Chalice Circles

Chalice Circles are a small group ministry offered by Hopedale Unitarian Parish.  Other names for this ministry are Covenant Groups or Circles of Trust or Small Groups.  For more information about Small Group Ministry in general may be found at The UU Small Group Ministry Network website and at the UUA website.  To register for Chalice Circles please use our online Lifespan Faith Development Registration form or call or email the church.


Chalice Circle Schedule:  Once a month.  Chalice circles are on-going.  They happen year round.  Once a circle has 12 people, new circles will form.  People are encouraged to remain in their chalice circle for a church year (Sept -June) and renew their commitment (if they so choose each fall). People will sign up to attend a circle that is convenient for them. Participants make a one year commitment to attend their circle and each year re-covenant to continue. Current Chalice circles meet on the first Thursday of each month at 6:30 -8 pm in Rev. Tony’s office and first Fridays of the month at 10-1:30 am in Rev. Tony’s office.  More chalice circles will be added in September.

Purpose:  Chalice Circles are a time for sharing in a safe, supportive environment.  The time is designed to enable people to hear their own heart speak as they share in the supportive company of others.  Participants benefit from both the opportunity to share and hear their own heart as well as the opportunity to practice supportive listening.

Philosophy and Approach:  The chalice circle is a place of the heart and soul. The methodology is based on Parker Palmer’s “Circles of Trust” model. There is no cross talk and no discussion.   There is no teaching, no fixing, no saving, no advising, and no setting each other straight.  Chalice circles are not a time for friendly argumentation or trying to make intellectual points on a topic, they are time of deepening, heart space, and soul work.

Types of sharing: Check-Ins and Third Thing Reflections.  Check-ins are a time to speak about what’s one your heart, whatever joys and sorrows and sadness and celebration you need to share. Perhaps something’s just on your mind and you need to talk about it and get out so that your mind and heart can be a bit more free and open to reflect on the day’s third thing.   Third things are objects for reflection that take us into our hearts.  They may be a poem, a story, an image, a piece of music, or inspirational quote.  Third things are provided by the facilitator (and or Rev. Tony) and connect to the monthly spiritual and worship theme of the church and/or current events in the world around us.

Outline of Chalice Circle gathering:

  1. Chalice Lighting
  2. Opening Words
  3. Covenant Renewal
  4. Check-In
  5. Presentation of Third Thing(s)
  6. Reflections on Third Thing(s)
  7. Likes, Wishes, Gratitude
  8. Closing Words

Chalice Lighting: The chalice is the symbol of the Unitarian Universalist tradition. Lighting the chalice at the beginning of a circle is another symbolic reminder that the participants are entering into a special time and place.

Opening Words: The purpose of the opening words is to lift participants’ perspectives above the mundane concerns of daily living. The opening words also often introduce the topic of the meeting. It is fine to substitute appropriate opening words of your own.

Covenant Renewal: Each gathering includes a recitation and affirmation of the HUP Chalice Circle Covent.

We promise to:


  •         Attend all sessions.
  •         Accept ourselves and each other as we are.
  •         Allow ourselves to be transformed by our time together.
  •         Stay open to the unknown and to the unfolding of our lives.
  •         Share honestly from our own experiences as we are so moved

Refrain from teaching, fixing, saving, and setting each other straight.

  •         Trust the process and each other.


Check-in/Witness: This is a time when participants are invited to share how they are doing and what is happening in their lives that they would like to share with the group. Things shared during this time may resemble the types of things shared during “joys and concerns.” We call this process “witnessing” and not sharing because we are bearing witness to the transformation process at work in each of us, as if a reporter, relaying the information and emotion and situation inside ourselves, in our mind and heart.  We bear witness to our own heart and soul.

Here are some other things to remember:

  • We assume that it is not for us to share another person’s story or information without their permission.  Participants should be encouraged to always speak respectfully about other participants outside the group and avoid gossiping. Before sharing information outside the group, a good general rule is for participants to ask themselves how they would feel if this information was shared about them. If somebody needs to discuss something confidentially, they should contact Reverend Tony.
  • There should be no cross talk while people check in.  We will use a talking stick or other focus object if necessary. Participants are to avoid interruptions,  questions, and giving advice. Remember: Just Listen. There is no teaching, no advising, no saving, no setting each other straight. This is a time to practice compassionate listening, the simple but difficult art of being with others.
  • Chalice Circles are not therapy groups.  People may share difficult things, but participants who are experiencing significant crisis or life transitions should also be encouraged to contact Reverend Tony.
  • If somebody is missing, we find out why. If somebody has not let somebody else know the reason for an absence, the member should get a call from the facilitator or another member of the group. A common complaint in many congregations is “I was not there, and nobody cared.”

Reflection and Third Things

  • After everybody has checked in, proceed to the reflection of the day.  Reflections will be based on what Parker Palmer calls a “third thing” – a poem, story, song, image (painting, photo, etc).  Third things are provided by the facilitator. Rev. Tony will make  third things available for each month. Third things will relate to the monthly worship and spiritual theme. 
  • This is not a time for “recreational argumentation” – – an activity all too common in UU congregations. Encourage participants to share life experiences more than intellectual positions.
  • Again, there is no cross-talk.  Chalice circles are an opportunity to listen to one’s own soul speak in a safe, supportive environment.
  • If the sharing wanders off topic, don’t worry, especially if the sharing seems fruitful. the facilitator might say, “I wonder if what we are talking about now is appropriate for our time together.”
  • Participants should not  expect resolution. Unresolved questions lead to further reflection and growth. 


Likes and Wishes 

This is a time to invite participants to say how they are doing at the end of the meeting, say what they liked about the meeting, and say what they wish would be different next time. Very short, one sentence or phrase or even a single word.

Reflections on the Open Chair

Keep an open seat in your Chalice Circle as a physical reminder that there are most likely people either at the church our outside the church who might enjoy attending a Chalice Circle. Ask participants to think of people in their lives inside the church or outside the church who might enjoy coming to the next meeting.

 Extinguishing the Chalice

This is a way to begin to bring closure to the circle. 

Closing Words

Like the opening words, the purpose of the closing words is to lift the participants’ perspectives above the mundane concerns of daily living and to gracefully bring the meeting to an end.