Annual Meeting Focuses on Sustainability, Social Action

For the last six months, Beth Wade and Alice Graham have traded emails and phone calls on the challenges of sustainability when resources are scarce. Although they serve at organizations 1,500 miles apart, the two quickly found support in each other through CHHSM.

So when Wade crossed paths with Graham during her first CHHSM annual meeting, she was comforted to know she was in the right place — a community.

“You can get really isolated in the work we do,” says Wade, executive director of CHAMP Homes in Hyannis, Massachusetts. “Because we’re faith-based, there’s an extra layer that comes up sometimes.”

Wade and Graham, executive director at Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, Mississippi, continued their conversations on sustainability against the perfect backdrop, as the 78th CHHSM Annual Meeting followed the theme “Sustainability through Stewardship and Social Action.”

“It really was a breath of fresh air,” Wade says. “I felt like I was being fed.”

In addition to a philanthropy-focused preconference, workshops, and other community-building opportunities, the March 3-5 meeting in Houston featured two keynote speakers — Amy Hayman, a senior banker at Chicago’s Cain Brothers, and the Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson, pastor of First United Church of Tampa. Hayman discussed strategic planning for sustainability amid change, while Jackson delivered an address entitled “What Does the Lord Require of You?”

“Even though the mission statements of our organizations, the job descriptions that we have, may not have the word justice doesn’t mean that it is someone else’s job. It is our job,” Jackson said.

The CHHSM family welcomed its newest member, Archway Housing and Services, during the meeting. The Denver-based organization develops community housing and offers family services throughout the Denver metro area. Executive Director Joyce Alms-Ransford first saw CHHSM as an opportunity to bring Archway closer to the UCC, but the annual meeting opened her eyes to more.

“After attending, I felt that there was a bigger purpose, which was to connect with the other CHHSM members to see where we could learn from each other and become supported by each other, as the missions of each of our groups is based in the same place of providing service to others most in need in our communities,” she says.

Also part of the meeting was a 20th anniversary dinner in honor of CHHSM’s leadership formation program, now known as the Nollau Institute. Past graduates joined in the celebration, which featured keynote speaker and Nollau instructor Peggy Mullan.

For the first time, members of 2015-2016 Nollau class shared their final projects and were consecrated as Diakonal Ministers on the final day of the meeting. For Kathryn Kuhn, director of ministries for Cedar Community in West Bend, Wisconsin, the meeting didn’t feel like a conclusion to her Nollau experience but simply an extension.

“The conversation was just continuing through the presentation. We were still discussing and growing,” Kuhn says. “This doesn’t end, it’s an ongoing thing.”

Throughout the meeting, Kuhn says there was a sense of community so strong it’s nearly impossible to put into words.

“You’re sitting at a table with people you just met, and you feel like you’ve known them for years — connecting the why to what you do,” she says. “We may be doing different kinds of work, but we come at it from the same heart and mind.”

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