The Value of Journey Groups

"There is a quality of listening that is possible among a circle of human beings, who by their attentiveness to one another create a space in which each person is able to give voice to the truth of his or her life. There is the miracle of authentic narrative, made possible by listening that holds still long enough to let the truth be told. Where there is this kind of listening and speaking, a new kind of community is born -- a community of life."
- Rebecca Parker, Unitarian Universalist Theologian

"I pin my hopes to quiet processes and small circles, in which vital and transforming events take place."
- Rufus Jones, Quaker historian and theologian

Helping Each Other Become the People We Most Want to Be

Unitarian Universalism is about connection. We are a religion that sees people struggling, not against our own sinful souls, but against a shallow, frantic, and materialistic world that all-too-often leaves us disconnected from our deepest selves, life's gifts and needs greater than one's own. Therefore, it is our mission at CUC to "nurture each other in our spiritual journeys" and to "foster compassion and understanding." Journey Groups are the most direct and effective way to do this nurturing and fostering.

Through our mission, CUC works to heal that divide. We nurture each other in our spiritual journeys in order to find and create connection in an often very disconnecting world. We foster compassion and understanding in order to become people of depth and presence in a world often shallow and distracted.

Journey Groups offer
  • Formative space and circles of learning, support, and challenge
  • Opportunities for spiritual deepening and practice
  • An intimate home within a larger church community
so that participants become the people they want to be.

Journey Groups are about becoming.

Formative Space

The core purpose of Journey Groups is to create formative space for individuals. This is a space of acceptance and safety in which group members can explore their deepest values and inner voice without judgment or coercion.
"So what do we do in a circle of trust? We speak our own truth; we listen receptively to the truth of others; we ask each other honest, open questions instead of giving counsel; and we offer each other the healing and empowering gifts of silence and laughter....Our purpose is not to teach anyone anything but to give the inner teacher a chance to teach us...."Formation" may be the best name for what happens in a circle of trust, because the word refers, historically, to soul-work done in a communal setting....In a circle of trust, formation flows from the belief that we are born with souls in perfect form. As time goes on, we are subject to powers of deformation, from within as well as without, that twist us into shapes quite different from the shape of the soul. But the soul never loses its original form, and never stops calling us back to our birthright integrity. In a circle of trust, the powers of deformation are held at bay long enough for the soul to emerge and speak its truth....In a circle of trust we can grow our selfhood like a plant -- from the potential within the seed of the soul, in ground made fertile by the quality of our relationships, toward the light of our own wholeness."
- Parker Palmer
A Theology of Connection

Journey Groups are the way we practice what Unitarian Universalist theology teaches. Our UU theology is complex, yet it can be boiled down to a single focus on healing spiritual disconnection. Our congregations gather to heal disconnection by nurturing each other in our spiritual journeys, fostering compassion and understanding within and beyond our congregations, and engaging in service to transform ourselves and our world. Journey Groups are the container in which we explore the meaning of this theology in our lives and support our journey toward deeper connection with ourselves, with others, and with the mystery of life.

1. Journey Groups Are Rooted in a Theology Focused on Spiritual Connection

Many us grew up in a Christian context galvanized around the idea of sin. The sin perspective sees a world of people struggling with the fact of a deep, fundamental flaw in their nature. Religious communities, on this perspective, function to offer forgiveness or purity.

We Unitarian Universalists see the world from a different perspective. We see a world of people struggling with spiritual disconnection. We see ourselves and many around us hungering to re-connect with self, others, and the wholeness of creation. Unitarian Universalism and UU congregations exist to help people with this struggle. This is what we are about: to heal spiritual disconnection by nurturing the spiritual journey, fostering compassion and understanding, and engaging in transformative service.

We are all struggling to find our ways home -- to what we care most deeply about and who we most want to be. So Journey Groups are not just "an evening of good discussion" or "an opportunity for intellectual stimulation" or even "a chance to meet new friends." Journey Groups are designed to be a path home.

2. Journey Groups Provide an Opportunity to Explore the Worship Themes in More Depth -- and Connect with the Congregation as a Whole

Journey Groups are not a "stand alone" program. Journey Groups are inextricably connected to the worship life of CUC by providing participants with a way to explore the worship theme of the month. Besides helping us go deeper, this also connects us to the wider congregational community. Bob or Sue might not be in your Journey Group, but since they are also dealing with the same theme, you have a point of connection that allows us feel part of the same journey -- and strike up a conversation a bit more easily.

Journey Groups are not sermon discussion groups. The goal of a Journey Group is not explore the sermons in more depth, but to explore the monthly theme in more depth. Having the sermons in the background enriches the experience, but sermons are not the focus. The focus is on the monthly questions and spiritual exercise, which provide a different kind of experience than worship offers.

3. Journey Groups Invite Us to Experience the Worship Theme, Not Just Talk About It

Unitarian Universalists want to do more than just read and talk about spiritual topics. Provocative readings are important. Thinking about and discussing a topic is important. But there is nothing like experiential learning.

Each Monthly Packet includes a spiritual exercise to engage prior to the meeting. If, for instance, the theme is "grace," we don't just read what theologians have to say about it -- we challenge ourselves to find a way to bring grace (a gift not expected, earned, or deserved) into another person's life. If the theme is "prayer," we don't just read theories and perspectives on prayer -- we challenge ourselves to find a new way to pray (or even try prayer for the first time). The spiritual exercises differ widely from month to month. Sometimes they are profound and involved. Other times, simple and playful. Sometimes members may report having "the most moving experience of my life." Other times, they come in and say, "I'm not sure that worked for me, but it did make me realize..." No matter what, we ask members to try they exercise. Whether you "enjoy" it or not, the experience has something to teach you about life and yourself.

Of course, spiritual exercises differ from spiritual practice. The monthly exercise cannot take the place of on-going, daily practices that center us. Rather, the monthly exercise supplements our practices and facilitates the path toward depth and meaning.

4. Journey Groups Offer Questions to Walk With, Not Walk Through

Traditional small groups use discussion questions to keep the discussion focused and structured. Journey Groups use the questions differently. We see the questions as tools for individual exploration. Instead of asking our groups to go through the questions one by one and discuss them, we give you the questions ahead of time and ask you to find the one or two questions that "hook" you -- that speak to you in some dramatic or challenging way. We ask you to "live with" or "walk with" that question for the few weeks leading up to the Journey Group meeting. Find the question that hooks you and let it take you on a ride. Members then arrive at the meeting, not with an answer to each of the questions on the list, but with a story about the one or two questions that spoke to them and led to deeper, personal learning.

5. Journey Groups Slowly Teach the Substance of Unitarian Universalism.

Each monthly theme brings attention to a spiritual value. The Monthly Packet and Journey Group meeting challenges you to ask, "What does it mean to live a life with this particular value front and center?" The values engaged in this way are ones that Unitarian Universalism has historically honored and emphasized. By growing into them, we grow into the distinctive substance of our faith tradition.

6. Journey Groups are the Essential Component of Theme-Based Ministry.

Theme-based ministry develops religious competence and the resources for coping calmly with life's uncertainty, crises, and loss. See the "Theme-Based Ministry" page: CLICK HERE.


In Journey Groups we engage each other in a covenantal relationship. So we commit to honoring a particular format and clear relational commitments during meetings. These promises to each other provide meaning and connection. Over time, great depth of friendship emerges that may be called spiritual friendship.

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