Developing personal purpose statements, examining similarities and differences between personal and organizational core values, taking time to focus on one’s ministry: these were just some of the many benefits cited by attendees of a recent Nollau To You serving leader seminar. The one-day virtual Council of Health & Human Services Ministries United Church of Christ (CHHSM) event, held Oct. 28, was sponsored by the UCC’s Heartland Conference and open to employees of UCC Designated Ministries and staff of congregations within the conference. The seminar also was supported by a Heartland Conference grant.
“We’re Covenantal Partners with CHHSM, and for that covenant to take meaningful shape, it needs lived expressions,” said the Rev. David Long-Higgins, conference minister. “Nollau to You supports leadership development and fits the shared mission that we have.”
For many participants, the seminar was perfectly timed. “The Nollau to You seminar came at just the right time for me,” said Sandy Lindahl, United Church Homes board member and major gifts officer for Bread for the World. “The same week, I worked to implement some of the main ideas.”
The seminar, which was limited to 25 participants, included presentations as well as randomly-assigned small group discussions to facilitate idea exchange and reflection. “I was grateful that [CHHSM staff] figured out how to randomize the rooms,” said the Rev. R. Brooke Baker, senior minister of Church of the Redeemer UCC in Westlake, Ohio. “Having the opportunity to talk to and hear from a variety of people enhanced the experience.”
The exercise of creating personal purpose statements received rave reviews by all attendees. “The most meaningful part of the gathering was having an opportunity to write out my purpose,” Baker added. “I have saved it and it’s something that I would like to work on some more. It provided me grounding and an opportunity to look at my strengths.”
Lindahl concurred. “My statement is becoming a daily checkpoint as I consider my actions,” she said. “It will be added to the folder with my will and other papers that my children will read upon my death. That sure adds an accountability factor!”
Nollau To You seminars are one-day overviews of the more extensive, year-long Nollau Leadership Institute. The primary objective is to introduce the concept of serving leadership to participants and encourage them to consider ways of incorporating those ideas into their day-to-day work. The Oct. 28 seminar was the second time Nollau To You has been offered to local church pastors.
“We are thrilled to be able to bring Nollau To You to an ever-expanding list of participants,” says Michael J. Readinger, CHHSM president and CEO. “Introducing — or in some cases, re-introducing — concepts of serving leadership to our wider UCC family provides much needed reflection and realization, and helps strengthen our bonds with each other. Especially now, as we struggle with the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racism, it is important for people in ministry to find ways to feel recommitted and energized. Nollau to You helps them do that.”
Renewal was key for Elizabeth Bergren, development director for Crossroad Child & Family Services in Fort Wayne, Ind. Crossroad has a special mission relationship with the Heartland Conference. “The chance to reflect, rest, and connect with my peers was incredibly refreshing,” Bergren said. “It’s impactful to have a chance to remember the why and know that there are others around the country invested in their communities as well.”
Long-Higgins found the Nollau To You discussion on change theory key to understanding how to lead faithfully amidst the dual pandemics. Understanding “change theory and its praxis is vitally important, especially now, when everything we do has to have a spirit of pivoting capacity,” or the ability to switch direction quickly and effectively, he said.
Following a break for lunch, the seminar spent much of afternoon examining ethics for serving leaders. “The presentation and discussion of ethical core capacities was energizing,” said Sean Riley, United Church Homes’ director of operations for Ohio and Michigan, “and a reminder of how helpful an ethical foundation can be when navigating leadership challenges.”
The Oct. 28 seminar marked the first time CHHSM has held Nollau To You virtually. “My greatest worry was over how engaging we could make a full-day program on Zoom,” said the Rev. Elyse Berry, D.Min., associate for advocacy and leadership development. “What I was most floored by was how engaged all of the participants were throughout the day. There was so much rich and honest dialogue about what matters to people right now — in their ministry and personally. At a time when so much of life is exhausting and devastating, experiences like these continue to gift me with energy and hope, and I am so grateful for that.”
Redeemer UCC’s Baker agreed. “I left feeling like I had been fed, and had a new energy to go back to my ministry setting,” she said. “This has been a year of such uncertainty that even a day to pause and focus on my ministry felt like a luxury.”
For Crossroad’s Bergren, the day served as a reminder that the work is shared by many others. “As human services professionals, it’s important to remember that we are not in this alone,” she said. “There are many organizations advocating for those in need. The chance to put your head up, look around, and realize that there is so much good and important work happening is incredible profound.”
Events like CHHSM’s Nollau To You are crucial to the Heartland Conference, Long-Higgins added. Especially now, with interactions limited due to COVID-19 , such activities provide “an opportunity to meet people outside of one’s immediate circle,” he said. “I see this as a continued opportunity in the life of the conference.”