU small group ministry leaders from within your group.

By Peter Bowden.  Copyright 2004

Peter is one of the coordinators of the UU Small Group Ministry Network and works as an independent UU ministry & growth consultant and children's television producer.


Compilations of small group sessions are available through the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Augusta, ME.  We ran out of copies of the most recent book at our GA table.

Visit the UUCC website to order



Do you have a great resource, story, testimonial, sermon, session plan, or news item related to covenant groups or small group ministry?  With over 1030 subscribers we know some of you do. We want to hear from you!  

Some submission ideas:

- Creative ways you have promoted small group ministry in your congregation.
- Text from “Messages for All Ages” on small group ministry that you have used.
- Testimonials on how small group ministry is transforming your congregation.
- Issues your facilitators have raised and your response.

Send your submissions to peter@smallgroupministry.net.
Submissions due the 5th of the month for that months CGNews.



In June the UU Small Group Ministry Network launched a membership program to support the development of new small group resources. Through membership fees and generous donations we are actively developing resources, training materials and a new quarterly journal. These resources will be shared with our members through our website (starting September 1st) and via our new quarterly journal , the SGM Quarterly. 

Individual membership fee for one year is $35.
Congregation memberships fee (includes six copies of the SGM Quarterly) is $60.

Eventually we expect to publish these resources in book form. Why wait to get these resources? Join the UU Small Group  Ministry Network now. Support our small group movement and get great new resources as they are developed! 

We invite you to learn more at  http://www.smallgroupministry.net/membership
Print forms to mail are also available through this site.

Individual: $35 US per year billed annually.

$60 US per year billed annually.


            SHARE CGNEWS

Know someone who might be interested in this topic? Feel free to forward Covenant Group News to them.  Unitarian Universalists may feel free to use this material in any manner consistent with the growth of our liberal religion. Otherwise, all rights are reserved.


Archived back issues are available at  http://www.smallgroupministry.net/cgnews


To subscribe send an email to: cgnews-request@smallgroupministry.net  with the subject: subscribe

To unsubscribe send an email to: cgnews-request@smallgroupministry.net with the subject: unsubscribe

CG News is an electronic publication of the UU Small Group Ministry Network.
Edited by Peter Bowden.  Submissions welcome.



A free monthly newsletter about Small Group Ministry read by 1006 forward-looking Unitarian Universalists.

Vol. 6, No. 5 - July 10, 2004

> A message from the Rev. Bob Hill
> Covenant Groups at General Assembly 2004
> Issues & Resource Needs Identified at GA
> How the UU SGM Network works
> Shared Ministry Covenants
> C is for CLOSED
> SGM Quarterly Schedule
> New Resources Online



Dear Friends,

Five years ago, the first "Covenant Group News" went out to a list of folk I'd accumulated, all of whom, I believed, had expressed interested in what we now often call Small Group Ministry. I offered subscriptions to "an occasional email newsletter" (I didn't want to impose deadlines on myself) at an attractive price: no cost. By word of mouth, or more likely by word of email, news of the interviews and articles spread and at one point more than 800 folk were on the mailing list. Early contributors were Glenn Turner, Calvin Dame, Brent Smith, Thandeka, and Jim Robinson, to name a few.

Now two organizations have formed to carry the work of learning about the successes and failures of Covenant Groups and passing on the lessons. One is the Center for Community Values, chaired by Thandeka and Michael McGee. The other is the UU Small Group Ministry Network, the organization sending you this newsletter. I serve as an advisor to both groups, and I am pleased to announce that I have passed on the CGNews mailing list to this new "guiding coalition" of advocates for Small Group Ministry. I will be a contributor of material now and again, perhaps, but I'm happy to have my newsletter and Peter Bowden's newsletter become the same newsletter under his capable leadership.

If, of course, you prefer to stop hearing about our good news, follow the instructions at the bottom and reduce your email load by one newsletter. Thanks for your interest.

Best wishes,
Bob Hill



If you attending our association's June General Assembly conference heard the buzz about covenant groups. Why the buzz? I think it is because our association has finally learned that small group ministry is an essential part of "good church". Small Group Ministry was upheld in a plenary presentation by the Rev. Bob Hill, the Friday morning worship was on covenant group ministry (See full text of sermon at http://uua.org/ga/ga04/2002sermon.html), the Rev. Bill Sinkford, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, spoke of it in during a report on the UUA's growth team, and approximately 250 people participating in covenant groups during the conference.

Despite some space issues, this pilot program was a huge success. At the Covenant Group celebration for group facilitators many reported that participants ended up connecting with each other throughout the week. They attended long plenary meetings together, ate meals and more.

Intimacy and ultimacy among 4,000 UU's? You bet!

Expect to see more covenant groups at GA next year.



While most people at General Assembly attended morning plenary sessions and afternoon and evening workshops, Mellen Kennedy and I (Peter Bowden)
spent the week in the exhibit hall. No, we don't have plenary aversions. And yes, we did want to attend workshops. But we had a more important

- to spread the news about small group ministry
- to help our people with struggling ministries
- and to identify the resource needs of our congregations

We did this at the UU SGM Network exhibit booth. Despite being placed on the "Dark Side" of the exhibit hall there was a line to speak with us! What did I learn from my 30 hours in staffing our booth?

1. The majority of our congregations are working with small groups now, but a lot of them are having trouble.
2. Our ministers are not being trained in small group ministry in seminary.
3. Congregations in ministerial transition have often have trouble if the interim is not SGM literate.
4. Many, many ministers can't get groups to do service projects.
5. A huge percentage of groups have excessively high levels of confidentiality leading to closed groups and therapy like groups.
6. Regular training and leadership development is not happening
7. Many groups - are you holding on - do not have covenants.
8. Groups are not growing and are often not connected with the larger church community.

I left the exhibit hall each day with a growing sense of urgency. We have got to develop more advanced resources. What one person called "second generation" resources. Fortunately that is exactly what we are planning to do!

Of the surveys completed by congregations with existing small group ministries the top resource needs identified were:

- cultivating new leadership
- integrating small group ministry into the life and ministry of the congregation
- ongoing training materials for facilitator meetings
- how to develop session topics

Next steps? Our UU SGM Network leadership team will be meeting later this month for our first annual retreat. We will be mapping out resource development plans for the coming year. If you did not attend GA and would like to share your resource needs with us, just send an email message with your name, congregations, and resource needs to:


Deadline: July 20th



This June the UU Small Group Ministry Network was launched as a new membership driven organization. Supported by membership fees and generous donations we are now developing resources, training materials and a new quarterly journal. These resources will be shared with our members through a member only website (starting late summer). We are also publishing a quarterly journal for our members/donors, the SGM Quarterly.

THE KEY: Our new resource fund is generated by individuals and congregations membership fees ($35 and $60 per year). That means the more members we have the more valuable each membership is. *wink* wink* More members means more resources. We believe we can transform lives and our faith through this form of ministry. Do you? Would you like an ever growing collection of resources at your finger tips?

Learn more or join at http://www.smallgroupministry.net/membership

Send membership and donation questions to peter@smallgroupministry.net



You've heard how important it is for any shared ministry group to have a covenant. That being a mutual behavioral agreement. For ministry groups the covenant typically outlines the group's purpose, structure, its relationship to the church community, and how various logistical and ministry issues will be dealt with.

But what about the covenant between the minister and the shared ministry leaders?

In many of our congregations only the groups are covenanting together. Just as a group needs to form a covenant, so to should the minister and the shared ministry leaders. This is essential if leaders are expected to attend a small group where ongoing support and training happens. It is important to outline the responsibilities being taken on by the shared ministry leader and the minister(s). This includes how they will be in relationship with each other, meeting or reporting schedules, and any other obligations.

Suggestion: Form a covenant with any individual who is taking on a new ministry on behalf of the church.


C is for CLOSED

Confidentiality is something that group members automatically suggest when the group creates its covenant. Why? We have experience with confidential groups. Makes sense. The problem with this is that confidentiality allows for very deep disclosure. What is the result of this this level of sharing? Members do not feel comfortable having newcomers join the group and sharing moves into areas best left for private conversations, pastoral calls, and therapy groups.

If the intention is to extend the ministry of the church and support the health and vitality of the community, groups need to be more open. This just doesn't happen with high levels of confidentiality. There is a middle path between ANYTHING GOES and CONFIDENTIAL.

Suggestion: Try encouraging groups to have a policy of BEING RESPECTFUL in sharing.

Is this a common recommendation? Yes. But you might have missed it! It is in Bob Hill's book, the Complete Guide to Small Group Ministry" on page P.32.



The following are the featured topics for this coming years Small Group Ministry Quarterly issues.

Fall 2004: Recruiting New Members

Winter 2004: Developing Session Topics

Spring 2005: Grounding Groups Through Service Projects

Summer/GA: 2005 Cultivating Leadership



The following new resources are available online. See the resource spotlight on our site http://www.smallgroupministry.net

Designing and Implementing a Small Group Ministry Focus for Your Congregation
By the Rev. Glenn H. Turner. This updated version of Turner's popular work now references chapters of Bob Hill's book, the Complete Guide to Small Group Ministry.

Finding Your Path,
by Michael Tino. PDF 54 pages. June 2004. In Finding Your Path, participants are asked to think about their gifts and values, and to connect those gifts and values to what they do in the world. This curriculum is intended to address the transitions of young adult years and the need for us each to find our calling in life. Michael Tino is the Director of the UUA's Young Adult and Campus Ministry Office.

Adventures in Small Group Ministry
Peter Bowden's ongoing account of his learning from research and work with our congregations. New posts weekly. ATOM Syndicated site.



Know someone who might be interested in this topic? Feel free to forward Covenant Group News to others. Unitarian Universalists may feel free to use this material in any manner consistent with the growth of our liberal religion. Otherwise, all rights are reserved.

Archived back issues and a sign-up link are available at http://www.smallgroupministry.net/cgnews


The Unitarian Universalist Small Group Ministry Network
Online at http://www.smallgroupministry.net

Peter Bowden
Rev. Mellen Kennedy

Rev. Calvin Dame, President
Rev. Helen Zidowecki
Rev. Steve Edington

Advisory Board:*
Rev. Bob Hill
Rev. Glenn Turner

*Lay leaders and additional members on the way.


An occasional newsletter about Covenant Group Ministry read by 698 forward-looking Unitarian Universalists.

Vol. 6, No. 4 June 20, 2004



A second organization to promote Covenant Groups has been formed and the Rev. Calvin Dame of Augusta, ME, is its president. It is the Unitarian Universalist Small Group Ministry Network or UUSGMN.

"The purpose of this Network is to promote the vision of Small Group Ministry in our congregations," Dame says, and "to share information, to connect people who are doing this work for mutual support and encouragement, to develop training resources and opportunities, and to make our congregations stronger and more vital through this simple program."

Another founder, Peter Bowden, who will serve with the Rev. Mellen Kennedy as UU SGM Net coordinators, says annual subscriptions and donations will be sought to "develop resources, training materials and a quarterly journal. New resources will be shared with members via the web." He sees this network to be an evolution of the UU SGM Network he began two years ago.


This new group joins the CCV, the Center for Community Values, begun several years ago by the Rev. Dr. Thandeka of Meadville/Lombard Theological School in Chicago. She and the Rev. Michael McGee are co-presidents of CCV, which seeks to spread Small Group Ministry not only to Unitarian Universalist congregations but also to other liberal religious groups and community action organizations working for social good.

In helping form this new organization to focus only on Unitarian Universalist congregations, Dame says he is acting on his belief that "Covenant Group Ministry holds the promise of transforming individual lives, transforming our congregations, and transforming our liberal religious movement." In support of "these audacious statements" he cites the fact that the number of Unitarian Universalist congregations with Small Group Ministry groups five years ago could be counted on the fingers of one hand, but now there are "hundreds of our congregations with some kind of Covenant Group program in place."

With "satisfaction and excitement," Dame says he has watched, "in my congregation and in others, as participation in small groups has rounded and connected members with one another beyond the limits of the coffee hour, and provided a forum for deeper spiritual inquiry and the exploration of vital questions of faith."


Noting that people in our culture are hungry for a place where they can be known and accepted as they struggle with questions of depth and meaning, Dame sees Small Group Ministry as "the opportunity to meet those needs and to welcome more people into the circle of our liberal faith. I believe that Small Group Ministry is a tool to help us become the churches that we dream of being, and help us to fulfill our mission within and beyond our congregational walls."

The concept is simple, but it requires careful implementation and support. Dame hopes the congregation-based network he and Bowden and others have founded will help Unitarian Universalist congregations with "preparation, thoughtfulness, support, training, promotion, good will, nurture, resources and intention. And most of all, it requires a continuing, shared vision of the promises and possibilities as well as the dynamics of making small groups work in a congregation."

The Small Group Ministry Network intends to seek Independent Affiliate Organization with the UUA. Its web site is www.smallgroupministry.net. Board members include the Revs. Helen Zidowecki and Steve Edington. The Revs. Glenn Turner and I will serve as advisors.

To learn more about CCV (for which I am also an advisor), go to www.the-ccv.org.

If you are going to GA this year, please note that Thandeka, Dame, Bowden and I will be presenting a workshop at GA on Sunday night, June 27, just after the Ware Lecture, at 8:30 p.m. in room 104B of the Long Beach Convention Center. Title: "Covenant Groups: Some Glorious, Some Gone Bad."

-- Bob Hill


Know someone who might be interested in this topic? Feel free to forward Covenant Group News to others. Unitarian Universalists may feel free to use this material in any manner consistent with the growth of our liberal religion. Otherwise, all rights are reserved.

Archived back issues and a sign-up link are available at the Southwest District web site: http://www.swuuc.org. Look for the “Newsletters” section.


The Rev. Robert L. Hill, District Executive,
SW District, UUA,
405 701-2917 bhill@uua.org


An occasional newsletter about Covenant Group Ministry read by 721 forward-looking Unitarian Universalists.

Vol. 6, No. 3 June 9, 2004




As I did, the Rev. Jonalu Johnstone, formerly Growth Consultant for the Southwest Conference of the UUA, once believed that once a month was often enough for a Covenant Group to meet. Now, she’s changed her view.

When we began Covenant Groups at First Unitarian Church, Oklahoma City, I was skeptical that many people would want to meet more than once a month. I was wrong.

Immediately, people began asking for a twice a month group. Our initial sign-ups resulted in a large number of people wanting to join the one group that already existed -- “Exploring Spirituality.” The logical way to divide the group was by frequency of meeting – roughly an equal number of people wanted to meet once a month as wanted to meet twice a month!

Since then, we’ve seen a variety of desires for frequency of meetings. Our groups decide how often they’ll meet, as long as it’s at least once a month.

Five of our fifteen groups meet twice a month; one meets weekly; and a third varies its meeting schedule depending on activities. At least one group has a regular monthly meeting, with its second meeting being a more casual social gathering. Other groups get together for social gatherings in addition to regular meetings.

Groups that meet often deepen their friendships quickly. Twice a month meetings can create closer, more intense relationships. The Covenant Group becomes more a part of participants’ lives. Also, if someone must miss a meeting, they don’t have a two-month stretch in between seeing their Covenant Group friends.

While it’s important to offer monthly groups for people whose schedules don’t allow a more frequent connection, once a month just isn’t enough for everyone.

The Rev. Jonalu Johnstone, Program Minister, First Unitarian Church, OKC


JUNE 15 is the deadline for register to be a member of a Covenant Group at GA in Long Beach, CA. That is the last day Connie Grant will be accepting names for our Small Group Ministries that will meet at meal times on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at our General Assembly in Long Beach, CA.

The first Covenant Group will meet on Thursday, June 24, from 5:00-6:00 p.m. and Connie will be sending out notices shortly after June 15 to let people know which Covenant Group they’ll be in and where to meet their facilitator for that first session.

To register for these four one-hour Small Group Ministry gatherings at GA, please go to the UUA web site, www.uua.org and in the search box, type “GA Covenant Groups.” Google gave me the right page as the first entry. You can click on the PDF or HTML choice and get all the information you need. Don’t delay.

FRIDAY at GA will be a big day for Covenant Group fans.

-- The Rev. Michael McGee will lead the worship and preach a sermon related to Small Group Ministry at the 8:00 a.m. worship.

-- Harlan Limpert, Meg Riley (UUA staff colleagues of mine), or I will be speaking briefly during Plenary I about what Small Group Ministry has meant to our Association.

-- AND, the Center for Community Values has declared Friday to be Covenant Group T-Shirt Day. Has your congregation produced Covenant Group T-shirts? If so, bring yours and plan to wear it to Plenary on Friday.

On Sunday night, June 27, , beginning at 8:30 p.m., the Rev. Dr. Thandeka, the Rev. Calvin Dame, and I will be leading a workshop in Convention Center 104B entitled “Covenant Groups: Some Glorious, Some Gone Bad.”

Not going to GA? Please pass this along to someone who is. Maybe we’ll see YOU next year in Fort Worth.


Know someone who might be interested in this topic? Feel free to forward Covenant Group News to others. Unitarian Universalists may feel free to use this material in any manner consistent with the growth of our liberal religion. Otherwise, all rights are reserved.

Archived back issues and a sign-up link are available at the Southwest District web site: http://www.swuuc.org. Look for the “Newsletters” section.


The Rev. Robert L. Hill, District Executive,
SW District, UUA,
405 701-2917 bhill@uua.org


An occasional newsletter about Covenant Group Ministry read by 748 forward-looking Unitarian Universalists.

Vol. 6, No. 2 March 11, 2004



Go to www.the-ccv by March 20, and you can still get a place at the table of the hottest Covenant Group conference of the spring: “Spiritual Growth Through Small Group Ministry.” Place, Arlington, VA. Theme speaker: Thandeka. Attendees: your friends, present and future.



Make your vision service-oriented, says John P. Kotter, author of a fine book on leadership entitled The Heart of Change. A Waco, TX, Covenant Group put its service-oriented vision into action recently in a creative way: they held a Great Frog Auction.

The results surprised and pleased a local social service agency that was having trouble raising money. The Waco folk didn’t auction live frogs, but they had nearly every other kind. The church’s minister, the Rev. Nathan Stone, explained in a newsletter column that a folk song about a “Big Blue Phrog” had become the church’s theme song and blue frogs a sort of mascot.

Looking for a project to do as a service to the community at large, a Covenant Group that calls itself “The Other Movie Group” decided to gather and auction off blue frogs to raise money for the Talitha Koum Institute, an innovative nurturing program for children and families in South Waco.

Stone wrote, “Well — just in case you missed it -- this was NOT a success. It was a roaring success! Ingrid Martine, co-facilitator of "The Other Movie Group," and I would have been happy if we’d raised $300 or $400. Instead, we raised $1,700!”

About 65 people from the church showed up to bid on “50 or so of the zaniest blue frogs I have ever seen,” Stone said, adding, “The Talitha Koum people who attended the auction were blown away. So was I. Most of all — we had a ball doing it. Everyone went away happy.”

Stone’s assessment is exactly in line with what John P. Kotter would expect. He says: “The cynics are wrong: Most of us get a great feeling from helping other people. So you make the vision service-oriented, something with which people can identify.... This idea can work in manufacturing businesses, high-tech firms, financial services - nearly anywhere." (Pp., 72-73, Heart of Change.)

It can even work among Unitarian Universalists, which is one reason why service to one’s church and to one’s community are key elements of the Small Group Ministry plan.


Small Group Ministry seems to be helping our Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, LA, retain its members. “Branches” members stay around.

For several years, the church has removed from its rolls about the same number of adults that it has added, reports Diana Dorroh, but not this past year. The church has had a net gain of 10 new members in recent months, reporting 320 members to the UUA for this year's certification.

Dorroh looked at people who had been taken off the church's rolls during the last couple of years for reasons other than moving or death. What she learned was this: "If a person is in a Branches group, we almost never lose them unless they move or die. I think only one or two have drifted away. So, Small Group Ministry is helping us retain new members.”


A group on Meadville/Lombard students in the Modified Residency Program are trying out a “phone conference Covenant Group,” reports Rosemarie Newberry. She writes, “We meet at M/L each January and then we are back to our homes all over the country. We gather for a phone conference Covenant Group meeting once a month. We have now been doing this for two years and it is just great.”


Know someone who might be interested in this topic? Feel free to forward Covenant Group News to others. Unitarian Universalists may feel free to use this material in any manner consistent with the growth of our liberal religion.
Otherwise, all rights are reserved.

Archived back issues and a sign-up link are available at the Southwest District web site: http://www.swuuc.org. Look for the “Newsletters” section.


The Rev. Robert L. Hill, District Executive,
SW District, UUA,
405 701-2917 bhill@uua.org


An occasional newsletter about Covenant Group Ministry read by 778 forward-looking Unitarian Universalists.

Vol. 6, No. 1 January 16, 2004


Two events in coming months promise to lift the Small Group Ministry movement in Unitarian Universalism to new levels of depth and influence. One happens in Arlington, VA, in April and the other in Long Beach, CA, in June.

The Long Beach event, of course, is General Assembly, and the GA Planning Committee voted this week to initiate a pilot program of Covenant Groups for delegates and others attending our annual gathering. There will be only 750 slots for those wishing to participate and these will be filled on a first-come-first served basis.

The Arlington, VA, event will be the CCV-sponsored “Spiritual Growth through Small Group Ministry” gathering for lay and professional leaders April 2-3, 2004, at the Unitarian Universalist Church.

Speakers and workshop leaders at the April conference will include people familiar to Small Group Ministry fans everywhere: Thandeka, Calvin Dame, Stefan Jonasson, Michael McGee, Peter Bowden, and others. Early registration has been extended to February 1. To learn more and/or to register, go to Arlington conference

“We’re beyond the beginning stages of Covenant Group work,” Thandeka said recently. “Our congregations have been introduced to these concepts and now it is time for deepening what we do, improving our ways of do it, and giving strong roots to Small Group Ministry in our churches and elsewhere. It’s time for insuring spiritual growth and service.”

McGee agreed. Co-minister of the host Arlington church and a part of the UUA’s Growth Task Force, McGee has found wide acceptance in that group for his belief that Small Group Ministry must be a central part of any effort to help our Association reach out to more and more people who need liberal religion.

“What Calvin Dame and Glenn Turner and others began as a grassroots movement a few short years ago,” McGee said, “has spread rapidly through our Association and as a result we are growing wider and deeper.” As evidence McGee cited the success of one of his former interns, the Rev. Scott Tayler and the May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society in Syracuse, N.Y. “They have 17 groups and they’re going strong,” he said.

The Planning Committee and a team of three UUA staff persons (I’m one and the other two are Harlan Limpert, Director of Leadership Development, and Meg Riley, Director of Advocacy and Witness) hope Covenant Groups at GA in June will provide opportunities for first-time attendees and others to find immediate community in the midst of the gathering of as many as 5,000 persons in Long Beach.

A second aim is to give these 750 a taste of Small Group Ministry, although the experience will not be quite the same as Covenant Groups in one’s home church. The groups will meet with up to seven others four times for one hour only with a facilitator (we’ll have to train about 100 person who have already had facilitator experience in their home churches). A taste is all the experience can be, but past experiences of abbreviated Covenant Group sessions leads us to believe participants will be glad for the experience and inspired to learn more.

So: exciting times. Don’t miss out. See you in Arlington and/or at GA.

Bob Hill


Know someone who might be interested in this topic? Feel free to forward Covenant Group News to others. Unitarian Universalists may feel free to use this material in any manner consistent with the growth of our liberal religion. Otherwise, all rights are reserved.

Archived back issues and a sign-up link are available at the Southwest District web site: http://www.swuuc.org. Look for the “Newsletters” section.


The Rev. Robert L. Hill, District Executive, SW District, UUA, 405 701-2917 bhill@uua.org
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