Implementing - Sessions
(comments at end of section)


The session itself is more than the sum of its parts, but if the parts do not complement each other, the session feels disjointed and possibly disruptive.

Following is description of session flow relates to experiencing a session. The writing and critiquing of a session will consider and expand on these items.

*This signifies the beginning of the session.

Session Related.
*Opening words relate to the session topic, but do not direct the topic.
Group Ritual. May be a consistent opening decided by the group. This may become an opening ritual. This may include the same candle.
*The group may use a ritual in addition to the ritual. For example. some congregations have an opening ritual (lighting the candle), do the Check in, then have the Opening on the session plan.

Check In.
Participants take time to share from their lives, one at a time
--Sequence varies but ensures that everyone has opportunity to share.
--Time and process is planned as part of group formation, with suggested maximum time as half of the total group time (allowing for unusual situations).
--Listening allows space for the person without judgment, verbal or nonverbal, and without interruption.
--Acknowledgement is a way of affirming.

Check In:
--Sequence: go around the group, allowing a person to pass and speak later.
--Time: Specific time with a time keeper. Speaker indicates when he or she is finished.

--Open: What is happening for you? What is alive for you today?
--Listening without comment (verbal or nonverbal). We are conditioned to look for response and to respond. Responding may interfere with the flow of sharing.
--Acknowledgement: pausing after each person shares.
Check In.
--Sequence: people speak as they wish, making sure that everyone has opportunity.
--Time: Flexible, with members monitoring overall time. Speaker indicates when she or he is finished.
--Lightly focused: What did you heave behind to get here?
--Listening with clarifying questions at the end of the sharing

--Acknowledgement: waiting until a person is through sharing before responding.

--Provides context within which participants share their own stories, reflections, learnings about the topic.
--Listening and Learning. Each participant has opportunity to interact. Comments are from personal perspective and may include connecting with expressions of other group members.
--Modality: Consider the many ways that people processing information, conversation and interacting

Questions are open-ended and can lead in various directions. Standard questions for a topic might be:
*What do I have to share with the group about this topic group? What stories do I have to tell?
*How does this topic relate to me spiritually and why?
*How does my perspective of the topic influence my living and my actions?

--Listening and Learning. Go around the group, allowing a person to pass and speak later. Continue this pattern, or, after the first go-around, open for speaking as desired.

--Modality: Sessions may be exclusively verbal. To add other activities may be stretching for the group and would need planning.

Note: Some congregations suggest additional readings and questions for deeper reflection of the topic.
Focus/Topic/Activity. Participants process information and interactions differently and may engage more deeply with additional modalities.

--Listening and Learning:
*People respond as they wish.
*The thoughts of one person may spark ideas for others, and the conversation moves along a theme, until someone changes it.

--Modality: Activities (music, movement, arts) as well at questions may make the topic more accessible.

Check Out/Likes and Wishes. Share what went well and to suggestions related to group dynamics and session content.

Session assessment:
Reflection on the group process.
Personal relevance: How the session was for the participants, personally.
Process: Each person responds around the circle, or as there are comments

Closing, extinguishing candle. Bring the session to a close but does not summarize the session.

Closing words, extinguishing candle. May relate to the topic but does not summarize the topic Closing words, extinguishing candle. May be a consistent closing decided by the group, used after the Closing in the Session Plan.

"Business" items include planning for the group's meetings and other activities. Groups decide when to include these in the course of the session so that the session itself is not disrupted.

A covenant provides relational ground rules. It is a promise that participants make to create a safe environment for spiritual exploration. A covenant typically includes time management, commitment to the group, respectful listening, confidentiality, and speaking from one's own experience. It effects the comfort level within a session.

Confidentiality impacts
--how groups welcome new members.
--communication among members outside of the session.
--how pastoral care needs are made known to the minister/pastoral care network.

The group needs to discuss sharing information beyond the group session as part of covenant. . Suggested guidelines for "respectful sharing":
--Share as needed when an individual is in danger or is a danger to self or others.
--If there is any question about whether it is appropriate to share, don't.
--If there is a need to share information, let the individual know.

Covenant: Informal. The covenant is discussed at some point but remains oral, and is reviewed occasionally and when there are new members. Revision occurs when there is a need. Concerns: Are all group participants are aware of the informal covenant and of changes? Do all members interpret the covenant consistently? Covenant: Formal. The covenant is crafted, written, available to members and may be read occasionally or as part of the plan of each session. This provides a sense of continuity and consistency, tends to minimize misinterpretation, and can be given to new group members.
Confidentiality: Not Defined.
*Sharing information beyond the group is left to the discretion of the individual.
*Participants may make assumptions or interpretations which may not be consistent with the other group members.
*People can specifically request that information not be shared beyond the group session.
*The sense of security for sharing comes from trust of the individuals in the group, and cannot be assured by group structure.
Confidentiality: High Level of Confidentiality.
*May provide a sense of security for sharing.
*May make the group feel or appear to be exclusive.
*The level of confidentiality cannot interfere with connecting individuals to additional pastoral care and other resources.

UU Small Group Ministry Network website - over 300, regular additions
Other congregations and resources
Create sessions for specific reason or to meet specific need

Selection guidelines.
--Consider the needs and culture of the congregation.
--Consider the stage of the group in building community.

Sources of Session Plans.
*Use session plans that are available from a variety of sources as is.
*Adapt session plans that have been developed.
*Create plans from the beginning. Having a group of facilitators or a session writing team review a plan can ensure that it is more inclusive and will enhance dialogue and spiritual development.
Who Decides?
*The minister, designated individual or group may select topics and develop plans. *Ministers may write plans or work with a writing group.
*Session plans can also come from groups themselves and from facilitators.
Groups Use Session Plans Simultaneously: Yes
*Groups use same plan at the same time. Or there may be common theme. Presents common points for communication within the congregation.
*Session plans may be connected with the sermon topics. (Content needs to include participants who did not hear the sermon.)

Groups use session plans simultaneously: No
*Groups select session topics independent of other groups.
*Session plans may or may not be connected with other congregational considerations, like sermons.
*Session plans may be suggested for groups to consider, such as related to time of year, social justice focus, etc.
Variety and Diversity in Session Plans
*The questions, the intensity and activities around the topics will vary from session to session.
*Sessions will be received differently from group to group, and by the participants of a group.
*Plan in such a way that topics give a mixture of levels of intensity. For example, use a lighter topic such as Humor or Music interspersed with a more intense topic of Life Changes or Facing Difficulties.
*Groups relate to the topic based on the level of group development, or topics may be selected to match the developmental level.
Participant preparation suggested.
Material is given to participants prior to the session for reflection and personal preparation.
*May lead to deeper reflection and commitment. However, the amount of preparation may vary with participants.
*Preparation may give appearance of educational versus ministry focus.
*No preparation is suggested. Participants may or may not know the session topic prior to arrival at the session, unless they need to bring something, like a song or poem.
*Presents spontaneous responses.
*Allows people to participate who may not have preparation time.
Usability: Keep it simple. Groups meet for two hours, at most, and a good part of that time goes, appropriately, to checking in and connecting. Therefore, topics need to be focused enough to allow depth. The balance is to name the topic specifically enough to focus without directing. Usability: Facilitator friendly. This includes minimal preparation on the part of the facilitator. Occasionally the group needs to be alerted to specific plans, like bringing poetry. The facilitator guides the group process and is not in the role of the 'expert' during the session.
The Questions: How We Frame Questions.
Questions open into discussion rather than direct attention towards a particular conclusion or telescope an answer. Can you imagine discussion going in at least a couple of directions?
Questions elicit responses of the heart and spirit. Questions that ask for opinions, comparisons, and what we think are eliciting responses from the mind, which is the expectation in discussion groups. Sessions calls us to respond from beyond or deeper than the rational. This is where sharing from the soul occurs, where deeper understanding of each of us as individuals occurs, where we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of each person.
The Questions: Limit the Number.
*Three questions at most are suggested, and two may be plenty. This depends somewhat on the questions themselves. Too many questions prevent responding in any depth in a meeting. *Generally plan the session for one meeting. It is difficult to return to where a group has left off when a session is carried over.
*Some sessions may be planned with the expectation of taking more than one session, such as Spiritual Timelines that allows time for each member to explore and present as an introduction of group members to each other.
Opening and Closing Words and Readings Reflect Unitarian Universalist Values. Materials do not need to be written by Unitarian Universalists but need to be consistent with commonly held values, such as those expressed in the Affirmations and Sources (also called The Principles and Purposes). These are found in the hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition (1993) but the latest version, with the addition of a tradition, is in Singing the Journey (2005). *Opening and Closing Words and Readings Credited.
*Participants are welcome to develop readings as they develop a session plan.
*Readings are used in compliance with copyright considerations. The sources of materials needs to be noted, including original materials from the creator of a session plan.
Inclusivity: Differing Perspectives
*Expect that people in the group and the congregation hold differing views on almost any topic. Ask questions that honor the individual, the group as a whole, and diversity. *The session plan provides an openness and an invitation to sharing.
*The question to consider is who might be excluded by the session plan and, if someone is excluded, how can the session plan be inclusive, or whether it should be used.
Inclusivity: The Words We Use
We develop our views of the world precisely to live and even survive in it. In doing so, we develop language that may be alienating.
*Communicate as simply as possible.
*Consider adjectives of judgment: a "good' way to do this" can become "a way to do this". What is a good way for one person may not be a good way for another person. The valuative word causes a pause, even if slightly, and disrupts the flow of meaning.

Online Resources: Topic
Session Plan Guidelines and Critique, Helen Zidowecki, Small Group, Ministry With All Ages, UU SGM Network, 2011

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