UCC’s Volunteer Ministries and CHHSM’s Berry Partner for ‘Surviving to Thriving’ Retreat
The Rev. Dr. Elyse Berry, associate for advocacy and leadership development at the UCC’s Council for Health and Human Service Ministries (CHHSM) recently partnered with the UCC’s Volunteer Ministries of the Global H.O.P.E Team to host a Leaders Circle event April 3-5, 2023, at the UCC’s National Offices in Cleveland. The program, titled “Surviving to Thriving,” brought together a dynamic group of leaders to explore strengthening young adult volunteer ministries in today’s dynamic world. Through rituals, interactive workshops, and a panel discussion with UCC National staff, attendees reflected on nature-based organizational theories and strategies, utilizing UCC values to foster inclusivity and belonging, and the psycho-social development of volunteers.
After an initial evening of fellowship, attendees dove into a workshop exploring emergent strategy, as outlined in adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, in which participants connected the concepts of organizational change to changes in nature and sought to identify lessons the world can offer changemakers and leaders today. This connection back to nature was a key theme in the rituals and worship sessions woven throughout the program.
UCC National Office staff hosted a panel discussion for participants with the Rev. Mark Pettis, the Rev. Elizabeth Dilley, and the Rev. Sharon Fennema sharing their insights with participants. “Surviving to Thriving” also included sessions reflecting on the values of the UCC and addressing the topic of volunteer development.
“It was such an honor to be invited to facilitate this event,” noted Berry. “Like CHHSM, the outdoor camps and colleges and universities of the UCC are extended ministries of the church. We all exist beyond the walls of a congregation. So even though I had never met this group of incredible leaders before, I immediately felt a collegiality with them and experienced the extravagant welcome the UCC is known for. Moreover, most of the folks in the room didn’t know each other either!”
Berry was also quick to acknowledge the Rev. Elena Larssen and Shirley Asmussen, who were instrumental in putting the event together. She noted, “[They] noticed the possibilities of getting a group like this together as well as the unmet need for networking and support a retreat like this could accomplish.
“What left me in awe was the unmistakable and unshakable passion this group has for their ministry. If you want to know what faith in action looks like, come talk to these folks. They are cultivating the spaces and conditions for belonging, self-discovery, transformation, and care for the world with young adults throughout the country. Especially with the current youth mental health crisis, I couldn’t help but see these ministries as a balm in Gilead that needs to be uplifted.”
Participants agreed the program provided much needed connections and a inspiration to take back to their organizations.
Tim Hughes, Executive Director of Gorham, N.H. based Horton Center, the Outdoor Ministry site of the New Hampshire Conference of the UCC, found value in connecting with fellow participants and the UCC nationally.
“The retreat was well led, and the leaders really built sacred community with the participants over the 2 days we were together,” Hughes shared. “We were encouraged to fully experience being together, and we took the time to get to know each other as we also were led in discussions about thriving at our organizations. It was a good mix of experience and discussion. As our little group got to know one another, it became clear that there was a tremendous wealth of knowledge in the room and I look forward to staying in contact with several of the other participants going forward.”
Hughes added, “I also really enjoyed being at the national UCC office space and see the work being done on that level. The staff are very welcoming and approachable.”
“I came to this event with my head spinning,” reflected the Rev. Tracy Heilman, Site Director of Tower Hill Camp and Retreat Center in Sawyer, Mich. “Grateful for the grant, hopeful for finding the right young leaders, and a ‘to do’ list that felt like it was a spiderweb! I anticipated spending these days together learning the specifics of the grant program, and we did that. But more importantly, we centered. Rev. Dr. Elyse Berry guided us through song, poetry, strategy, conversation, prayer and sacred story. She helped us turn our eyes to the natural world for inspiration and example. My mind, my heart and my spirit were challenged, comforted and heartened. I left the event firmly rooted and nourished.”
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