During most biennial General Synods of the United Church of Christ, the Council for Health and Human Service Ministries spends its time lifting up member ministries and distributing information about the great programs and people of CHHSM. But as the Presenting Sponsor of this year’s event — taking place at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee, June 21-25 — CHHSM’s work will be celebrated like never before. And it’s all thanks to CHHSM members.

Not only have 15 CHHSM members contributed significant funds toward the sponsorship, but CHHSM members are creating art, presentations, music and more for Synod goers to enjoy. In a 2000-square-foot space just to the right of the plenary side entrance to the Synod Exhibit Hall, plans include a variety of activities and multimedia presentations.

“CHHSM members consider their rich and diverse UCC heritage key in their own mission and core values,” says Michael J. Readinger, president and CEO of CHHSM. “With our enhanced exhibit space, we will be able to highlight CHHSM in new and exciting ways, thus shining a light on this particular part of our wider UCC family.”

Many Opportunities to Learn

The exterior of the Wisconsin Center.

Comfy furniture on which weary Synod goers can rest while learning about CHHSM will be part of the exhibit space. Activities in the CHHSM space will include Spotlight Talks — similar to the well-known TED Talks — and other presentations on a variety of topics; music performances; and an exhibit of art from various member agencies. CHHSM members also will be available to provide information and answer questions about their specific organizations.

Additionally, CHHSM will hold seven “Fireside Chats” in the UCC OPTIC (Office of Philanthropy, Technology, Information and Communication) exhibit space. The chats will be presented by representatives from a variety of CHHSM agencies:

Friday, June 21

12:30 p.m. Ministry with Older LGBT Adults Presented by the Rev. Beth Long Higgins of United Church Homes’ Ruth Frost Parker Center for Abundant Aging, the chat will discuss the life experiences and challenges for ministries of LGBTQ+ older adults.

1:30 p.m. 3 Great Loves in Action Susan Sinderson of Embrace Living Communities in Oak Brook, Ill., talks about how Embrace Living turned the UCC initiative into a transformational experience for all.

3:30 p.m. Clinical Pastoral Education Michelle DeCoste of Havenwood Heritage Heights discusses the importance of CPE programs in the care of residents, clients, and staff.

Saturday, June 22

1 p.m., Affordable Housing: Advocacy and Action The Rev. Laverne R. Joseph of Retirement Housing Foundation leads a talk on the importance of affordable housing advocacy, and how to join the growing movement to make affordable housing a priority in all levels of government.

2 p.m. Future of Faith-Based Health Care The Rev. Bonnie Condon of Advocate Aurora Health leads a presentation on how health care agencies can merge while still maintaining their UCC heritage.

3 p.m. The Opioid Crisis: Is it Real? Kyle Zanker of Crossroad Child & Family Services discusses how Crossroad deals with the impact of the opioid crisis on children, their families, and those who serve them.

Sunday, June 23

10 a.m. CHHSM’s Passport to Travel Program presented by Lee Syria and Joy Cline of United Church Homes and Services. Learn about this innovative program that allows residents of older adult communities to travel across the country to stay connected with family and friends — all while meeting new people at various CHHSM organizations.

Two Important Lunch Events

In addition to the Exhibit Hall, CHHSM is co-sponsoring the Health and Welfare Luncheon Sunday, June 23, at the Hilton Milwaukee City Center Wright Ballroom. The gathering will provide an opportunity for attendees to hear inspiring stories from a variety of ministries, including skilled nursing, older adult communities, children’s services, HIV, human sexuality, LGBTQ justice and equality, disabilities ministries and mental health ministries, among others.

Valerie Russell, namesake of the luncheon, and this year’s keynoter, Ruby Nell Sales.

CHHSM also is co-sponsoring the annual Valerie Russell Lecture Saturday, June 22, at the Wisconsin Center. Named in honor of the leadership and legacy of UCC social justice legend Valerie E. Russell, the lecture will feature Ruby Nell Sales as the keynoter. Sales, an African-American social activist, grew up during the 1960s era of the Civil Rights Movement. The luncheon also will recognize some of the “Justice Warriors” from local UCC churches.

CHHSM-Sponsored Resolution on Opioid Crisis

Perhaps the most important aspect of CHHSM’s role at General Synod is its sponsorship of a Resolution of Witness coming before the plenary this year: “On Recognizing Opioid Addiction as a Health Epidemic, ensuring Access to Treatment and Pharmaceutical Corporate Responsibility”. A Resolution of Witness is an expression of the Synod concerning a moral, ethical or religious matter confronting the church, the nation, or the world. It requires a two-thirds majority vote from UCC delegates.

The CHHSM resolution urges the increasing prevalence of opioid addiction to be recognized as a health epidemic, and calls for more affordable and accessible addiction treatment. The resolution also urges pharmaceutical companies to exercise corporate responsibility and to assess their role in the epidemic. It also asks the companies to enact practices that curtail the availability of opioids in a responsible ways which does not create more harm, but ensures access to appropriate use.

The resolution urges all members and settings of the church to:

  • Recognize opioid addiction as a health epidemic;
  • Call on Congress to increase Medicare and Medicaid funding to treat opioid addition;
  • Realize that Opioid addiction is not a determinant of a person’s worth;
  • Invite a public discourse on the need for just and equitable treatment that lessens the sigma for persons asking for help and treatment; and
  • Use all manner of activism, including shareholder activism of opioid pharmaceutical manufacturers and distribution corporations, to hold accountable those who are acting in bad faith with the American people, either by irresponsibly marketing, distributing, and prescribing to individuals or by criminalizing those who become addicted.

“Each day, CHHSM members are in the forefront of the crisis, offering support and services to families and individuals impacted by opioid abuse,” Readinger says. “Our CHHSM members’ experiences, coupled with CHHSM’s role as an advocate for a just health care and human service system, makes us the perfect group to sponsor this resolution.”

CHHSM’s Mission on Display

CHHSM and its members play an important role in communities across the country. In the Synod host state of Wisconsin, for example, UCC’s Wisconsin Conference supports Wisconsin CHHSM, a group of nine CHHSM agencies whose daily outreach affects communities across the state. The story is similar in other U.S. communities as CHHSM pursues its mission of advocating for and providing health care and human services to all. The work of its members complements CHHSM’s national work to provide leadership training and consultation, resources, and other programs and services.

“We are excited about being able to tell the stories of CHHSM during General Synod,” Readinger adds. “The Presenting Sponsorship allows us to be able to showcase even more of our many health and human service ministries, as well as the many options available to UCC members.

“CHHSM is the UCC, and we want to continue playing a part in helping our UCC family create a just, caring, and compassionate world for all.”