Newly consecrated Diakonal Minister Kenney Washington of Back Bay Mission. Each Diakonal Minister received a certificate, along with a symbolic servant leadership bowl and towel.

The Council for Health and Human Service Ministries’ 81st Annual Gathering, held March 5-7 in Chicago, sent CHHSM members home filled with inspiration and hope, and armed with new information and renewed partnerships.

“The Annual Gathering was a wonderful event that provided me the opportunity to see long-time friends and make new ones,” says Lee Syria, president and CEO of United Church Homes and Services based in Newton, N.C. “This year’s plenaries, breakout sessions and worship services were inspiring and well done. The Annual Gatherings always provide me with an opportunity to slow down and take the time to reflect on what it truly means to lead and be part of a faith-based ministry. This year was no exception!”

With the theme, “Toward Tomorrow — Together We Learn, Together We Flourish,” the Annual Gathering  opened with worship at St. Paul’s UCC in Chicago. The Rev. John C. Dorhauer, UCC general minister and president, preached about people in exile and encouraged attendees to offer hope to those they serve through “prophetic imagination.” The service also included a celebration of milestone anniversaries of St. Paul’s (175 years) and CHHSM members UCAN (150 years) and Plymouth Place Senior Living (75 years).

The Rev. Beth Long-Higgins addresses attendees.

“This year’s Annual Gathering offered inspirational worship to start us off and send us forth,” said Michael J. Readinger. “In between, plenaries and workshops enabled CHHSM members to relate to one another, offer supportive ideas, and continue the process of working together toward the future.”

Among the most meaningful events were the CHHSM Affinity Group meetings. The Affordable Housing Affinity Group was led by Susan Sinderson, vice president and COO of Embrace Living Communities based in Oak Brook, Ill. The Rev. Beth Long-Higgins, director of United Church Homes’ Ruth Frost Parker Center for Abundant Aging in Marion, Ohio, and Cheryl L. Wickersham, UCH’s vice president of Housing Services, led a discussion on working with aging employees. Additionally, the Rev. Susan Mitchell, the UCC Church Building & Loan Fund’s associate director of strategic initiatives, discussed new ways of creating affordable housing.

The Affinity Group on Children, Youth, and Family Services included a presentation on the new Federal Child and Family First Prevention Act, which is being rolled out this year. Andrea Durbin, CEO of Illinois Collaboration on Youth, detailed the accreditation requirements and possible pitfalls of the new legislation.

The 2019 Nollau graduates celebrate their accomplishment.

Regarding the opportunities and challenges of the legislation, Chris L. Cox, president and CEO of Hoyleton Youth and Family Services, says, “On the positive side, the legislation is really intended to force and require states to put dollars and resources on the preventive side to keep kids and families out of the state child welfare system,” but “it’s clear that all states are on the learning curve and at different points of how to implement these new changes in their state’s systems.”

Group participants were engaged, asked good questions, and provided good state-specific insights, says Cox. “We also had the opportunity to embrace what CHHSM is really about, and that is building relationships and offering assistance and guidance to one another.”

Plenary Sessions Bear Fruit

Daily plenary sessions brought rich discussion to the Annual Gathering. On Wednesday, March 6, Jim Skogsbergh, president and CEO of Advocate Aurora Health — based in Downers Grove, Ill., and Milwaukee, Wis. — and Michele Baker Richardson, chair-elect of its board, spoke about maintaining identity and relationships during times of change. They spoke about the recent merger of Advocate with Aurora during their presentation.

Outgoing chair the Rev. Kenneth Daniel was recognized for his leadership by Michael J. Readinger, CHHSM president and CEO.

Along a similar theme of consolidation within health and human services, Stephen Johnson and Susan McDonough from Ziegler — a privately held investment bank, capital markets and proprietary investments firm specializing in the healthcare, senior living and education sectors — discussed the role of faith, mission and heritage during times of change and consolidation.

“The Annual Gathering would not have been possible without Ziegler’s corporate sponsorship and the support of all of our other sponsors,” says Readinger.

On Thursday, March 7, Syria, the Rev. Kenneth V. Daniel, president and CEO of United Church Homes and outgoing CHHSM board chair, and the Rev. Stephen Ray, president of Chicago Theological Seminary, held a panel discussion on leadership formation in the UCC.  While Daniel and Syria discussed how they identify and equip leaders within their organizations, Ray spoke about training leaders who transform organizations. He offered a grassroots look at the mission and ministry of CHHSM members, saying, “You are what the church looks like when it gets up, gets dressed, and goes to work in the morning.”

Working Together Toward Tomorrow

The Annual Gathering also included a myriad of workshops on everything from ways to use storytelling to spread an agency’s mission and identity to partnering with Medicare and Medicaid Services to better serve communities. A special CHHSM board-led session allowed attendees to provide input into CHHSM’s strategic plan.

Michael J. Readinger and the Rev. Brenda Baker of new CHHSM member Isaiah 58 Ministries of St. Louis.

For United Church Homes’ Daniel, the gathering was part family reunion and part educational. “Our colleagues from around the country have developed close relationships over the years and cherish the time to catch up and celebrate the ministries and heritage we share,” Daniel says. “This year was meaningful because we celebrated the 175th anniversary of St. Paul’s UCC church, the founder of some very important ministries still going today, such as UCAN.  I enjoy reconnecting with the long standing ministries and the rich history they represent.”

“Our educational sessions were particularly meaningful this year,” adds Daniel. “ Focusing on workforce, donor development, and corporate affiliations reflect the ever-changing world of health and human services and the many pressures our member must contend with. I continue to be grateful to CHHSM and the many ways it supports my work and our organization’s mission over the years.”

During the CHHSM Business Meeting, held March 6, the membership welcomed Isaiah 58 Ministries of St. Louis into membership. It also passed a CHHSM Code of Regulations revision that includes a new category of CHHSM membership: individual members. Individuals who may no longer have a direct connection via a CHHSM member or program can become an individual member.

The Diakonal Ministers Retreat was a spirit-filled reunion.

“Individual memberships offer that opportunity for a renewed and continued connection to CHHSM, the national setting of the UCC and the wider church,” Readinger says. “Individual membership candidates may be former employees of member ministries or former board members, past leadership institute participants, friends of the CHHSM family, UCC members, wider church contacts, or others that have a common missional focus.”

Prior to the start of the gathering, a special one-day retreat was held for CHHSM’s Diakonal Ministers. During the closing worship service, the graduates of the current 2019 Nollau Leadership Institute were consecrated as Diakonal Ministers. The service featured a sermon by the Rev. Beth Long-Higgins and flute accompaniment by CHHSM Scholar and Nollau graduate Emily Howard.

CHHSM Scholar and Nollau graduate Emily Howard during closing worship.

“I felt blessed to be in the company of spirit-filled servant leaders, from the opening worship to the graduation ceremony of my Nollau Institute group,” says Howard of the entire event. “CHHSM’s gathering is a time to connect and feel grounded in the mission, history, and faith traditions of UCC-related caregiving, along with up-to-date practical information and resources for agencies. It was an energizing conference and I can’t wait to go back.”

Participants in the 81st Annual Gathering left Chicago feeling renewed and refreshed. As Hoyleton’s Cox says, “What a special opportunity it is to be in fellowship and partnership with other individual agencies doing similar work to our own: a wealth of knowledge, experience, and expertise that I am overwhelmed with every year.

“We truly have the best and brightest professionals leading our organizations in our respective fields of discipline … It is a family gathering, as simple as I can say. I look forward to the time and opportunity to share and learn from those for whom I have the greatest respect.”

Save the date: Mark your calendars now for CHHSM’s 82nd Annual Gathering, to be held March 3-5, 2020, at the Guest House at Graceland in Memphis, Tenn.