Covenant Groups

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Covenant Groups

Covenant Groups are a form of Small Group Ministry.  Many UU congregations have Small Group Ministry as part of their congregational life.  The practice is known by different names in different churches, and structures may vary somewhat.  At UUCSV our small group ministry program is known as Covenant Groups and they are typically formed here in the spring and fall.

In a Covenant Group program, members meet, speak to an important topic, and listen intently to one another. By listening to each other over time — group members develop deep connections.  Small Group Ministry is lay ministry.  Members connect directly with each other sharing their life stories, values,  hopes and dreams.  Small Group Ministry is a sacred place in which members speak freely knowing their confidence and trust will be maintained.  Small Group Ministry makes congregations stronger by building bonds of understanding and respect among individual members.


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Who Can Participate?

Covenant Groups are open to all members and friends of the congregation. The intent is for participation to be diverse. Long-time members gain new insights into old friends. Newcomers have the opportunity to make new ties. Parents of young children relish adult company. Senior members savor interaction with younger folk. All learn to appreciate diverse personalities and positions. All enjoy the opportunity to consider life’s big questions.

Covenant groups at UUCSV are intentionally short-term. Groups meet for a season — eight sessions over four months. As seasons pass new groups are formed. So over time, participation in groups is always changing and new connections among members are formed.

What happens in a Covenant Group session?

Covenant groups follow a highly structured format. The format is facilitated by one or two facilitators. Each session has a distinct theme and lasts approximately two hours. A theme sheet is provided for each session. This sheet contains brief readings and questions on the theme. The theme sheet is provided ahead of time to inspire participants’ reflections and sharing. The theme sheet is provided simply as a “jump off” point for discussion. Each member at his/her turn is free to speak freely to the topic.

Each session begins with a brief check in from each member. The major portion of the session consists in each member speaking to the designated theme. If time allows — there is an additional section called “Likes and Wishes” in which participants get to add to what they said previously.

How do group participants interact?

Covenant groups are not your ordinary group discussion experience. Group participants agree to abide by the rules of a covenant that describes how they will treat one another. In most other kinds of groups, participants compete for time. Discussion points are followed by counter-points. Extraverts tend to speak more. Introverts may speak little if at all.

Covenant groups are very different. Only one person speaks at a time. Everyone else simply listens, giving their full attention to the speaker. Members observe what is called the “no cross talk” rule. They do not respond to what is being said by the speaker. They do not even offer praise or support for the speaker. The speaker is fully respected by listening in silence.

“No cross talk” is not an easy rule to follow. It is not natural to most human communication. But covenant groups by intention emphasize listening and not speaking. Moreover under the “no cross talk” rule the speaker is free to speak more openly as there will be no commentary to what he/she is saying. Members can simply speak without seeking favor or fearing reprisal.

Key elements of the group covenant include:

• listen attentively with compassion and without judgment
• speak honestly and personally from the heart
• speak using “I” statements. speak about you — not anyone else
• respect the confidentiality of what is shared here
• respect the “no cross talk” rule
• do not respond or speak while another is speaking
• do not interrupt
• do not offer opinions or advice
• do not comment on on or add to what another participant has shared.

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