Special Evening of Joy, Tears, Laughter Celebrates the Ministry of Michael J. Readinger

Readinger thanks his CHHSM colleagues.

Amidst Annual Gathering workshops, board business, and weighty discussions on moving Forward Together, the members, board, and staff of the UCC Council for Health and Human Service Ministries took the evening of March 9 to honor outgoing President and CEO Michael J. Readinger, who retires in April. CHHSM’s Annual Gathering takes place through March 10 at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Ky.

“Mike and I became CEOs in the same year — 2014,” said Michelle Just, president and CEO of Beatitudes Campus in Phoenix and incoming CHHSM board chair. “He has become a mentor to me … he’s been an amazing leader for CHHSM in the last seven years.” She then gestured to the room and said directly to Readinger, “Everyone in this room is touched by you.”

In the same vein, the Rev. Julie Jennings, vice president of spiritual care and wellbeing at Cedar Community in West Bend, Wis., told the audience, “Anybody whose life has been personally touched by Mike Readinger, please stand and look at him.” After the entire room stood and looked at Readinger, Jennings said, “Mike, this is just a piece of your legacy.”

Readinger examines his book of letters as Crossroad’s Kyle Zanker looks on.

Just and Jennings set the tone for an evening of story, humor, and affection. The Rev. Darrell Goodwin, executive conference minister of the UCC’s Southern New England Conference and CHHSM board member, offered a blessing of gratitude. “May you know how deeply you have touched each person in this room,” he told Readinger. “Thanks for the work of breaking barriers and ceilings; for raising awareness that the table is not wide enough, and there aren’t enough chairs — and maybe the table needs to be taken apart and rebuilt.”

The evening was sponsored by CHHSM member United Church Homes (UCH), based in Marion, Ohio. The Rev. Ken Daniel, president and CEO of UCH, related a story that he said exemplified Mike’s caring for others. Daniel spent two years of his career away from the UCC and CHHSM, working for a Presbyterian older adult community. Readinger stayed in regular contact.

“My phone would ring regularly, [as Mike would] check in and see how I was doing, and keep me updated on the comings and goings of CHHSM colleagues,” Daniel said. “This is an example of the character and quality of person that Mike has been for all of us.”

Poet and artist Lance G. Newman II closed the celebration with poetry.

The evening included an inspiring video presentation of youth from AMPED, a Louisville-based organization that reaches out to youth through music, as well as an extraordinary performance from local poet, writer, actor, and visual and teaching artist Lance G. Newman II. Board Chair Just announced that CHHSM was making a gift to AMPED to provide 10 electronic keyboards in honor of Readinger and his leadership.

Additionally, Readinger was presented with a video of well wishes and a book of letters from colleagues. The Rev. Samantha Jewell, chaplain at Bellewood & Brooklawn in Louisville, presented Readinger with a special piece of art, saying, “You have been a mentor and an amazing example. You have been strategic. You have honored those around you and those you have impacted.”

At the end of the evening, Readinger took stage to offer his thanks. “I will cherish not just this night, but the last 17 years that I’ve been involved in CHHSM,” he said. “I was working in the private sector and for over a decade, I was trying to find the nonprofit world that would fulfill me and sustain me and allow me to find my true calling in life. I can’t have imagined a better script … and a better group of friends than this.”

He closed by offering some insight. “Remain engaged with each other,” he said. “Continue that focus and that vision. It is YOU that creates a just, caring, and compassionate world.”

“I love you all,” Readinger added. “When I say, ‘I love you,’ I really mean I love you. The one thing we all have is a little bit of love inside us. Peace and blessings, friends.”

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