UUCSV Covenant Groups Return for Fall 2017
Covenant Groups will return to UUCSV this fall. We will begin the second week of September and meet every other week for eight sessions. If enough people sign up we will have both an evening and an afternoon meeting. The Covenant Group program was very successful in the spring. We had sixteen participants in two groups. Feedback from participants was excellent.
Covenant Groups follow a very special meeting format with stress on what is called “deep listening” — that is listening without response. These groups are intentionally short term with only eight sessions. The hope is for CG Groups to continue fall and spring over time so that groups are regularly available. Hopefully CG groups will be composed of new members, veteran members and CG repeaters. UUCSV friends are also welcome. See below for a fuller description of this form of small group ministry.
If you wish to express your interest in participating in CG this fall — please contact Bob Falanga at email@example.com. Please indicate whether you want to attend in the evening or afternoon. You may also contact Bob with any questions about Covenant Groups. A brochure is available that can answer your questions.
What are Covenant Groups All About?
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.
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.
Covenant Groups provide a way to:
- nurture our spirituality through shared practice
- explore important and challenging themes
- deepen connections within the congregation
- connect across age, gender, ethnic, economic, and other differences
- assist newer members to engage within our community
- explore our shared UU principles
- be engaged, included, and heard in a safe, nurturing environment
Covenant Groups is not:
- a social club, although lasting friendships are formed
- a discussion group, although many important topics are addressed
- a support or therapy group, although the content is confidential
- a worship service, although there is a strong spiritual aspect to the gathering
- a closed or exclusive group, although groups must be limited in size to be effective
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.
Should I Sign Up for Covenant Groups?
Covenant Groups are not for everyone. If you are interested — you should consider your ability to abide by the covenant rules and to comply with the structure of the program. “No Cross-Talk” takes a little getting used to but most members find they can master this skill in one or two sessions. Of course, the group facilitator is there to assist the process and maintain the structure of the group.
While it is true that Covenant Groups take some adjustment at the beginning, many UUs — in congregations across the country — find this practice to be quite rewarding. Of course there is no guarantee that you will find the experience rewarding. Keep in mind, however, that it is only eight sessions. By an overwhelming majority, UU members who complete a Covenant Groups season speak very positively about their experience.