CHHSM’s New ‘Welcoming Diversity’ Virtual Group to Address Issues of Race, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The Rev. Dr. Sheila Harvey Guillaume and the Rev. George Graham

The UCC Council for Health and Human Service Ministries (CHHSM) is forming a “Welcoming Diversity” Group to provide a supportive environment for participants to discuss issues of Race, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (RDEI). The group’s first Zoom meeting takes place Oct. 21 at 12 noon ET.

The Welcoming Diversity Group is open to all UCC members and CHHSM member organizations. Register for the group.

The CHHSM Board and staff members decided to form the Welcoming Diversity Group based on the recommendations CHHSM received in its RDEI assessment, conducted by the Equius Group. “One of the strategic priorities that the assessment identified was around member engagement and capacity building,” said the Rev. George Graham, CHHSM vice president. “While there wasn’t a specific recommendation to form a ‘Welcoming Diversity’ Group, it certainly is in keeping with the priority of member engagement and capacity building.”

The group will be facilitated by Graham and the Rev. Dr. Sheila Harvey Guillaume, a CHHSM board member and senior pastor of Union Congregational UCC in West Palm Beach, Fla. “The Board felt it was important to declare that we are embracing RDEI by what we say, but also by what we do,” said Harvey Guillaume. “We want to ask the question, ‘How do we welcome diversity?’ and ‘How might we live into this if we truly want to become diverse?’”

This new group is the latest effort from CHHSM in its work to become anti-racist. Those efforts began in May 2020 after the death of George Floyd. The CHHSM Board suspended its normal spring meeting agenda to work on and release its Statement on the Pandemic of Systemic Racism, which contained not only a declaration condemning systemic racism but also several commitments to work toward becoming anti-racist. Among the projects growing out of that initial statement have been grants to grassroots organizations working against racism, co-sponsoring a UCC General Synod resolution calling systemic racism a public health crisis, and creating a free online course, “Reason to Have Hope: A Public Health Response to Racism.”

“I help with a number of affinity groups for CHHSM that are either focused on particular areas of ministry — such as children youth and families, or long-term care providers — or geographic areas. Issues of Race, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion have been part of the discussion in all of them, especially this past year,” said Graham. “Focusing a group on RDEI issues across ministry areas was the next logical step.”

Harvey Guillaume wants to help group members find new, healthier ways to deal with the racist structures of society. “As a facilitator, I want to try to create a safe space for people to feel they can be honest in sharing their hopes for moving forward in welcoming diversity,” she said. “And to help come up with tangible measures that we can help put in place. We can test out how we might become more intentional about diversity.”

Graham agreed. “Our roles as co-facilitators will be to promote an environment of mutual learning and support,” he said.

One goal, Harvey Guillaume said, is to help participants find tools they can take back to their CHHSM organizations and local churches. The process will be slow, she added, but the important thing is to be rooted in God’s love and moving forward.

“We cannot do this alone,” she said. “We cannot uproot the systems that have existed forever unless we put God first. All things are possible. THIS is possible.”

Graham and Harvey Guillaume commented that offering a group for UCC and CHHSM members committed to addressing RDEI issues and learning how to welcome diversity is a needed step in the long journey toward racial equity.

“Building relationships and offering mutual support and encouragement are what CHHSM does best, and this is also what our members value most,” said Graham. “The relationships and support will keep the work of dismantling racism and working toward racial equity moving forward. I think that’s what make me most hopeful and excited about this new group.”

Harvey Guillaume concurred. “When we gather together, we listen to stories, we share our stories, and we find ways to move forward together,” she said. “It’s not quick, and it’s not easy, but we do it. That is my hope.”

Register for the Welcoming Diversity group.

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