CHHSM Retreat Sept. 8 Offers UCC Heartland Conference Chance to Explore Emerging Leadership and Change in the Context of Racial Justice

The UCC’s Council for Health and Human Service Ministries (CHHSM) and regional Heartland Conference is sponsoring “Emerging Leadership,” a one-day virtual retreat Sept. 8, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The free, online retreat is open to all conference staff, local church ministers and church members, and Conference Designated Ministries employees, who can register online.

The retreat will include morning segments on emergent strategy by the Rev. Dr. Elyse Berry, CHHSM’s associate for advocacy and leadership development; and on race, diversity, equity, and inclusion (RDEI) and leadership. The RDEI sessions will include an introduction to RDEI by CHHSM’s Paula Barker, senior executive assistant for events and administration and corporate secretary of the CHHSM Board; and a review of the major points of CHHSM’s recently-completed RDEI Assessment from CHHSM President and CEO Michael J. Readinger and Vice President the Rev. George Graham. The afternoon workshops will include presentations on embodiment and leadership from UCC CHHSM/JWM Fellow Essence Ellis — who is attending The Embodiment Institute — and a presentation on conflict and repair offered by Berry.

The retreat marks the second time CHHSM has brought a retreat to the conference. However, “the theme and the retreat topics are very different from last year,” said Berry, adding that the Rev. David Long-Higgins, conference minister of the Heartland Conference, “wanted to focus on coping with all the change everyone has experienced, and to specifically name racial justice as part of the that context of change.”

Long-Higgins agreed. “This year, I am especially excited about the focus on emerging leadership in its many expressions,” he said. “The season of COVID that continues has required the development of skill sets for those in every setting of ministry. Fatigue and the need to perpetually pivot in love create unique needs and opportunities for leaders of every type.”

Another motivation for the retreat came from the conference’s Designated Ministries, some of which are not located within the conference. “Collectively, the Heartland Conference Designated Ministry member representatives felt that the response from the first workshop was so good that we needed to continue presenting them,” said Kyle Zanker, chief development officer for Crossroad Child & Family Services in Fort Wayne, Ind. “We can only reach a small number of people in each workshop and we believe there are many more people across the Heartland Conference who would benefit from and appreciate this experience.”

“The emphasis on race, diversity, equity, and inclusion (RDEI) is something that many of us have made a priority … for some time, but we all know there is so much more we can do. We must learn how to make reparation for the things done to create historical trauma,” Zanker added. “These are such important topics for leaders to learn about and put into action.”

As with all CHHSM-related programs, a side benefit of the retreat are the connections made, between CHHSM and attendees, but also between the Designated Ministries and local church members in the conference.

“My hope is that this will give folks from across the Heartland Conference a truly meaningful time to connect with people and ministries they might not normally get to,” said Berry. “I am also excited about the topics for this retreat. We’re talking about RDEI specifically as well as utilizing other frameworks and practices for liberation from leadership in racial justice movements — we’re connecting the large systemic pieces with the everyday, deeply relational ones.”

Long-Higgins also sees the relationship building as a key benefit to the retreat. “I have always appreciated the gifts that CHHSM staff and other colleagues bring to the leadership learning table,” he said. “Be it contemplation about a personal sense of vision, or exploring change theory, or helping those who know little about CHHSM get a deeper sense of the broad ministry of the church, this training deepens leadership skills and capacity while also building new relationships.”

Zanker, who also serves on the CHHSM Board, said that in addition to the value of the  workshop material, the sessions also are important in helping attendees understand CHHSM and CHHSM members. “CHHSM members are the largest extension of mission of the United Church of Christ — reaching 2,841,862 last year — and yet many UCC constituents do not yet understand that relationship or the covenants that make it so,” she said. “This is important to the life of the church and the lives of all people in our services.”

But perhaps one of the greatest gifts of the one-day retreat is just the time away. “I am looking forward to this retreat and what it will offer for self-care and skill deepening in ways that are encouraging and life-giving,” said Long-Higgins. “The Heartland Conference is honored and pleased to partner with CHHSM to offer a time of much needed respite and renewal.”

The retreat is open to all Heartland Conference staff, local church ministers and church members, and Conference Designated Ministries employees. Register now.

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