Almost twenty years ago, our Associate Minister at the time, the Reverend Barbara Fast, started our Small Group Ministry program. The SGM has been a regular part of our congregational life for these many years, often led by faithful facilitators on topics meant to encourage deep spiritual conversations.
Some of these groups have been together for many years and members find great strength in attending them each month. Unfortunately, it has been difficult to place newcomers to our congregation in already existing groups. Since member integration is an important element in SGM, this has been a shortcoming.
Several years ago, I introduced the Soul Matters Sharing Circle to the SGM leadership. Soul Matters is a learning cooperative that introduces a spiritual theme each month. Congregations in the cooperative help to curate resources that can assist small group facilitators in their fostering discussion and insight. Soul Matters uses this theme to inform the entire ministry of the congregations who join the cooperative. The theme has resources for worship, music, religious education, outreach and small group ministry. The purpose of the groups are to slow down and listen to our lives, so that the mystery of being human is noticed and spoken to. The groups help us to listen to our deepest selves. It is an extensive program which has guided our ministry here for the last four years.
Given these challenging times we have learned that in order for congregations such as ours to thrive in the years ahead we must do a much better job engaging our newcomers with our existing members. One such way is to use our small group ministry as a means by which we can connect with one another and deepen our collective spiritual life using the themes of Soul Matters.
We are beginning a new program this year we are calling Soul Matters Groups. Like our existing small groups, members will meet once a month and explore the spiritual theme of the month. Unlike our existing small groups, newcomers and some existing members will all begin with a common orientation program called Starting Point. Starting Point is a four-session class led by me wherein members and members-to-be are given an orientation to Unitarian Universalism, sharing each other’s spiritual journeys and delving into several sessions on the “Three Paths of Unitarian Universalism.” At the end of the class, the group will be invited to continue to meet monthly around our monthly themes for at least a year as a small group ministry.
The monthly themes focus us on a spiritual value that our UU faith has historically honored and calls all of us to embody in our lives. While the SGM program has helped in all these ways, we have found the Soul Matters approach to be far more effective in developing these practices. It also encourages us to work with these practices and engage with the monthly themes throughout the month, rather than just when we meet. It gives us many ways to do this on our own, with our partners, friends, and with other congregants.
For some of the SGM groups, our change won’t be dramatic, but for several it would be, as they have gotten far away from the original intention of the groups. The purpose here is to integrate newcomers into the vital thematic ministry of our congregation. Those SGM groups that wish to continue meeting as they have are welcome to do so. Some of those groups may wish to disband and join in this new program. The choice will be up to each existing facilitator and their group.
We have already begun this new program! A group of newcomers and existing members has been meeting throughout the month of June and has been invited to become our first Soul Matters Group. Our Starting Point orientation classes will be held in September, January, April and June. They will all be online. I have asked Linda Lubin to serve as our coordinator for the Soul Matters Groups. Let us know if you would like to participate.