What is a Chalice Group?

A Chalice Group consists of 7 – 9 people who commit to meet monthly for a year to support each other on their life journeys.   Meetings include a “check-in” period, during which members share what is happening in their lives, which allows members to get to know one another better.  Most of the meeting is devoted to an in-depth and personal discussion of a selected topic.  Topics cover a range of religious, spiritual, and personal questions, and are designed to help the participants move beyond the level of casual conversation.

A Chalice Group is supportive and yet not a support group.  It is not a formal class and yet an opportunity to learn from peers.  It is reverent and yet not a formal worship experience. It is not a social club and yet still an opportunity to make and deepen friendships.  Chalice Groups generally take on one short-term service project each year, but are not intended for doing long-term, ongoing tasks.  Unlike most other groups, Chalice Groups operate with a covenant developed and agreed to by its members.

What is the purpose of the Chalice Groups program?

To provide an opportunity for friends and members of St. John’s Unitarian Universalist Church to develop deeper connections, foster individual growth, and encourage service within the church and beyond through small groups.

Why have we developed Chalice Groups in our congregation?

There is a need within our community, as well as our culture at large, to develop richer and more meaningful relationships with each other. Chalice Groups can do this, for every individual involved, 7 to 9 people at a time. For newcomers they offer a way to become a part of the congregation, to gain a sense of belonging. For long-time church members they create new ways to relate to each other, to care for each other, to talk to and listen to each other. We also expect through Chalice Groups to be challenged to spiritual growth, to deepen our understanding of Unitarian Universalist values and principles and be prompted to more fully express them amongst ourselves and out in the community.

How can I expect to benefit from a Chalice Group?

The primary emphasis of Chalice Groups is to be caring, to encourage spiritual growth, and to promote affirmation and acceptance.  By creating an open, supportive, and nurturing environment, Chalice Groups facilitate spiritual growth and mutual care for one another.  Additionally, the program offers opportunities to search and grow at the individual’s own pace and in the individual’s own way through learning together and deepening relationships.  As individuals identify and use their own spiritual gifts, they will be moved to contribute of themselves and their resources.

How does it work?

A Chalice Group consists of 7 – 9 people who commit to meet regularly to support each other on their life journeys.  Each group has at least one trained facilitator who guides the group in its tasks.   Each participant joins in creating a group agreement, or covenant, that may include provisions such as: consistent attendance for a year, honoring each other’s privacy, a commitment to doing at least one community service project together.  Groups review and renew covenants as necessary.

What happens during a Chalice Group meeting?

Each meeting begins with opening words and a chalice lighting.  Then there is a check-in period which allows each member to share how/where they are at the time.  Following this is the discussion of that month’s topic.  Topics can be on a wide range of subjects, such as:

  • the inherent worth & dignity of every person
  • hope in times of darkness
  • aging
  • your life passion
  • forgiveness

Alternatively, a group may decide to explore a topic of its own choosing for a given meeting that seems more to its interests.  Although the subjects may be things you might hear about in a Sunday sermon, the small group setting will allow members a chance to delve into the subject much more deeply and to speak individually, with a respectful audience.  Members are always encouraged to share their own stories or ideas related to the topic.  Typically, the questions or topics discussed aren’t the kind of things you can talk about in casual conversation.  At the conclusion of the discussion, there will be a check-out time where each participant can express parting thoughts. This is followed by some closing words.

How are groups formed?

Chalice group registration and formation of new groups occurs each fall, based primarily on the days people are available to meet.  Any other pertinent information given on the registration form will also be considered.  An attempt will be made to try to balance gender, age, and other considerations whenever possible to provide some diversity in the groups.  Part of the beauty of these groups is creating community among individuals who may not otherwise find themselves together.  In light of this, couples may want to consider joining separate Chalice Groups.

What if I don’t like it or find that I can’t meet when I thought I could?

The intention of Chalice Groups is that you commit to a relationship with a group of people for a minimum of three months with the hope that you will continue for a year.  When signing up, please give careful consideration to the time slots that you list as preferences on your registration form, making sure that you can commit to attending at least 80% of the meetings at that day and time.  However, even with the best of intentions, we sometimes need to withdraw from commitments.  Each Chalice Group (in consultation with the Chalice Groups Coordinating Committee) should decide how to handle withdrawals so that the expectations are understood and friendships can be maintained without hurt feelings.

What about new members?  Is this a one-time sign-up?

Chalice groups begin each fall, but our hope is that each group will have an empty chair or two to signify their willingness to add and welcome new members as the need arises.  Existing groups can welcome newly registered members, but a new Chalice Group will be formed when the number of applicants exceeds what can be integrated into existing groups.  When a group exceeds 9 members, it becomes difficult to maintain the intimacy inherent in a Chalice Group.  The members may decide to stay at their current size until the end of the program year, or they may continue to add new members and then divide into two groups.

What about children?  Can they participate?  Is there childcare?

This is an adult-oriented program.  Childcare is not provided by the Church; however, some groups may decide to work that out among themselves.  Please indicate on your registration form any strong preferences regarding childcare.

What’s the community service commitment?

Part of each group’s covenant is the agreement that, as a group, they are expected to participate in at least one community service activity during the year.  The activity can be something for the Church or in the larger community.  This project encourages the group to find a way to act together and to give back and share the abundance they receive.  It also reminds us that we are a community within a larger community.

How were the facilitators chosen?

The current facilitators were chosen because they were lay leaders; or they were approached when their names came up on the Shared Ministry database; or they expressed an interest in bringing small group ministry to St. John’s; or they were developed from within the Chalice Group program itself.  This group, the Chalice Groups Coordinating  Committee, has been through training and continues to meet at least monthly with the minister.  New facilitators will continue to be developed from within the Chalice Groups.

What happens at the end of the year?

At the end of the program cycle, all current members and anyone interested in becoming a member for the first time will fill out a new registration form and be assigned to a Chalice Group that fits with their schedule.  It is possible that some of the same people will end up in the same groups, but the groups will essentially be new groups.

Some groups will naturally have become very close to one another and will be sad about the idea of change.  However, it is clear from research and literature that having some movement in the groups is healthier for the small groups, individual members and for the congregation.  Groups in other churches that chose not to change have faced stagnation, alienation (“splintering off”) from the larger community, and a perception of cliquishness from outside groups.  However, a remix will allow new energy and ideas to be shared and for members to get to know some new people.

Who do I ask if I have any questions about the Chalice Groups program at St. John’s?

Please feel free to contact the Chalice Groups Coordinating Committee chalicegroups@stjohnsuu.org.