“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.” — Glenn Turner

A Different Way of Doing Church

The Small Group Ministry program deepens and broadens personal spiritual growth. A group usually consists of 8-10 members who meet at each others’ homes or CVUUS. 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 each other’s needs

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 and establish new groups. Most (but not all) groups take the summer off.

Join a Group

Contact Doug Richards (802-989-9387), or leave a message at the CVUUS office at 388-8080.

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 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 Small Group Ministry Works

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, community, 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 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.

Being a Truly Multigenerational Congregation

Among the several topics the CVUUS Board has been discussing recently, and one included as an aspirational goal in our new Five-Year Long-Range Plan under each of its four organizing themes, is our congregational commitment to exploring ways in which we might become “a truly multigenerational congregation.”  Below are excerpts from a draft of our January 2022 Small Group Session Plan, which touches on this important goal.  We invite you to look at these excerpts, and to send along any responses you might have to the questions at the end.  You can email any responses to Doug Richards at drichard@keuka.edu.

Opening Words: 

Here we have gathered, called to celebrate

days of our lifetime, matters small and great;

we of all ages, women, children, men;

infants and sages, sharing what we can.

Sing now together this, our hearts’ own song.

Alicia S. Carpenter, “Here We Have Gathered” from Singing the Living Tradition #360 

Topic/Activity: When I first attended a UU church, I was a young, single person working in an office at a Maine college. My family lived hundreds of miles away, so church was the only place where I regularly saw people of all ages, including children and elders. After spending several years as a student or employee in institutions of higher education, I was very glad to find a place where all ages were welcomed. In a society in which many activities are segregated by age, a church is one of the few places other than the family where multiple generations come together. Unitarian Universalists have long valued the “intergenerational” aspects of our life together — those opportunities for all ages to enjoy a shared experience. Now the word “multigenerational” is being used to point us toward a broader vision that embraces both intergenerational activities and programming for similar-age groups that addresses the unique needs of each stage of life. UUA Curriculum Director Judith A. Frediani has these thoughts: “What would a truly multigenerational congregation look like? It would be the ultimate, committee of the whole: a community in which everyone is seen as teacher and learner; in which every age and stage of life is equally valued and equally supported by whatever tangible and intangible resources the community has to offer; in which every age and stage of life is allowed to contribute whatever tangible and intangible resources it has to offer; a community in which no decision is made about the life of the community—whether in the area of worship, physical plant, fundraising, budgeting, social action., the arts, education, or any other—without consideration of its impact on and opportunities for every member of the community.” Adapted from “Multigenerational Congregations” http ://www.uua. org/reimultigenerationa1/10 8 23 1 . shtml


  1. How is our congregation multigenerational? What do we do to make people of all ages feel welcome?
  2. How important is it to you that our church life be multigenerational? What has been your experience with other generations at church?
  3. What is the place within a multigenerational church for similar-age groups and activities?
  4. What more might we do to become “a truly multigenerational congregation”?

Adapted from a session plan developed by Karen Allen at the Unitarian Universalist Community Church; Augusta, Maine

Different Options: Traditional Covenant or Affinity Groups?

Traditional Covenant Groups—with openings for new members.  Each of the traditional covenant small groups that met last year plans to continue meeting.  These groups tend to follow more closely the session formats just described, relying on monthly session plans usually focused on the “topic for the month” being explored in Sunday services (though at times they may depart from this and have their own topic).

They meet monthly as follows:

*Saturday morning  9-11 am onsite at Fenn Chapel, (2nd Sat of each month) Contact Doug Richards

*Sunday afternoon, 12-2 pm, Off site (no longer on Zoom, 2nd Sunday of month). Contact Helene Vanderburgh

*Tuesday evening  7:15-9 pm onsite in Blue Room (the 4th Tues of month), Contact Alan Moore

*Tuesday evening  7-9 pm onsite in Blue Room (first Tues of each month) Contact Dinah Smith

Opportunities also exist for “drop in” participants who would like to “test out” the small group model of spiritual sharing.

If you think you may be interested, contact Doug Richards at drichard@keuka.edu .

A different door into Small Group Ministry is provided by Affinity Groups, groups that share a common interest or life experience and want to share based on these experiences. Find out more about the available affinity groups here.

Small Group Ministry Premise & Elements

Premise: To develop further at CVUUS, small group ministry needs to:  1) Strive to include all congregants and friends in some way;  2) Not be bound to traditional concepts of what constitutes small group ministry;  3) Look and feel much more like a form of worship, drawing on Rev. Jacob Trapp’s broad        definition of what constitutes worship:

To worship is to stand in awe under a heaven of stars, before a flower, a leaf in the sunlight, or a grain of sand.

To worship is to be silent, receptive, before a tree astir with the wind, or the passing shadow of a cloud.

To worship is to work with dedication and with skill; it is to pause from work and listen to a strain of music.

To worship is to sing with the singing beauty of the earth; it is to listen through a storm to the still small voice within.

Worship is a loneliness seeking communion; it is a thirsty land crying out for rain.

Worship is kindred fire within our hearts; it moves through deeds of kindness and through acts of love.

Worship is the mystery within us reaching out to the mystery beyond.

It is an inarticulate silence yearning to speak; it is the window of the moment open to the sky of the eternal.  

Elements of Worship adaptable to SGM: Readings, chant * Music (live or recorded, instrumental or singing); drumming * Dance; other forms of movement; yoga * Meditation; prayer; silence * Testimonials,     reflections, memoir *  Visual arts * Rituals with food, including preparation, in nature, with natural elements, for milestones * Journey and pilgrimage, hiking * Sewing, weaving and other domestic  arts * Covenanting  * Benediction  * Expressions of Gratitude, Compassion or other explicit values.

More Information

See the UU Small Group Ministry Network.