Small Group Ministry
Seeking a deeper sense of connection, community, and belonging?
SIGN UP FOR SMALL GROUP MINISTRY
Feeling connected and having a sense of community is an essential part of being human. Whether you are new to Emerson or a long-time member, one of best the ways to get connected in this congregation is joining one of our small group ministries. These groups of about 6-10 people each, commit to meet once or twice a month, at church or in one another’s homes, to explore monthly themes over the course of a year.
Small Group Ministry helps create a vibrant and vital religious community through
- Worship: Worship is central to the life of our congregation. Small Group Ministry is intended not to replace, but to augment and strengthen that shared experience.
- Community: Ministry 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. Each group agrees to take on some kind of service in the church and another in the community.
Our Small Group Ministries are using the “Soul Matters” program, where each month the small groups all explore the same spiritual theme. There is a lot of richness in those monthly themes, which participants can engage with their group and their daily lives through reflection and spiritual practices related to the theme. What’s great about Soul Matters is that the monthly themes are integrated into other aspects of church life, including worship services, and our religious education classes—so the whole congregation is exploring the same theme in different ways and from different perspectives.
Small group ministry participants also have access to a monthly packet, which includes spiritual exercises, questions that encourage reflection on daily living, and provocative resources that help members see the “old themes” in a new light. And if you want to explore further, you can check out the Facebook page: www.facebook.com/soulmatterssharingcircle/
If you have questions about registering you can talk to Rev. Matthew, or Renée Lançon firstname.lastname@example.org . And truly, if you want to know more about small groups, you can talk to any of the dozens of people who have been in a group and you will hear many reasons why it is so enjoyable and rewarding!
May 2017 Theme:
What Does It Mean To Be A Community of Embodiment?
“I spend most time wondering if I should be somewhere else. Instead, I’m learning to shape the words “thank you” with my first breath each morning. My last breath each night. So when the very last breath comes, at least I will know I was grateful for all the places I was so sure I was not supposed to be. ”
- Sarah Kay, Poet, from The Paradox
We spend so much time in disappointment. We worry we’re missing out. We long for something better. Focused on how imperfect or incomplete our current situation is, we hunger for elsewhere.
And if not embodied in disappointment, we at least try our best to live in that place called “on our way.” We tell ourselves that the current situation is only temporary; we’re really better than this and meant for something bigger. This current embodiment is only a steppingstone.
And, of course, any good psychologist, smart life coach, or savvy talk show host will tell us that, by doing this, we’re missing out on peace. Striving for that “perfect life,” we miss out on the solace of the present moment. It’s a good message to pay attention to.
But religion wants to push us a bit harder. It wants us to see how we are out of touch, not only with the present moment, but also gratitude itself. The way back into real embodiment, it says, is not just through the skill of attention but also Sarah Kay’s skill of “shaping the words ‘thank you’ with our first and last breath.”
And not just the skill of “thank you,” but the skill of listening, as well. Every religion worth its salt will tell you that the reason to pay attention to the present moment is so that we can better hear what life and our hearts are trying to tell us! Embodied living is not simply about being grateful for the unnoticed gifts in front of us; it’s also about noticing that every moment and every context – no matter how imperfect, messed up and incomplete – is trying to talk to us! The reason we are called to sink into and care for our bodies is not just to relieve stress; it’s so that our body’s voice no longer gets drowned out by all the other noise. The reason we are called to allow nature to embody us is not simply so that we can feel our interconnectedness; it’s so that we can allow that interconnectedness to tell us its wisdom. The reason to stop trying so hard to change our current circumstances is not simply to “be here now;” it’s so that our current circumstances will finally be able to get a word in edgewise about where it thinks we should go!
And if we do this friends — if we shape our “thank you’s” and take listening seriously – then that elusive gift of embodiment will be ours: that sacred sense of being exactly where we are supposed to be!
May this month’s work help all of us stumble back to and better embody that wonderful space!
SOUL MATTERS OCTOBER THEME: What Does It Mean To Be A Community of Healing?
As part of our participation in the Soul Matters program, each month our church community will be exploring the same theme together in Worship Services, in Religious Education Classes, and in our Small Group Ministries (which are also kicking off this month.)
Well this one certainly seems easy to answer: it takes work. To be a community of healing requires dedication and a willingness to dig in – to fix what’s been broken, to listen away each others’ pain, to battle the bad guys and gals, to ask forgiveness when we are not the good guys and gals we so want to be. So yes, it is easy to remember that it takes work.
But what if we just as easily remembered that it takes perception and sight as well?
Or to be more exact, what if we remembered that healing always begins with perception and sight?
Would we more easily remember that time we were blessed with the experience of looking through each other’s eyes? It wasn’t a perfect view. We weren’t able to see or understand “the other” completely. But we were at least able to see them differently. And in doing so, the healing began.
Would we more easily remember the first time we felt seen? And how that made us want to give that gift to others?
Would we more easily call to mind those moments when we were able to see our “enemies” in their wholeness? Those moments when our frames of them as all bad and us as all good gave way to the truth that they are as complex, fragile and flawed as us. Would we more easily tell the story of when we first realized that we were part of propping up the system? The system that subtly and not so subtly gives some a hand while keeping the hands of others so securely tied behind their back?
Would we more easily remember what happened when we confessed our lie or admitted our addiction? How when we stopped trying to hide it from the sight of others, it somehow loosened its hold on us?
There was a magic in all this looking, seeing and being seen. Remember that? In each case, we learned that healing is not entirely up to us. There was an otherness at work. We just got the ball rolling. We weren’t “the healers”; our wider view simply set the stage. Opened the door. Healing then slowly made its way in and joined us as a partner.
And seeing healing as a partner – rather than solely as a product of our will and work – we were able to be more gentle with ourselves. We realized that manageable steps and doing what we can were just fine; heroics didn’t always have to be the way. We were able to put down the weight of the world for a while, knowing and trusting that healing had a life of its own – that it has the ability to grow and take root even while we rest, maybe even because we took the time to rest.
In the end, maybe that is the most important thing to remember this month: besides always beginning with a wider view, healing also means making room for rest. Too often being a community of healing gets reduced to a matter of work, vigilance and never letting up. So we need these reminders that healing is a partner, not simply a product of our work.
Maybe even trying to partner with us right now…
STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE FOR THE SOCIAL HOUR: A gift of one of our Small Group Ministries
A Small Group Ministry provided strawberry shortcake for the Social Hour.
“People come to church longing for, yearning for, hoping for … a sense of roots, place, belonging, sharing and caring. People come to a church with a search for community, not committee.” — Rev. Glenn Turner, Small Group Ministry pioneer
A different way of doing church
The Small Group Ministry (SGM) program deepens and broadens personal spiritual growth. A group usually consists of 8-10 members who meet at Emerson or at each others’ homes, usually once every two weeks. Each meeting is focused on a spiritual or religious topic. The goals are to:
- Listen and be listened to in a safe place
- Learn about the mysteries of our world and our spiritual paths
- Build new and deeper personal connections
- Serve our community and the needs of one another
- Maintain personal connections and a caring community
Each group has a facilitator who links the group to the SGM steering committee and the minister. The steering committee and minister provide overall guidance, recruit new members, establish new groups, and develop session plans.
Goals of Small Group Ministry
The Small Group Ministry program deepens and broadens personal spiritual growth. This is done through five components:
- Listening: Deep listening is a gift for both the speaker and the listener. A connection forms when we share and give this gift to each other.
- Worship: Worship is central to the life of our congregation. Small Group Ministry augments and strengthens our shared experience.
- Community: Small groups meet the need for connection and intimacy that is both a 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.
How does Small Group Ministry work?
Ministry happens in the meetings, which focus on spiritual or religious topics through a process of deep listening and service projects. Topics that may be shared during meetings include: sacred places, perfection, mothers, commun-ity, living simply, music, and healing. Groups choose their own order, direction and pace. Service projects are expected from each group once a year. In general, projects tend to be ones that serve the church community or the local community, but they can be larger projects that reach beyond our church community.
What is expected of members?
Group members are expected to commit to regular meeting times and to practice deep listening. Deep listening is a way of focusing intently on what another person is saying without interruption or simultaneously formulating a response. Deep listening also gives an individual an opportunity to speak without interruption or comment.
What are Small Group sessions like?
- Opening Words: Gathering in, settling down, reminding participants of the special opportunity of the gathering, possibly reflecting the topic of the session. The meeting may begin with the lighting of a candle or a chalice.
- Check-In: Participants share news of what has been happening in their lives. Each group develops its own customs as to the length of sharing. 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 evening.
- Check-Out: Likes and Wishes: This is an opportunity for feedback.
- Closing Words: This brings the formal session to and end. Groups are encouraged to start and end on time.
Small Group Ministry
Members of a Small Group Ministry group get to know one another and deepen their own spirituality by participating together in discussions of topics of universal human significance. The spirit of community that develops in a group radiates outward, increasing the members’ connection to Emerson and to society at large.
This purpose motivates everything about SGM — the size of the groups, the structure of the program, the form of the meetings, the topics discussed, and the ground rules of discussion. The statement of purpose explains what SGM is and is not.
What are Small Groups?
The Small Group Ministry idea has spread quickly through Unitarian-Universalist churches. Of course, there is nothing new about parishioners meeting together in small groups and having discussions. However, the groups of a Small Group Ministry program have a unique set of features that make them different from study groups, classes, committees, task forces, support groups, affinity groups, or any of the other groups that one typically finds in a church.
- The groups are people-centered rather than task-centered. You may get to know people by serving on a committee with them, but that’s not why committees exist. Committee meetings are designed to get something done, not to foster connections between people.
- The groups are ongoing rather than running for a set term. Not everyone who joins a group will stay with it for years and years, but the possibility is there if you want it.
- The groups are not isolated, but are part of a program that is integrated with the larger life of the church. They are an important ministry of the church.
- The groups give back to the church and the wider community by annually performing two group projects, one for the benefit of the church and the other for the community at large, to be determined by the group.
How to Join
To join, fill out a registration form, available at the welcome table or in the office. Return the form to the minister or to the office, or mail it to Emerson. Please give us a variety of times and days you are available. Groups are formed by the minister who exercises judgment to decide which groups are best able to accommodate new members. The more options you provide will permit the best fit for your placement. After consultation with the group facilitator, the minister can add new members to a group at any time.
This purpose motivates everything about SGM — the size of the groups, the structure of the program, the form of the meetings, the topics discussed, and the ground rules of discussion. The statement of purpose explains what SGM is and is not.
SGM is not a debate society or a study group. The point is not to convert other people to our own opinion or to impress them with our intelligence and knowledge, but to speak our truth so that others can know us, and to listen to others speak their truth so that we can know them. The topics are not ends in themselves; we don’t talk about, say, community or forgiveness because we want everyone to become experts in community or forgiveness. The topics are means to the end of getting to know ourselves and each other. By watching and listening to each other grapple with the topics, the participants learn about each other in a different way than they would by serving on a committee or meeting at a coffee hour or some other social event.
SGM is also not therapy. The point is to get to know one another, not to solve each other’s problems or give each other advice. People get to know each other not by confessing their deepest darkest secrets, but by participating together in discussion.
The topics are intended to focus the group’s attention on the things we have in common just by being human. Therefore, SGM groups are not affinity groups; the topics do not assume any shared special interests or experiences. But everyone was born and everyone will die. Everyone has successes and failures, loves and losses. Everyone has the same fundamental needs and the same basic emotions. Just being human gives us a great deal to talk about.
Finally, the purpose of a small group is not to replace Emerson’s other activities or to cut group members off from the rest of the congregation, but to draw them further in. Many other UU churches have found that SGM does not satiate or exhaust the participants’ appetite for community, but whets it. Having discovered how much common humanity they share with an apparently random group of parishioners, SGM participants become more curious about the rest of the congregation. Having been listened to, accepted, and treated with respect in one church activity, they are encouraged to try others.
What is the Commitment?
Joining the Small Group Ministry program means taking on certain commitments.
You commit yourself to making the group meetings a high priority. Everyone from time to time runs into unpredictable events (like illness) that make it impossible to attend a particular meeting. But if you know from the outset that you will not be able to attend the meetings regularly, don’t sign up.
You commit to give the group and its members a chance. You may already know a number of the people in your group and may have prior opinions about them. Or you may have prior opinions about people like them — opinions about old people or young people or men or women or whatever. We ask that you do your best to put aside your prior opinions and give everyone in your group a chance to surprise you.
You initially commit to attend four consecutive meetings of your group. In the experience of the congregations that have tried SGM, four meetings is what it takes to give the group a chance. If four two-hour meetings is too much for you to risk on a group, don’t sign up.
If you continue with the group after the initial four-meeting period, you commit to stay with the group for a year. If it becomes necessary for you to break this commitment, please tell the facilitator or the minister. It’s important for the minister to know the true size of a group when she is making decisions about whether to add members.
You commit to abide by the group covenant. Unitarian Universalism is based not on creeds but on covenants, agreements about how we will be together and how we will treat each other. Each group will establish its own rules and practices for showing respect to each other. The initial covenant of each group will be the “Guidelines for Discussion” contained in the SGM handbook. Each group can alter these rules as it sees fit, while retaining the goal of honoring the inherent worth and dignity of each individual.
Frequently Asked Questions about Small Groups
1. WHAT’S SMALL GROUP MINISTRY ABOUT?
Small Group Ministry at Emerson helps to create a vibrant and vital religious community by providing resources in these four areas:
Worship: Worship is central to the life of our congregation. Small Group Ministry is intended not to replace, but to augment and strengthen that shared experience.
Community: Ministry 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, and 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.
2. WHO IS IN CHARGE OF SMALL GROUP MINISTRY? The minister is the most visible face directing our program but is not alone. A SGM Implementation Team planned the introduction of Small Group Ministry into the Congregation. The Board of the Congregation officially adopted their proposal. In doing so, the Board asked the minister to devote time in helping to direct and coordinate SGM. Facilitators bring feedback and ideas to their meetings that help to guide the program. Additionally, there is a Steering Committee that meets with the minister to try to anticipate what we could be doing now so that the program will continue to be a strong part of our congregational life three, five, or ten years from now.
3. WHAT HAPPENS AT AN SGM MEETING? The Ministry Group meetings are focused by a collection of sessions developed within our congregation and with other congregations in the Northeast District. Topics include religious histories, spiritual practices, loneliness, fear, poetry, music, healing and many others. Groups may choose their own order, direction, and pace. The session plans are simple:
Opening Words: People are gathered in, settled down and reminded of the special opportunity of the gathering. There is often reflection on 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 its own customs as to 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.
Likes and Wishes: This is a positive format for feedback. Not every group will include this every time.
Closing Words: This brings the formal session to an end. Groups are encouraged to start and end on time.
4. WHERE DO THE GROUPS MEET? Each group decides whether to meet primarily in members homes or at the church. Some groups alternate locations.
5. HOW LONG DO MEETINGS LAST? Sessions are designed to be two hours long. By common consent, most groups are respectful of the time.
6. WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE MINISTER? The minister coordinates this ministry of the congregation, helping to recruit and train facilitators, meeting with them each month to counsel and guide, assigning new members to existing groups, and developing new groups. In addition, the minister may write and/or edit the sessions that guide group meetings.
7. WHAT IS EXPECTED OF A MINISTRY GROUP PARTICIPANT? Participants are expected to bring a positive attitude and 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 make every effort to attend.
8. WHAT DOES THE FACILITATOR DO? The Small Group Ministry Facilitators promote and assist in the progress of 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.
9. WHO WILL KNOW WHAT I SAY? There is an expectation of confidentiality within groups. The level of comfort around confidentiality will vary within groups, so Participants are encouraged to review this expectation from time to time and renew their covenant of this aspect of the groups. When there are significant pastoral concerns, a Facilitator may ask if they can share that concern with the minister.
10. HOW DOES SMALL GROUP MINISTRY GROW? We will always be in the process of forming new groups as people become interested in joining a group or as new people arrive. As new groups are formed, apprentices or experienced group members step forward to become facilitators for new groups. As the circumstances of peoples’ lives change, the membership of a group may change from time to time. While it is sad to say goodbye, new members are warmly welcomed and expand the circle of connection.
11. IS SMALL GROUP MINISTRY THERAPY? No. While Participants in our groups often report feeling better connected and happier in their lives, SGM is not therapy. Professional therapy is readily available in our communities. The purpose of SGM is to offer connection, reflection, community, and spiritual growth.
12. HOW DOES THE IDEA OF SERVICE FIT IN? From the beginning of our planning, the idea of service has been woven into the fabric of Small Group Ministry. We ask that every group, over time, take on some kind of service in the church and in the community. This might be covering all the sign-up jobs on a Sunday Morning, adopting a family in need at Christmas, or guiding a fundraiser during the church year. Service beyond the group 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.
13. WHY CALL IT SMALL GROUP MINISTRY? Over the years, we at Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church have come to envision the ministry of the congregation as 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.
14. HOW OFTEN DO GROUPS MEET? Each group develops its own schedule; the most common pattern is to meet twice a month on the first and third or second and fourth weeks. That makes scheduling easier and allows a three-week interval from time to time. Some groups choose every other week or once a month. Experience has shown that the most successful groups meet twice a month. Groups may tend to meet less often through the summer and over holidays.
15. HOW LONG WILL I BE IN A GROUP? The commitment to a group is open ended. Experience has shown that people often stay in their group for years. And, for reasons of their own, other members leave from time to time. We have built an annual reassignment date into our program when everyone has a chance to recommit to the group they are in or ask to join another group.
16. HOW DO I SIGN UP? Pick up a registration form available from the Welcome Desk on Sunday mornings or from the church office. Return the form to the minister or to the office, or mail it to Emerson UUC, 7304 Jordan Avenue, Canoga Park, CA 91303.