Chalice Circles

Chalice circles serve the dual functions of helping people to develop their spirituality while getting to know those in their group on a deeper level. Small groups of about ten people meet once a month to discuss a topic such as bitterness, guilt, or racism. There are opening words, a check in, discussion of a topic, check out, and closing words. For more information click on the first item on the list below.

To join a chalice circle, send your name, contact information, and day/time that you prefer to participate to Rev. Julianne Lepp and she will assign you to a group.

Necessary Elements

  1. SIZE-about 10 people. At least five and no more than 12.
  2. FREQUENCY-once a month at least, more if group desires, in someone's home or at church.
  3. FORMAT-must combine worshipful and/or centering readings and personal check-in periods at the start and end. (See the recommended format below.)
  4. FACILITATORS-Persons chosen and trained by the minister, who then facilitate a group for the facilitators. One person facilitates and another is the assistant facilitator and may take the facilitator's place when he or she must be absent. If the group grows too large, then one of the facilitators becomes the facilitator for the part of the old group who join with others to become a new group.
  5. EMPTY CHAIR-Always at least one, to symbolize those not yet reached who need us and the expectation of changing groups, perhaps of one begun with some of the members of your current group.
  6. COVENANTS-During the second or third meeting, groups agree on how to be with each other. Later, agree on one service to perform for the church or community at lest twice and preferably three or four times a year. For possible items to include in covenants, see the section on them below.


  1. OPENING READING-preferably from a Unitarian Universalist source (our hymn book contains plenty of material for years of these small groups). 5 minutes
  2. OPENING CHECK-IN-form differs. One way is to ask each person briefly states her/his answer to a question such as: What's on your mind today? What seems most important to you these days? Another way is to allow each person to speak for 4 minutes without interruption about whatever they wish to bring to the group and to end with 10 to 15 minutes of follow-up by the group. A third way is ask each person to share about the current state of her/his physical or spiritual health, about joys and concerns about loved ones, and/or concerns/excitement about what is happening in his/her life. Each group develops its own customs as to the length of sharing and about how to respond-if at all. 30-55 minutes
  3. THE FOCUS/PURPOSE OF THE MEETING-a paragraph or two lays out a topic and presents questions that will elicit thoughtful discussion and significant reflection. A group may stay with the topic several weeks or be done in one meeting. All groups will address the same topics in the same order. 60-75 minutes
  4. CHECK-OUT-a positive format for feedback using a brief go around the room; likes and wishes, e.g., "I like how we approached the topic this evening, but I wish we had move through the sharing a little more quickly." 5 minutes
  5. CLOSING WORDS-these bring the formal session to an end. Those who wish to can leave while others may stay to chat. 5 minutes


  1. The primary covenant will be about how the members agree to be in relationship with each other over time. Together the group establishes a community in which justice, democracy, and human dignity are embodied. The group agrees to abide by a set of ground rules for right relationship.
  2. A second covenant is a commitment to welcome new members to the group. The empty chair at each meeting is to symbolize this commitment. Openness to change prevents exclusiveness and factionalism.
  3. A third covenant is an agreement to engage in service to the congregation and the larger world on a regular basis. This promise maintains a connection to the larger organization and works against excessive inwardness within the group.
  4. A primary covenant might also include:
    1. What people hear within the group, stays within the group as much as possible.
    2. A person can pass
    3. People do not interrupt each other
    4. Expenses are to be shared
    5. Starting and ending times are fixed or flexible
    6. Side conversations are okay or are too disruptive
    7. A commitment to understanding those with different opinions
    8. Members share the privilege and responsibility of helping the group function
    9. People will not participate in or encourage put-downs
    10. How time is shared, such as only one person speaking at a time
    11. Smoking and alcohol are or are not permissible

Facilitators' Role

  1. Possess a strong commitment to Unitarian Universalism.
  2. Understand the general concept of SGM.
  3. Establish, with the minister, the guidelines and topics for the groups
  4. Take responsibility for managing group process issues.
  5. Help groups to establish their covenant (what they agree to as a group) and to maintain these ground rules in practice.
  6. Keep the group on track.
  7. Maintain shared leadership
  8. Model facilitation skills
  9. Clarify group expectations.
  10. Encourage participation by all.
  11. Deal with the logistics (times and places) of meetings; always begins and end the meetings on time.
  12. Attend monthly meetings with Minister or Coach.
  13. Model openness and caring.
  14. Facilitate group decision-making.
  15. Maintain appropriate confidentiality.
  16. Share with the minister when someone in the group is having a particularly bad time, with permission, of course.

Guideline Issues

  1. Size of groups
  2. Policy on birthing new groups
  3. How and when to add members to groups
  4. How can groups bridge rather than bond-service in the church/community
  5. Check in procedures-simply witnessing without comment, allowing cross-conversation during check in, sharing then responding??
  6. Techniques for talking/time-keeping
  7. How to deal with existing groups that may want to adapt toward a new model.
  8. Question of whether baby-sitting/child-care space could be provided for groups meeting at church or in homes.
  9. How focus/discussion topics will be generated and ordered.
  10. Scheduling of group meetings
  11. Process of adding and dropping facilitators.
  12. Role/importance of apprentices-renewal/training of new leaders for expanding ministry & growth.

Background Material

Available from under Small Group Ministry: "Designing and implementing a 'small group ministry' focus for your congregation by the Rev. Glenn H. Turner. "Transforming our churches with small group ministry" by the Rev. Glenn H. Turner. "A Small Group Ministry Resource Book: The Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Augusta, Maine by the Rev. Calvin O. Dame

Available from A Covenant Group Source Book" by the Center for Community Values

Additional material available is listed in these resources, but this handout is more than enough to understand the process and get us started. It is an overview of SGM based on these resources, but for further information, please go to these web sites and explore.