Sunday Morning Discussion Group

Phil Elliott 1961

Phil Elliott has served as Moderator since the Group was started in 1971.

Below is a history of the Discussion Groups development.

The Discussion Group   meets at 9:15 a.m. and consists of people who appear on any given Sunday.  Occasional attenders are welcome and as able to participate as those who attend regularly.  Fresh faces and fresh ideas are especially welcome.

Topic Selection 

The topic to be discussed the next week is selected this way:  Everyone is invited to suggest a topic. By voice vote the topics suggested are narrowed down to two.  The winner is selected by majority vote.


The following week the person who suggested the topic that was chosen the previous week is allowed 5 minutes to start the discussion.  After that each person who arrived on time and wishes to speak is allowed three minutes, then late arrivals are allowed two minutes.  Everyone is given the opportunity to speak once before anyone speaks twice.


The Discussion Group of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation Ormond Beach

This is to provide a statement of the history of the Discussion Group (DG) and a summary of how it functions. 

The fundamental philosophy of the Discussion Group is just that, "philosophy," the love of wisdom or knowledge.  There is also, of course, the satisfaction of being able to give expression to thoughts for which one may seldom find an audience ready to listen.

The DG originated when I suggested in the summer of 1971 or so that we assemble a group of people interested in reading and discussing the "Report of the President's Commission on Civil Disobedience."  The Commission was created after the race riots in L.A. in 1968.  Its report was a thick tome and quite a challenge to read and evaluate.  It took about ten weeks as I recall.

Over a period of years the DG evolved from that beginning.  We recognized after just that one effort that a book study over a period of several months required too much commitment to attend, too much time to prepare to talk and that it discouraged people from attending who hadn't done their work or had not been there from the start.

We than tried a short term book or topic study/discussion group: same problem of requiring too much commitment for people with busy schedules, travel related absences, etc. and same problem of people being reluctant to participate after the study had begun.

We moved to a system of picking a topic each week to discuss the following week.  This occurred in the Nixon Watergate era and, as you can imagine, there were many occasions when something more interesting to discuss popped up in the news.  This system still left some people feeling they shouldn't attend because they hadn't attended the previous week and didn't know the topic.   

We finally realized that thoughtful people had easily accumulated enough life experience to discuss anything they were likely to select as a topic without needing advance notice of a week or even of five minutes.  We also realized that the "floating crap game" aspect (the irregular attendance of most participants) made it much more appealing and appropriate for the people who were going to do the talking to select the topic to be discussed. 

We addressed that problem at first by selecting the topic as the first item of business each week.  Later on, we realized that it is far better to publicize the topic by announcing it at the church service each Sunday and by publishing it in the newspaper.  (Our local paper has a "Religion Page" and permits the topic to be stated in the free space allotted our UU Congregation.)  We retained the flexibility of permitting the group (by motion and majority vote) to select a new topic even just as the discussion is about to start.

Our selection process is totally democratic and still reasonably efficient.  Anyone with a topic to suggest does so.  Any topic whatever may be suggested.  All are encouraged to state the topic as succinctly as they can for easy statement in the newspaper.  No explanation or lobbying is permitted as that would waste time on a topic that probably wouldn't be chosen (for the same reasons it needed explanation or lobbying).  Usually 3-8 topics are suggested.  The topic suggestion process usually takes about 5 minutes.  Then the voting process occurs.
When it appears that there are no more suggestions of topics the moderator asks if the group is ready to vote.  The moderator then states the topics to be voted on, often asking for a reminder from the suggester of a topic if there are many suggestions or if the statement of the topic is rather long.  The topics are voted on in the order they were suggested.

Voting is by show of hands.  Everyone is free to vote for all or any of the topics during the early  rounds of voting.  Each round eliminates the less popular selections.  When the choices are down to two (three in the event of a three way tie), each person may vote only once.   The moderator may participate in the voting if he/she so desires except for the final round.  Then the moderator votes only to decide a tie vote in that round.  Voting usually takes about two minutes.

At the church service following the meeting of the Discussion Group, the topic is announced to the congregation.  

The Discussion Group meets at 9:15 each Sunday morning.  The discussion ends at 10:15.  The selection of the topic for the following Sunday is usually completed by 10:25.  We try to be in our seats at the church service before it starts at 10:30 a.m. 

Everyone who is present by 9:15 is qualified to speak in the first round.   That requirement is strictly observed in order to encourage timely arrival.  Nevertheless, everyone is encouraged to join the group, even if arriving late.  After everyone who arrived on time has had the opportunity to speak, the moderator announces the second round and suggests the allotment of time for each speaker in the second round, usually a Two Minute rule (in order to give all present the opportunity to speak in the second round).  The late arrivals are permitted to speak first if it appears that there won't be time enough for all who were present on time to have a second opportunity to speak.  

Sometimes we go to a One Minute rule, if there are just a few minutes left or if the size of the  group indicates that it would be better to spread the remaining time among more people.

 For timing, we use oversized plastic bottle sand timers made as three minute, two minute and one minute timers, with two of each time length.  Having the ability to see and know that all others present can see the silent indication of the time remaining does wonders for helping speakers to observe the time limit voluntarily.  

 The suggester of the topic has the right to start the discussion of his/her topic and usually does so.  A fairly recent Rule change allows the suggester of the topic five minutes.  After that, each speaker is limited to three minutes as measured by our oversized timers.  The need for the second glass in each case is to enable the starting of a new timer when a speaker uses less than his/her allotted time and the sand has not run out on his time.  If that occurs on the second timer even before the first timer has run out, the moderator uses the second hand of his watch for the next speaker. 

To avoid wasting time it is important to start the next timer as soon as the speaker stops speaking.  Otherwise, a half minute or more may pass as people gather their thoughts.  The silent flowing of the sand encourages people to speak up to avoid losing a little speaking time. 

Anyone ready to speak gives a signal (hand or eye) to the moderator and speaks when recognized by the moderator.  The moderator usually restates the topic in full (as a way to encourage speakers to stay on topic) before each speaker starts talking. 

The moderator usually asks the speaker to state his/her name.  That is to enable all of us to learn the names.  Usually there are three to five newcomers or infrequent attenders who are not known to the more frequent attenders and vice versa.  If the speaker forgets to state his/her name, the moderator may ask for it at the conclusion of the speaker's turn or may state the name if the moderator knows it and wants to do so. 

All remarks are addressed to the entire group.  Direct personal exchanges and arguments between two speakers are not permitted.  If the moderator observes that kind of dialog, he/she reminds the speaker to address the entire group.  No one may interrupt a speaker even if the speaker is expressing a view that is counter to a statement made by the would-be interrupter. 

No one may speak twice until everyone present (in the same round as to timely arrival) has had the opportunity to speak once.  Anyone may decline to speak, of course.  The moderator checks with each person who hasn't spoken to be sure and before starting another round, asks if everyone who wants to do so has spoken.  The same rule applies to subsequent rounds.

A person may use the person's turn to ask a question of the entire group, with or without other comment, if the person so chooses.  That rarely occurs because most people prefer to use their full time.  There is no obligation, however, for anyone to use his or her turn to speak for the purpose of answering the question. 

Even if a question is asked that appears to be directed toward something another speaker has stated, that previous speaker (and all others) may prefer to ignore the question and develop some other aspect of the topic when they have another opportunity to speak.  Thus, no one can direct anyone else on his/her use of his/her speaking time.

A person also may ask a question of a specific person and allow that person to respond if he or she desires to do so, on the time of the person who asked the question.  There is no obligation to respond, however.  While I personally do not like this rule, it was adopted because some people occasionally like to give their time to someone who appears to have a lot to say and has run out of time. 

There is no rule of germaneness.  Enforcing it would be offensive and would waste more time than the possibly non-germane comment would take.  Most participants have the courtesy to attempt to stay on topic.

In order to assist newcomers and remind others, the moderator will occasionally review some or all of the basic rules.  In fact, most people quickly get the hang of it by observing how others in the group conduct themselves. 

The DG being democratic, it has one additional "rule" that by majority vote may be invoked at any time:  To change the rules for that discussion and, if desired, for all subsequent discussions until changed again.

The chief objection to the way the DG operates has been the lack of ready opportunity to jump in and refute an argument or opinion or statement of fact.  Through the years there have been a few times when the participants (by majority vote) have decided to have the DG operate in free form without time limits and without limits on speaking up. 

After a few sessions of free form the usual discussion group problems have emerged.  Those problems are: having the same people dominate the discussion via long speeches and via interrupting other speakers; having the shy ones (who frequently prove to have the most valuable comments) getting shut out; having people getting into back and forth arguments; and an aftertaste of dispute, disrespect, and even anger.  The group has always chosen to go back to the system with timers and the other rules first described above. 

Philip Elliott 

(Rev. 2016 05-17)