Donna Smith-Pupillo, executive director of Deaconess Nurse Ministry in St. Louis, sees little difference when talking about her work and that of Deaconess’ partner, the United Church of Christ’s regional Missouri Mid-South Conference.
“We partner with the conference because we are a part of the conference,” Smith-Pupillo says. “We are not a separate entity, but what we say is we do work on their behalf in health and human services.”
This is a feeling shared by other CHHSM members in the conference. At a recent Missouri Mid-South Annual Meeting, for example, Cape Albeon sponsored a lunch, Deaconess Foundation sponsored a breakfast, and St Andrews, Emmaus, UP, ECH and Deaconess Nurse Ministry together sponsored another breakfast. In turn, the conference supported the CHHSM Annual Gathering in St. Louis, bought tickets and attended.
“The advantage for us is that we both are working with the same underpinnings for justice, peace and care for our world,” Smith-Pupillo adds. “By both being UCC, we understand each other and our work that is done together.”
The partnership between the conference and the CHHSM member ministries located within its geographical boundaries is foundational, having its roots in the work of the Rev. Louis Edward Nollau in the mid-1800s. Nollau formed many of the CHHSM ministries in the conference while serving as a local church pastor. Today, CHHSM continues to honor Nollau through its servant leadership training programs, which are named after him.
“I am immensely proud of the relationship CHHSM has with the Missouri Mid-South Conference,” says the Rev. Ginny Brown Daniel, conference minister, “from our heritage of the Rev. Louis Edward Nollau … to the commitment we all have today to provide a Just World for All for the forgotten, rejected, and underserved in our local communities.”
Creating New CHHSM-Local Church Relationships
Many CHHSM members within the conference find that their partnership with the conference strengthens their ties to the local churches.
The newest conference connection is with the United Church Homes’ affordable housing communities in Memphis, Tenn., Shelby Station and Woodhollow Glen. “It was only this spring that we helped to introduce these communities to the St. Louis Association and, particularly, the three UCC churches in Memphis,” says the Rev. Beth Long-Higgins, executive director of UCH’s Ruth Frost Parker Center for Abundant Aging. “It is my perception that the three congregations in Memphis feel a little distant from the rest of the association, just given the distance from St. Louis. By helping to connect the three churches and the one UCC-related college [LeMoyne Owen] to our four HUD housing communities, the UCC footprint — or locations where the UCC is engaged in ministry — in the metro area doubled!”
Long-Higgins is excited about the future relationships the conference partnership will help nurture. That excitement began when she attended the St. Louis Association meeting this past spring, and was invited to share United Church Homes’ work with the church representatives in attendance.
“I felt like United Church Homes was a long-lost cousin that the association and congregations didn’t know they had,” she says. “As I shared about UCH’s commitment and efforts for our communities to be sensitive and welcoming to the specific needs and experiences of aging members of the LGBT community, there was genuine interest in the churches getting to know more about United Church Homes.”
The Rev. Ginny Brown Daniel concurs. “To say that I was shocked is an understatement,” she says. “I had never heard United Church Homes mentioned in Memphis. This shock quickly became excitement because we have so few UCC churches in Memphis, and they are hours away from other conference churches. My excitement was heightened when I heard that one of our Memphis churches made contact with United Church Homes because they support LGBTQ senior citizens, who often have to go back into the closet to find a retirement community.”
“This is the collaboration I love that CHHSM brings to the Missouri Mid-South Conference,” says Brown Daniel.
Fostering Better CHHSM Partnerships
Mary Alice Ryan, president and CEO of St. Andrew’s Resource for Seniors System in St. Louis, finds that one of the best advantages of the partnership with the conference is the way it facilitates working with other CHHSM members.
“We have been a partner since 2014,” Ryan says. “This partnership assisted us in affiliating Cape Albeon [in St. Louis] with St. Andrew’s. The partnership has also aligned us closer with St. Paul’s Senior Community [in Bellville, Ill.].”
Additionally, says Ryan, “our staff has the ability to get to know and learn from other CHHSM organizations, here and around the country.” Working more closely with other CHHSM members “helps us to see what other UCC senior communities are doing.”
Ryan also sees advantages for community residents. “All of our St. Andrew’s communities are members of CHHSM and have those benefits available to them, such as Passport to Travel,” she says. “We are a faith-based, not-for-profit organization, and value our service to our faith-based congregations.
In addition to St. Andrew’s, many Missouri Mid-South CHHSM members share in ministry. Most recently, iFM Community Medicine opened a new clinic at Lydia’s House, continuing a long-established trend of CHHSM partnerships within the conference.
Conference Benefits, Too
Brown Daniel says the CHHSM/conference partnership has been beneficial for the conference as well. “The [conference’s] CHHSM CEOs meet on a quarterly basis and I am invited to attend these meetings,” she says. “I deeply appreciate being included because it helps me advocate for our CHHSM organizations when I am at local churches or talking with our ministers.”
Most recently, says Brown Daniel, “I wanted to strengthen my leadership skills in the area of donor-based fundraising. I asked some of our CHHSM CEOs if I could meet with their fundraising development staff to glean their wisdom on ‘Fundraising 101.’ They eagerly said yes. I met with two CHHSM fundraising staff and came away with helpful information about how to develop our fundraising in the Conference … [and] I was learning from folks who know the churches and individuals very well.”
Brown Daniel also envisions how conference CHHSM ministries can help model institutional transitions. “Our CHHSM organizations have already dealt with the challenges many of our local churches are currently facing: how to re-vision themselves, what to do with older buildings and property, how to match the organization’s name and mission — even and especially when that means changing their organization’s name,” she says. “Our churches would benefit from the wisdom gleaned from our CHHSM organizations. And every CHHSM organization is yearning to help our churches!”
“I am impressed by (and sometimes envious of) the collegiality of our CHHSM CEOs,” Brown Daniel adds. “There is no competition; there is no ‘silo’ effect of each one only out for themselves. They support one another, they offer each other advice and comfort, and they pray for one another. I look at this group and hope that their collegiality will rub off on our entire denomination!”
Powerful Ministries Point to the Future
When looking to the future, Long-Higgins thinks of the three Memphis churches.
“As the congregations … learn more about the United Church Homes communities, they will discover that through our UCC ‘family,’ they are connected to a ministry that is providing housing for the most vulnerable older adult population,” she says. “And with affordable housing, thanks to the subsidies through HUD, these individuals also have access to service coordinators and managers who can help them receive the services and supports that will further improve their health and quality of life. This ministry truly saves lives, and relationships with local congregations increase the resident’s engagement and connections to the wider community.”
Brown Daniel says she has a long wish list for future projects with the area CHHSM ministries and the conference’s local churches. “I would love to develop webinars where our CHHSM organizations can offer valued wisdom to our local churches — from nonprofit organizational structure to statistics and advocacy information” to bolster the mission and ministry of the local churches.
“The biggest hurdle we face in the conference is the shift of perception so many of our churches have of our CHHSM organizations,” Brown Daniel adds. “So many still think of CHHSM as the place where our church school money goes, rather than the multimillion-dollar non-profit social service organizations in Missouri, Arkansas, and Memphis, Tenn.”
Smith-Pupillo agrees. “Many of our donors come from the UCC and the churches, and we want to not only just have donors, but to support the work the conference is doing with the churches here,” she says. “Support by the conference and the churches within the conference is critical as we make strategic changes at the agencies.”
She adds, “Together, we are the church embodying the 3 Great Loves; and together, we work to spread that love.”
The Missouri Mid-South Conference of the UCC takes its partnership with area CHHSM ministries so seriously that it has a page on its website devoted to CHHSM members. Here is a list of the CHHSM member ministries in the Missouri Mid-South Conference:
- Cape Albeon
- Blue Springs Terrace
- Deaconess Foundation
- Deaconess Nurse Ministry
- Embrace Living Communities
- Emmaus Homes
- Every Child’s Hope
- IFM Community Medicine
- Lydia’s House
- Retirement Housing Foundation:
- St. Andrew’s Resources for Seniors System
- St. Paul’s Senior Community
- Tower Grove Manor
- United Church Homes:
- Unleashing Potential (UP)
- The Willows at Brooking Park