Strengthening the Ties that Bind: CHHSM Affinity Groups Foster Innovative Connections

One hallmark of the UCC’s Council for Health and Human Service Ministries is the extent to which its members offer support to, with, and for one another — both professionally and personally. And CHHSM’s established Affinity Groups provide the vehicle for this relationship-building among member ministries.

“Affinity Groups meet either quarterly or semiannually,” says Mary Paxton, CHHSM’s associate for engagement and executive administration and convener of the groups, “and share best practices, stories and experiences. They give and gain resources, collaborate and brainstorm regularly.”

These clusters of CHHSM-member executives and staff are organized geographically, and by the types of services provided. Currently there are three Services Affinity Groups — CHHSM Senior Services Collaborative, Child and Family Services, and Affordable Housing.

Regional Affinity Groups tend to be defined by one or more UCC Conferences: Missouri Mid-South/Illinois South CHHSM agencies; Wisconsin CHHSM; Ohio Benevolent Institutions; Illinois CHHSM (mainly Chicago); Integritas (Pennsylvania); Southern California Nevada CHHSM; and Indiana-Kentucky CHHSM.

CHHSM members find that the Affinity Groups often can help solve problems that can’t be solved alone. For example, at one meeting, during the time allowed for ministry updates, two separate ministries were explaining how difficult it was to find a part-time chaplain to work 20 hours a week.

“Sharing that information during an Affinity Group created a ‘light-bulb moment,’” says Michael J. Readinger, CHHSM president and CEO. “The two combined their resources and hired a chaplain who worked 20 hours a week at each ministry, and so was working full time as a result.”

Currently, there is a resurgence of energy within the Affinity Groups, says Paxton.

“I see my role as helping facilitate the convening of the meetings and assisting as they need me,” she says. “I also see my role as helping them to be more effective, which can be anything from helping to pool resources that can be shared to making learning tools available through the internet and social media.

“This really feeds into how I see them growing. I see the Affinity Groups becoming more effective in their communication and more intentional in sharing best practices.”

The Affinity Groups are one of the many ways CHHSM seeks out new and innovative ways to engage with the wider United Church of Christ, the ecumenical community, and member organizations.

Many CHHSM members were started by nearby local churches, or regional UCC conferences or associations. Sometimes, those connections are forgotten over time. Through the Affinity Groups, those intersections can be strengthened and renewed. The goal is for those ties to lead to larger, more meaningful, shared ministry.

“Relationships are key in binding us together as a shared ministry of service,” says Readinger. “We believe that engaging and working together will help us more fully realize our vision, with an emphasis on ‘together.’ Every time we gather, we are sowing seeds for future collaboration, sharing best practices, creating innovative means to serve, and reaping the collective wisdom of faith-based ministry.”

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