Artist’s rendering of the the new Deaconess Center for Child Well-Being, which will be consecrated during CHHSM’s Annual Gathering.

Attendees gathered for the opening service of the UCC Council for Health and Human Service Ministries’ Annual Gathering will experience a celebration and affirmation of CHHSM work in a particularly unique way. The service, to be held March 1 at the Deaconess Center for Child Well-Being in St. Louis, will include a consecration of the newly-opened center by those in worship.

“The worship celebration will lift up the affirmation of ‘belovedness’ centered in the scriptures’ account of the baptism of the Lord,” says the Rev. Starsky D. Wilson, president and CEO of Deaconess Foundation. “All gathered will also be sent forth to different spaces on the campus to bless and consecrate the grounds.”

The service also aligns with one of the United Church of Christ’s 3 Great Loves, that of love of children, and the concept of beloved community, Wilson adds. To that end, the service will include reflections on the church’s love of children by the Rev. John Dorhauer, UCC general minister and president.

A highlight of the worship will be the sermon, delivered by the Rev. Toni DiPina, pastor of Rockdale Congregational UCC in Northbridge, Mass. DiPina’s ties to the center go back to 1963, when she was found as an abandoned infant in a then-vacant lot where the new building now stands. Wilson first learned of DiPina’s story when she reached out to him in an email, offering to advocate on behalf of the center.

“Please let me know how I might be of help,” she wrote.

“I was sitting in a conference banquet when I read it on my phone and began to weep,” Wilson says. “I’m glad she accepted the invitation … to bring the Word in our consecration service.”

A Home for Child Advocacy

The Rev. Starsky D. Wilson (right), president and CEO of Deaconess Foundation, led the center’s groundbreaking ceremony in 2016.

The 21,000-square-foot center at 1000 Vandeventer in St. Louis will house offices for Deaconess Foundation and be a “community action tank,” offering a place for ministry partners to meet, strategize, and advocate for children. The building also will house offices for some of Deaconess’ missional partners, including another CHHSM member, Neighborhood Houses.

According to Wilson, Deaconess Center is expected to house more than 6,000 child advocates, civic leaders and community organizers per year in more than 350 gatherings focused on children’s policy. Meeting space will be granted at no cost to groups and convenings focused on shifting public policy for children aligned with Deaconess’ vision and values.

Wilson says he is glad to be sharing the Deaconess Center’s special moment with all of CHHSM.

“As a graduate of the Nollau Institute and leader of a member ministry, I’m pleased that the stars aligned for this consecration to occur during CHHSM’s Annual Gathering,” says Wilson. “Deaconess, and its various expressions of ministry, have been affiliated with CHHSM and its predecessor bodies for as long as they have existed.”

Indeed, from 1893 to 1930, Deaconess mission’s main office was just three blocks from the Center for Child Well-Being.

“Deaconess Center brings us back home,” Wilson adds. “Consecration with CHHSM means we will mark the occasion with family.”

Deaconess Foundation envisions a community that values the health and well-being of all children and gives priority attention to the most vulnerable. This community can only thrive if the allocation of power and distribution of resources, benefits, opportunities and burdens are not predictable by, nor predicated on, race. Therefore, Deaconess pursues child well-being through public policy and racial equity. A ministry of the United Church of Christ, Deaconess Foundation has invested more than $80 million to improve the health of the St. Louis community since 1998. Its grantmaking footprint includes St. Louis City, St. Louis, Jefferson, St. Charles and Franklin Counties in Missouri and Madison, St. Clair and Monroe Counties in Illinois.