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Soul Matters at First U

What is Soul Matters?  “Our Soul Matters Sharing Circle is a group of over 190 UU congregations who follow the same monthly worship themes so we can more easily share small group material, as well as sermon, music and children's religious education resources. Sharing resources helps us avoid duplicative work and frees us for other ministry. However, the greatest gift is deeper connection.  Despite great distances between us, we are spiritually connected by the themes, traveling each month on the same journey”
Why did we join Soul Matters? Our program staff, Worship Associates, and others deeply involved in the shared ministry of the congregation believe that the ultimate purpose of the church is TRANSFORMATION. We believe that worship should be transformative. We believe that religious growth and exploration should be transformative. And we believe that small group ministry (Connection Circles here at First U) should be transformative. Soul Matters is an approach to worship, religious growth and learning and small group ministry that builds transformation into the process.
In addition, using the Soul Matters themes insures that people at all ages and stages share in the same topics, questions, and spiritual practices each month. Families can engage together in the themes. Multigenerational activities and even casual conversations during Social Hour can address the common themes across age groups.
Finally, being part of Soul Matters means that we are part of something larger than this congregation; we are part of a nation-wide group of Unitarian Universalists who are all learning, experiencing and deepening together.
What will it mean for the entire congregation to be part of Soul Matters? First of all, the monthly themes will inform two worship services each month. Every month there will be a multigenerational service based on the theme. These will most often happen on first Sundays. Later in the month there will be a sermon based service on the theme as well. We will provide links to reading materials on the theme, and the program staff will often provide written reflections on the themes in the mid-week Eblast.
What will it mean for our small group ministry program to be part of Soul Matters? Each Soul Matters Circle will meet once a month. Participants will be invited to experiment each month with a spiritual exercise. The conversation in the Circles will be focused on people's experiences with the exercise. The facilitators will meet monthly with the minister to walk through the month's plan.
Here's how Soul Matters describes the small group approach. “Soul Matters is a distinctive small group curriculum. Like other small group programs, its central goal is to foster circles of trust and deep listening.  However, Soul Matters adds four unique components:
1. Explore the Worship Themes in More Depth
Soul Matters is not a “stand alone” program.  It is designed as a companion program to a congregation's worship experience. Congregations using Soul Matters position it in their system as “an opportunity to explore our congregation's monthly worship themes in more depth.”    
2. Experience the Worship Theme, Don't Just Talk about It.
Unitarian Universalists want to do more than just read and talk about spiritual topics. Discussing a topic is important.  But there is nothing like experiential learning.  Honoring this, Soul Matters participants are given a spiritual exercise each month to engage prior to their group meeting. For instance, when we wrestled with the concept of grace, we didn't just read what theologians had to say about it, we also challenged ourselves to find a way to bring grace (a gift one doesn't expect, earn or even deserve) into another person's life. 
3. Questions to Walk with, Not Talk Through.
In traditional small groups, questions are an opportunity for the group to think together.  Soul Matters uses questions differently.  We see them as tools for individual exploration.  Instead of asking our groups to go through the questions and discussion them one by one, Soul Matters participants are asked to read all the questions ahead of time and find the one question that “hooks them”-the one that speaks to and challenges them personally. Participants then live with–or “walk with” –that question for a couple weeks leading up to the group, coming to their meeting, not with an answer to each of the questions on the list, but with a story about how this one particular question lead them to deeper, personal learning.  This technique leads us away from abstraction and intellectualizing and challenges us to think about how the topic (and question) apply to our daily living. 
4. A Reminder That UUism is Distinctive, not an “Anything Goes,” Religion
Our monthly themes are not just interesting topics.  Rather they focus us on a spiritual value that our UU faith has historically honored and emphasized. At each meeting, we are reminded that our faith promotes a preferred way for us to be in the world.

What are the themes for the coming year? This year each monthly theme is framed by the question: “What does it mean to be a community of ____________?”
September:  Covenant
October:  Healing
November:  Story
December:  Presence
January:   Prophecy

February:  Identity
March:  Risk
April:  Transformation
May:  Embodiment
June:  Zest

What will happen to the current Connection Circles? The specialized Connection Circles (Women's Spirituality, Short Stories, etc.) will have the option to continue as they are. All new Circles that form this coming year will be based on the Soul Matters model.
How can I find out more? The Soul Matters website has lots of information.
http://www.soulmatterssharingcircle.com/
We also highly recommend Parker Palmers book A Hidden Wholeness: A Journey Towards an Undivided Life.

Rev. Roberta will be happy to answer your questions and/or discuss this further with you. She can also provide you with a copy of the Participant Guide if you are thinking about joining a Circle, or a Facilitator Guide if you are thinking about volunteering to facilitate a group.

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