The United Church of Christ’s health and human service ministries vary greatly in size, scope, and populations they are called to serve. But they all have one thing in common: searching for solutions to how best to minister to the people they serve. In March, the role of advocacy in ministry takes center stage at the Council for Health and Human Service Ministries’ Annual Gathering.

“Advocacy and Ministry: A Voice of Faith in an Evolving Society” takes place March 1-3, 2018, at the Marriott Grand Hotel in St. Louis. It will include meaningful worship, times of celebration, and useful workshops; and will conclude with the commissioning of the current Nollau Institute class as servant leaders and Diakonal Ministers.

The event’s biblical theme is Romans 15:5-6: “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant that you live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with ONE VOICE bring glory to God.” This biblical mandate coincides with CHHSM’s advocacy tag, #OneVoiceCHHSM, and will underpin the entire gathering.

“The Annual Gathering will have something personally enriching for each attendee,” says Michael J. Readinger, CHHSM’s president and CEO. “But it also will offer key strategies and methodologies that CHHSM members can take home and use to increase their ministry’s effectiveness as they serve their local communities.”

Focus on Advocacy Workshops

The gathering will center on a series of workshops, each offered twice, that cover ways to improve CHHSM member ministries’ advocacy work. The workshops will give participants tools they can use in their day-to-day ministries. Topics will include:

  •  The UCC’s 3 Great Loves Initiative. Focus will be on how to shape Love of Children, Love of Neighbor, and Love of Creation into advocacy efforts to benefit communities and under-served populations.
  • Voting through the Generations. Emphasis will be on how the issues in the 2018 mid-term elections will affect the people CHHSM ministries serve. The workshop will focus on what CHHSM organizations can do to encourage voter participation and be a voice of change.
  • Advocacy 101 for Boards of Directors. St. Louis area elected officials will provide useful information on what board members can do to enhance the mission of their ministries. It will include a presentation on the legal limitations, as well as a primer on effective ways to get the attention of elected officials.

Additionally, a special “Advocacy Work in Times of Urgent Need” panel discussion — made up of representatives from Ziegler Investment Banking, Deaconess Foundation, LeadingAge, and the United Church of Christ — will share best practices for doing advocacy work in times of crisis. Points of discussion will include responding to events, legislation and immediate needs of people in a timely way. Ziegler — a privately held investment bank, capital markets, wealth management and proprietary investments firm specializing in the healthcare, senior living, education and religion sectors — is an executive sponsor of the gathering.

Highlights Include Something for Everyone

Diakonie RWL meets with a CHHSM delegation in 2017.

The Annual Gathering will include a presentation by Diakonie Rhineland, Westphalia, Lippe (RWL), a CHHSM partner organization from Germany.

“The German delegation will provide an explanation of ‘Diakonie,’ their organization’s name, as well as the name of CHHSM’s newsletter,” says the Rev. Danielle Bartz, associate for leadership and advocacy. “It will highlight how similar their work is to the work of our member ministries, and will be a chance for us to realize that CHHSM members are part of a global movement in health and human service ministry.”

Worship Leader DiPina

Another high point of the gathering will be the opening worship March 1. Held at the newly-opened Deaconess Center for Child Well-Being, the service will include a consecration of the Deaconess Foundation Center, and a stirring sermon by UCC minister the Rev. Toni De Pina.

De Pina’s connection to Deaconess is profound. At the age of approximately 8 months, she was found abandoned by two boys playing football on a vacant lot: the spot where the Deaconess Center now stands.

“Rev. Toni’s participation in our opening worship will be a meaningful experience for our Annual Gathering’s attendees,” says Readinger, “and will provide an illustration of living out our faith as servant leaders in today’s world.”

The CHHSM gathering also will include a festive dinner Friday, March 2, that will celebrate and honor the work of CHHSM ministries in the Missouri and Southern Illinois region. It will feature live music from St. Louis’ Baglunch Blues Band.

Nollau Graduates Celebrated

A previous Nollau class holds a workshop at an Annual Gathering.

The recent Nollau class will offer a series of workshops March 2 on selecting and and retaining committed team members, how CHHSM ministries can be a voice of action and advocacy in a noisy world, and creating a change culture while improving service. Particular focus will be on unpacking the meaning behind #OneVoiceCHHSM.

“The is the third year of having the outgoing Nollau class do workshops,” says Bartz. “The Nollau workshops always are a highlight for our attendees. It’s a great chance for our leaders to share information they have been working on throughout their year-long class.”

The final day will include a Call to Action from the Rev. Starsky D Wilson, president and CEO of Deaconess Foundation. Closing worship will feature the consecration of CHHSM’s Diakonal Ministers.

“We will celebrate the work of this year’s Nollau Institute class in a special worship service,” says Readinger. “It will be a time of celebration as we welcome our new Diakonal Ministers.”

The three-day Annual Gathering will infuse the event’s biblical theme with new meaning, and send participants home better connected with each other and equipped to face the challenges of their ministries.

“So often our members can feel so isolated,” Bartz says. “The Annual Gathering will help remedy that by providing connections to the larger, global health and human service movement. It will offer a new, and different, narrative.”