Small Groups in a Unitarian Universalist Context
Love Beyond Belief™: Insight, reflection, and action, guided by compassion.
Unitarian Universalists have a shared set of spiritual and faith development practices that enable us to side with love. The 2005 Commission on Appraisal Report, Engaging Our Theological Diversity, called this shared set of practices “personal experience.” The COA found that “almost universally among UUs, personal experience is considered the most important source of religious conviction.”
Theists, for example, cite personal experience to affirm the sanctity of God. Humanists, on the other hand, use personal experience to affirm the sanctity of human life. Others among us use personal experiences to affirm their Pagan, Buddhist, agnostic, Christian, or Judaic claims about the fundamental nature, value, and meaning of their lives. And still others use personal experience to define themselves simply as Unitarian Universalist. All of these personal experiences are the content of our everyday lives as we practice the heart of our faith.
The interdependent web of all existence (our UU seventh principle) can be understood to affirm the actual experience of feeling connected to all of life at once: feeling awe, wonder, and love of life itself. The access point to this state of consciousness isn’t thinking; it’s feeling. In this interior domain of human experience, one feels enlivening compassion, care, love, and resonance with all of life. Accounts of this inner life of the self become stories about triggered emotional values (affects).
Like other forms of small group ministry such as Covenant Groups and Chalice Circles, Love Beyond Belief small groups create within us and among us direct experiences of care, support, and love that prompt acts of lovingkindness. They are a practice of insight, reflection, and action guided by compassion. Each step begins with the discovery of connections that create awe, care, and joy. The discoveries heal broken hearts, mend injured souls, and calm restless minds because unconditional love is felt. They help us develop a deeper sense of who we are and what we can do together. They create the actual experience of Love Beyond Belief.
What distinguishes Love Beyond Belief small groups from other forms of small group ministry? The inclusion of embodied practices and the deep awareness of emotion within the spiritual context. Love Beyond Belief small groups establish a setting in which the entire group holds each individual in an environment of love. This experience of Love Beyond Belief prompts acts of lovingkindness for self, others, and the world.
Love Beyond Belief™ Small Groups
- Group focus: Groups may form around a particular affinity (such as young adults or parents), interest (such as mitigating climate change), or activity (such as gardening). For some groups, the focus might be on extended check-in; for others, the focus might be on a series of topics chosen by the group. Any group might choose to shift focus after a time, based on the consensus of the group.
- A facilitator guides each session. Facilitators also meet together regularly following the Love Beyond Belief small group model.
- The group formulates a covenant of relationship, including holding each other’s thoughts and feelings with respect, welcoming of new members, and service. (Suggested questions for formulating a covenant: Why are we here? What is important to us about how we are with each other?)
- Suggested “small group” size: no more than 10 participants.
- The group meets regularly (at least once a month, ideally twice a month).
- Each group decides what its group activity of service to the wider community will be (linked to a chosen topic or not), and then every few months participates in the chosen activity together.
- Session format
- Centering Music
- Centering reading calling the group together (e.g., #418 in the grey hymnal): Unison or responsive
- Lighting a candle or chalice
- Embodied practice: Breath meditation of slowly inhaling and exhaling at least five times (led by the facilitator) and then saying together “Thank you, breath of life.”
- Check-in: What’s going on in your life right now? How are you? How is it with your spirit?
- The Practice: Deep listening, without comment, as each person speaks. Each person should count to five silently after the person has spoken. Then the next person speaks. Persons speak when they are ready to speak, rather than follow a protocol in which the check-ins move in a linear direction.
- Focus: Experiencing, learning, discussion, reflection, planning, and action around the group’s chosen focus.
- Check-out: How do you feel right now? How are you?
- Closing reading and music
- Extinguish candle or chalice