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Heart to Heart

Fourteen Gatherings for Reflection and Sharing

Listen to "Thank You For Your Loving Hands"

Judy Fjell

Judy Fjell

Download Extra Chapter, "Rest and Relaxation"

The gathering on Rest and Relaxation asks us to think about this vital part of our lives.

The chapter and instructions for group leaders are available in Word and PDF documents; click on the description to download a file.

Additional Resources for Groups and Leaders

Have you enjoyed your gatherings and want more material? Here are some links to other possibilities.

The book includes instructions for leaders. You can download a leader's manual with more detailed instructions, readings for lighting a chalice or candle at the beginning of meetings, and discussions about handling issues. This document is based on the manual given to group leaders at First Unitarian. The manual is available in Word and PDF documents; click on the description to download a file.

Click here for the star template for the "Success and Failure" chapter.

Table of Contents







Loss and Grief



Success and Failure



Making Peace with Parents

Sustainable Living


Advice for Leaders

Leader's Notes for Each Gathering

An interview with Christine Robinson

Q: How long have you each been involved in small group ministry and in what capacities?

A: As a minister I have been in either a woman's group or group spiritual direction for at least 20 years, and collegial support groups before that, so I've had a lot of experience with different kinds of groups and the joys and problems they have. Alicia [Hawkins, coauthor] has been involved in relational small groups for 15 years in Protestant and Unitarian Universalist communities.

Q: What has that been like? Do you have any experiences you'd like to share?

A: Sharing and growing in small groups has been a life-platform for me. It's how I learned ministry, grew in faith, stayed sane as a mother, figured out (inasmuch as I have figured out) aging, womanhood...It's hard for me to imagine a life without a touchgroup of one kind or another.  Small groups are at the core of Alicia's spiritual life due to the intimacy and deep sharing with others on life and spiritual issues.  She has started covenant groups over the years. Over and over we've seen people blossom in wonderful rich ways as they become a part of a small, safe group exploring spiritual and life issues using deep sharing and deep listening—sharing heart to heart.

Q: What defines small group ministry for you?

A: Small group ministry is a very broad term; it's a program of small groups put together by a religious institution. A large small group ministry program will have lots of different kinds of small groups. In Albuquerque we have Extended Families and neighborhood groups, which are purely social and supportive, a set of support groups—for women, men, elders, job hunters and so on—and our Covenant Groups, which are spiritual sharing groups. We wrote our book for this latter kind of spiritual sharing group, and we wrote it broadly enough that it could be used by groups that were not necessarily religious in focus but wanted to discuss "deep" things. 

Q: How did you get the idea for "Heart to Heart"?

We were putting together a lot of materials for our Covenant Groups at First Unitarian and it seemed that there might be a wider audience. I'd taken a stab at writing a book and had gotten bogged down on details, and I'd noticed that Alicia loved those very details. So I proposed that we do something together.

About the same time, First Unitarian started to reach out to Unitarian Universalists in small towns in various ways, and we realized that there were lots of people who might benefit from a book which showed people how they could form a group as well as giving resources for sessions.

Q: How is this book different from other small group ministry books?

A: As we talked with leaders in other churches within the Unitarian Universalist community about covenant groups, there appeared to be a need for "ready-to-use" materials.  This book is written in response to that need. Churches of any size can use the book to start or revitalize a small group ministry program easily.

Small group ministry and covenant groups span a range from simpler format to more complex. Our book gives a rich variety of ways to ponder the theme for each session, including quotes, an essay, exercises and journal writing.  While we know how busy everyone is, we hope that at most gatherings, most group members will have done the preparation. The aim of this work is to get you thinking about the topic in advance so that you will come to the group more ready to share and more able to relate to what others are sharing. We hope that a little preparation will foster depth.  

Q: How did you choose the meeting topics?

A: They were topics which had worked well with our groups here.

Q: What do you hope group members will get out of these gatherings?

A: I hope that the process of preparation will be a growth experience for readers, and that they will get to know the people in their group in a new and deeper way.  

Participants in our groups told us over and over that they had never before had the opportunity to talk about their thoughts and feelings on deeply personal subjects or to hear others share heart to heart. They told us that the experience of feeling truly listened to was so close to feeling loved that they could hardly tell the difference. They told us that when they took what they had learned about listening into other parts of their lives, their lives were better. 

Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge of small group ministry?

A: Creating an atmosphere and a structure that allows people to share deeply with each other is a huge challenge. We're not very good listeners in this culture: some people dominate the airtime and others hang back, and sometimes people say pretty clumsy things. It takes either very strong leadership or a very clear structure to help everyone feel safe enough to share what's in their heart. We've had good experience with this structure and good-hearted, amateur leaders. We're excited to share it.

Q: You state in your introduction that the ideal size for a group is six to eight people. What advice would you give a smaller group, or a pair of people?

A: In a group of six to eight, if a couple of people haven't done the preparation, it won't matter so much. Two or three or four people meeting together have to be more disciplined. In a smaller group, there will probably be more time for general discussion, and they'll want to make sure that everyone gets a fair share of the time.

Q: What was your writing process like?

A: I wrote the essays, while Alicia gathered just the right quotations, dealt with permissions, and kept us organized. (Alicia was concurrently running our Covenant Group program, training leaders, and working with session-authors at church, so she also fed in ideas and issues to cover.) Each of us thought that the other was doing most of the "really hard" work and we were just delighted with the synergy. Neither of us would have been able to write this book by ourselves.