Unitarian Universalist of the South Hills is launching a new endeavor. Details on Small Group Ministry follow.
Sunnyhill’s Small Group Ministry (SGM) is named our SGM Chalice Circles (CC). Small groups have become an important part of the life of UU churches as they have found that participants have established new and deeper connections with one another, and found a place for religious exploration and spiritual growth. At the same time they testify that their small groups are connected with one another and with the life of the whole congregation and with a larger vision of us as religious liberals, as Unitarian Universalists. Those of us on the steering committee for CC are very excited that Sunnyhill will have its own program starting the fall of 2005. Here are more details!
What’s Chalice Circle About?
SGM has been found to offer congregations another and sometimes better path to realize their missions as a liberal religious community. They maintain that to be a vibrant and vital religious community, resources must be devoted to four areas:
Worship: Worship is central to the life of congregations. SGM is intended not to replace, but to augment and strengthen that shared experience.
Community: Small groups meet the need for connection and intimacy that is both a deep hunger in our society and essential to the ongoing life of a religious community.
Learning: People come to the church seeking spiritual growth, seeking to know themselves better, to grow into their understanding of the world and to ponder the age old questions of faith; how to live, what to believe, how to act, what meanings we can decipher from the mystery of life.
Service: A life of faith is a life of service. As human beings, we seek to be of use and a healthy congregation needs to provide avenues through which we may serve.
Who is in charge of CC?
Lynn Brodie, our minister will coordinate and oversee the program. An Ad Hoc Committee planned the introduction of CC into the congregation and the Board of Trustees gave their approval. Facilitators will bring feedback and ideas to their meetings that help to guide the program.
What happens at a CC meeting?
The small group meetings are focused by a collection of sessions that have been developed by another congregation. We have purchased the first year’s program and each facilitator will get a copy of the session book.. Extra copies of this program will be available for $25. Our church is permitted to keep this money as a fundraiser. Topics include religious histories, spiritual practices, loneliness, fear, poetry, healing, etc. Groups may choose their own order, direction and pace. The session Plans are simple:
Opening Words: Gather people in, help settle folks down, serve to remind participants of the special opportunity of the gathering, and often reflect the topic of the evening. Some groups will light a Chalice as well.
Check-in: Participants share news of what has been happening in their lives. Each group develops it own customs as the length of sharing or how to respond. This portion of the meeting may expand from time to time when circumstances call for it.
Topic/Discussion: A paragraph or two lays out a topic and presents questions that will elicit thoughtful discussion and significant reflection. A group may stay with a topic several weeks or be done in one meeting.
Check-out: This is a positive format for feedback at the end of each meeting. Not every group will include this every time. An example would be: “I like how we approached the topic this evening, but I wish we had moved through the sharing a little more quickly.”
Closing Words: this brings the formal session to an end. Groups are encouraged to start and end on time.
Where do groups meet?
Each group decides whether to meet primarily in members home or at the church.
What is the role of the minister?
The minister oversees the coordination of the program. She helps to recruit and train facilitators, and meets with them each month to counsel and guide. She works with the steering committee in assigning new members to existing groups, recruiting and training new facilitators and in developing new groups.
What is expected of a Small group participant?
Participants are expected to bring a positive attitude, a willingness to share and learn. What has emerged as the most important expectation that participants have for one another is to give the agreed upon meetings a high priority. While no one can make every meeting, members must make an effort to attend.
What does the facilitators do? The Chalice Facilitators facilitate the life of the group. They make sure the group begins and ends on time, or they delegate someone to do so. They remind people of the next meeting and contact group members who miss a meeting or delegate someone to do so. During the meeting, they read from the Session plans and guide the discussion, or delegate someone to do so. They meet each month with the minister and other facilitators and help to maintain the connection between individual groups and the larger church.
Who will know what I say?
There is an expectation of confidentiality within the groups. The level of comfort around confidentiality will vary within groups, so participants are encouraged to review this expectation from time to time and to renew their covenant in regards to this. When there are significant pastoral concerns, a Facilitator may ask if they can share the concern with the minister.
How does Chalice Circles grow?
New groups will be formed as people become interested and new members arrive. As new groups are formed, apprentices or experienced group members step forward to become facilitators for new groups. And, as circumstances of people’s lives change, the membership of a group may change from time to time. While it is anticipated to be sad to say goodbye, new members will be warmly welcomed and expand the circle of the connection.
What is the ideal size of participants for a Chalice Circle?
The ideal size of a chalice circle is 8-10 people. Other groups have found when the groups are greater than 10 people, intimacy wanes and participants are not able to interact as freely.
Is Chalice Circle therapy?
No. While it is expected that participants in our groups will report feeling better connected and happier in their lives, CC is not therapy. Professional therapy is readily available in our communities; we offer connection, reflection, community and spiritual growth.
How does the idea of service fit in?
From the beginning of our planning, the idea of service will be woven into the fabric of CC. We ask every group, over time, to take on some kind of service in the church community. This might be performing some maintenance project at the church, adopting a family in need over the holiday or guiding a fundraiser during the year. Service on behalf of the church is important for two reasons. First, it helps to offset the natural tendency of small, intimate groups to become self absorbed and disconnected, and second, because a necessary aspect of a growing spiritual life, a life of faith is service.
What is a Covenant and why is it necessary?
Each group will be asked to make a covenant between themselves either the second or third meeting. The purpose of the covenant is to have an agreement about how the groups’ members wish to be together. The questions most often dealt with in a covenant include but are not limited to the following:
Where shall we meet?
When shall we meet and for how long?
Respect for one another’s time
Do we agree to arrive by a stated time? How many minutes early is it okay for us to arrive?
Do we agree to start the meeting at the announced starting time, or is it our plan to start later than we say we’re going to?
Do we agree to stop each meeting by the announced ending time? Any exceptions?
Commitment to attend
Do we agree to make every attempt to attend each meeting?
Do we agree to let someone know in advance if we are going to have to be absent?
How much time do we want to allot to each person for check-in? How much time for check-out?
If someone has a need for a longer time to check in, how do we decide to allow for more time?
Do we agree to refrain from commenting on what people say during check-in until all of us have had the chance to check in?
Do we agree to monitor our own vocalizations to be sure that time is shared equitably?
Shall we discourage advice giving?
Shall we avoid criticizing others while allowing for the critical consideration of ideas and beliefs?
Service to others
Shall we agree to spawn another group whenever our membership reaches eight or ten?
Shall we agree to find at least one way each year, as a group, to serve our church?
Shall we agree to find at leas tone way, two ways each year, as a gruop, to serve our larger community?
Why call it small group ministry?
We at Sunnyhill have come to envision the ministry of the congregations being widely shared. The called and settled professional minister is an important component, certainly, but so is the ministry of the laity. The ministry of our religious community is the work of the whole community. Our Chalice Circle as our small group ministry will be known, will encourage religious connections within the context of ongoing small groups.
How often do groups meet?
Each group develops its own schedule; the most common pattern in other churches is to meet twice a month on the first and third or second and forth week schedule. That makes scheduling easier and allows for a three-week interval from time to time. Some groups can choose to meet every week, every third week or once a month. Other churches have noted that meeting once a month does not seem to foster the connectedness that is essential for a successful SGM. You will be asked to designate how often and what days you want to meet and will be placed in a group accordingly.
How long will I be in a group?
We have decided to run our first program from the beginning of October 2005 until the end of May 2006. We have built an annual reassignment date into the program when everyone has a chance to recommit to the group they are in, or ask to join another group.
How does a person join?
Sign up sheets will be available from mid August and into September of 2005.
The above was taken from adapted from, “An Updated, Small Group Ministry Resource Book” and edited to reflect the message from Sunnyhill Steering Committee on SGM, CC.
Original source: Patricia Williams