Grounded in Faith, Transformed by Hope, Worship Preachers Goodwin and Delk Provide Context for CHHSM’s 83rd Annual Gathering

The Rev. Darrell Goodwin delivered the sermon during opening worship.

One of the highlights of the UCC Council for Health and Human Service Ministries’ 83rd Annual Gathering, robustly held virtually March 2-4, 2021, was worship. The opening and closing services — featuring the Rev. Darrell Goodwin and the Rev. Dr. Yvonne Delk — not only lifted up the Annual Gathering’s theme, Together in Hope, but emphasized the power of transformational hope undergirded by faith.

The Rev. Darrell Goodwin, executive conference minister of the UCC’s Southern New England Conference and CHHSM board member, delivered the opening worship sermon. He began by reminding attendees of the message of Hebrews 11: “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living” (The Message). Then, via song, he pointed to the transformational work done by all the front line, direct service CHHSM members who have sacrificed and given so much during the ongoing global pandemics of racism and COVID-19. Goodwin called the hymn You Won’t Leave Here Like you Came a “foundational element of who we are as CHHSM organizations and who CHHSM is as an organization”:

We won’t leave here like you came in Jesus’ name
Bound, oppressed, broken, sick or lame
For the power of God is still the same.
Oh, I won’t leave here like I came.
We can’t leave here like we came in Jesus’ name.

Goodwin praised the commitment of CHHSM member employees, noting that “CHHSM organizations have continued to be a part of the bedrock and the framework of how we have moved forward as a nation.” Even in the midst of the stresses brought on due to shortage of supplies, scheduling COVID-19 tests, pivoting plans to meet changing requirements, he added, “there was no break in commitment. There was no break in a desire to offer excellent service, there was no confusion or strain in how you would deliberately move forward to make sure that no child of God was left outside of the ark of safety.”

“You, my friends, you were the calming voice. You were the blessed assurance” to clients and family members, he added. “In the midst of this health and racial pandemic, you found your own ways to be present.”

He then paused to thank the worshipers. “Thank you for modeling this type of faith, this type of faith that says it is the firm foundation under which everything else makes sense,” he said. “It is our faith that says we will love people from the top of their head to the soles of their feet … and we will be a safe place. We will be a healing place … and my friends, that’s what each and every one of you have chosen to do in a troubled world.”

Specifically addressing racism, Goodwin pointed to the leadership of both member ministries and CHHSM itself, saying, “CHHSM as an organization representing each and every one of you has stood in the gap that many of our organizations have left unattended. When we wondered what would our health and human service organizations say about a racially unjust climate, CHHSM rose to the occasion, and not only was a letter curated and written, but there was room for the letter … itself to be challenged — challenged to add the words that spoke to a world that so desperately needed truth telling. Not only were we able to write a letter of truth telling … condemning white supremacy, but there was action: what the CHHSM organization would do, and all of its members would be encouraged to do right alongside it.

“It was a model, a model for how nonprofit organizations might show up as relevant figures in the world.”

Goodwin closed by reminding attendees, “Friends, we showed up for each other … we came through. Not only do I believe we have the faith to have made it through this moment in history, but we do have the faith for what is yet to come … Know that in you and through you, people are finding a sense of hope … Because of your level of service and care, we are far better off than if you were not here and if you had not said, ‘Yes’.”

The Rev. Dr. Yvonne Delk’s inspiring closing sermon ended the Annual Gathering.

While Goodwin set the tone for the 2021 Annual Gathering, the Rev. Dr. Yvonne Delk delivered a charge to participants to carry that transformational hope into their communities. Delivering the sermon during closing worship March 4, Delk pointed to the urgency and pain of the current moment.

“This is an urgent time right now, and it’s a very needy time in terms of feeling that the misery index is high,” she said. “Our ministries are really needed.”

“There’s great pain and suffering and anxiety in the land, the pandemics of COVID-19 resulting in way over a million deaths worldwide, 400 years of racial injustice, crippling poverty, the abuse of civic and human rights. They’ve all unearthed the death rattle of what I’m calling a prior rule of powers and principalities,” she added. “And the mission and vision of the Council for Health and Human Service Ministries will require hope that is made visible on many networks of ministry — a hope that is struggling to break through the powers and principalities of injustice that is deeply entrenched in our land.”

Referring to Romans 15:13 — “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” — Delk talked about the how, in the early church, “spirit and witness are connected, risk and fellowship are connected. And this is a radically inclusive movement, breaking down walls, proclaiming boldly that all this matters, this movement shares everything together … while claiming over and over again, ‘Life matters, male and female, Jew and Gentile, slave and free,’ and to speak in hope, and to abound in hope was a commitment, to boldly proclaim the news before the thrones of power.”

Delk then brought the analogy to CHHSM. “So to speak of hope in this Annual Gathering,” she said, “is about more than putting a finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing. Our journey to hope leads us to places where people are struggling for a meaningful life, for dignity for justice, and hope makes itself known in the struggle for justice and freedom and equity.”

Then came the charge and call and sending forth of attendees. “As we prepare to leave this annual meeting, I ask, What is the word that you’re taking on? What is the word in your passion, your spirit, in your heart, in your ministry setting? The theme ‘Together in Hope’ requires that we declare who we are in ways that we are not free to walk away from. It defines who we are, and announces that which will have binding authority for what we believe we are called to do.”

“Hope will become visible because of the deliberate decision that we make, act and speak with boldness of the world that God attends,” she added. “It’s going back to our ministry setting and — just like Jesus — declaring that God’s Spirit is upon us and joining us, empowering us to the work of organizations or affiliate ministries to bring the good news of health and healing and wholeness and humanity into being.”

Delk stressed that even amid the COVID-19, systemic racism, and economic disparities at work every day, there is hope.

“Hope is waiting to be recognized in those places where injustice reigns. Hope is waiting in those places where hate has dislodged love and mutual respect … where fear has replaced courage and boldness … ‘Together in Hope’ has to be more than a slogan. Hope must become visible,” she said. “Hope is made visible as we claim our identity and our freedom as people of God … in truth telling, and truth facing. Hope is made visible as we invest our resources with clarity, with courage, and with conviction for justice.”

Delk also continued a theme that ran throughout the Annual Gathering, cautioning that hope also means engaging in self-examination as part of the truth telling. The impact and reality of systemic racism, injustice, and the other pandemics of our time “have taken up residency in us,” she said. “The truth is, we have not overcome yet. We are still a people under construction. We’re still trying to find a path that will lead from fragmentation to wholeness, from slavery to freedom, from privilege and power to equality, and opportunity for all; from white supremacy to the beloved community, from oppression and internalized oppression to justice and dignity and respect. We have to confess we’re still seeking the path from despair of our past and our present to the promise and hope for the future … as we leave this meeting, amnesia is not an option.”

In furthering her charge to Annual Gathering attendees, Delk said, “Hope becomes visible as we invest our resources in times of despair and admit, yes, there are times of chaos, but there are also times of opportunity. It’s precisely in the midst of despair that seeds and possibilities of hope are born. It’s in difficult times that we are called to speak and act with prophetic courage and clarity and conviction.”

“The concluding message by Dr. Delk energized me and catapulted me back into my community to listen and learn, to grow and support, and to plant seeds that will bring forth a harvest of people who are willing to stand together to make our community an even better, more equitable place to me,” said Dr. Bruce Roller, executive director of United Church Outreach Ministry in Wyoming, Mich.

Both worship services had a lasting impact on attendees to the Annual Gathering, said the Rev. George Graham, vice president of CHHSM.

“I think that many of the attendees, whose organizations have been working so hard in unseen ways during the COVID-19 pandemic, felt seen and recognized by the way that the Rev. Darrell Goodwin acknowledge direct service work in the opening sermon,” Graham said. “The Rev. Dr. Yvonne Delk sent people forth and urged them to make hope visible through the struggle for justice. For me the worship services were as powerful and inspiring as anything I have experienced in person.”

Amanda Powell served as song leader for both worship services.

That inspiration also was brought to the worship services by music, including song leading by Amanda Powell, director of music and worship at Disciples Christian Church in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and a frequent soloist with the renowned Apollo’s Fire. Additionally, closing worship featured a poignant video presentation of “I Believe” by Mark Miller from the Chancel Choir of Christ Church in Summit, N.J., an open and affirming congregation of the UCC and the American Baptist Church. Prayers and litanies — written by CHHSM’s the Rev. Dr. Elyse Berry — during both services provided an overarching affirmation of the spirit of the Annual Gathering and its focus on going forward “Together in Hope.”

“For me, the tone of the Gathering was set by the Litany of Gratitude for Essential Workers” during opening worship, said Roller, citing the line from the litany, “Let us ground ourselves in gratitude.”

The breathtaking “I Believe” anthem left a huge impression on attendees.

“We were blessed with beautiful health and human service liturgies in both worship services,” said Michael J. Readinger, CHHSM president and CEO. “Amanda Powell’s music and singing were inspirational additions to our times together in prayer. The ‘I Believe’ choral piece was bone-chillingly beautiful, and the chat comments during worship reflected the impact of their voices. Looking back at the lyrics of these musical pieces centered me in hope again today. I am certain they will keep my faith and hope at the forefront in the months ahead.”

Stephanie Franklin, senior vice president for family and community connection at UCAN in Chicago, found the services strengthened her own resolve to fight injustice. “The opening and closing of the Annual Gathering left me even more determined to stand in the gaps for our youth and families, and fill those gaps with truth, hope, equity, and justice!” she said. “Making justice so clear and visible, so courageous, that we do not forget – or let others forget — what our purpose is, what hope looks and feels like, and who we uplift and serve.”

Read about the Annual Gathering’s opening keynote address by author Kaitlin Curtice, closing keynote from the Rev. Dr. Dietra Wise Baker.

Read the story of the Annual Gathering, from beginning to end.

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