‘With Such Hope, We Can Be Bold’

The Rev. Elyse Berry, D.Min.

In her poem, “The Summer Day,” Mary Oliver asks, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?” I hear in Mary’s words an invitation to lean into that which gives life, energy, and wonder. For me, supporting others along their paths to healing and flourishing — personally and communally — is when I feel most alive. Engaging in this work grounds me in my call to ministry and guides me to not only find God in all things, but to feel God finding me in all things. On day 9 of this new position as Associate for Advocacy and Leadership Development, I am happy to report that I already feel I have leaned into the right place here at CHHSM.

Prior to this position I was a board certified chaplain for many years and, from 2018 to 2019, I was a postdoctoral fellow in bioethics. My background not only fuels my passion, informs my perspective, and provides me the skills needed for this job, it also gifts me with a wealth of experiences to connect personally with CHHSM’s work and advocacy endeavors. Holding the hand of a young man in a crowded emergency room as he dies from a drug overdose, praying with a family surrounding their loved one about to go into surgery who has been shot, working with a team to find an ethically supportable discharge plan for a woman with disabilities who has no home to return to, and crafting hospital policy to better protect the rights of those who are in foster care — these are such moments from which I will draw upon to join in co-creating a more just, caring, and compassionate world.

I am incredibly grateful to have journeyed with and borne witness to people in such trying times. Perhaps particularly in the age of “fake news” and “alternative facts,” it is not just a gift for someone to share their truth, their secrets, their confessions and beliefs with you — it is a work of social justice, of rebuilding right relationships one authentic conversation at a time. Further, wrestling with questions — where is God in this? Who am I called to become? What do I do with this pain? How do we draw from the well of living water that is our, all of our, birthright? — are the same kinds of questions facing leaders, other faith-based organizations, advocates, and activists.

In my work as part of CHHSM, I hope to cultivate relationships where deep questions can be asked, needs can be voiced and heard, and wisdom from lived experience can be shared. I see this as integral to my work with both advocacy and leadership development. Through these meaningful conversations with CHHSM organizations and members, Nollau participants, CHHSM scholars, and the wider United Church of Christ, I think growth and transformation can happen. Further, I am excited to work closely and collaborate with Justice and Witness Ministries, Disabilities and Mental Health Justice, and the Office for Health and Wholeness Advocacy on matters related with health and human services in this effort.

Grounded in the narratives and realities of what is, I also hope to center the needs of the marginalized in our communities, organizations, polices, and vision for a shared future of ethical and communal action. As an ethicist, I feel strongly about uplifting, nurturing, and breaking down the barriers to us living into our moral agency. As such, our values become verbs and, to use Paul’s words, with such hope we can be bold (2 Cor.3:12).

Read CHHSM President and CEO Michael J. Readinger’s column.

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