Dean Letter: Stephen Ministry

Hello St. Paul’s,

When I came to St. Paul’s almost exactly seven years ago, I saw an opportunity to develop the pastoral care ministry, to make the most of the pastoral gifts of our parishioners. I turned to Stephen Ministry, a program I had experienced in my previous churches.

Stephen Ministry is an interdenominational, international, program that trains lay people in distinctively Christian care, so that people going through a difficult time in their lives can receive ongoing pastoral care from a fellow Christian. The basic philosophy of Stephen Ministry, which is named for St. Stephen, one of the first Christian deacons and martyrs, is that someone who is walking a difficult path shouldn’t have to do it alone; that having a companion on the way, someone outside of the family dynamics, can make the journey more bearable, whether it’s a chronic illness, transition to retirement, a bereavement, empty nest, divorce, or some other challenging life experience.

We clergy are there for the crisis, but what about after the funeral, or as longterm treatment begins? People often need ongoing care, which can be provided by a lay person with appropriate training.

Stephen Ministers are simply Christians with a heart for care. They receive 50 hours of training in active listening, focusing on process rather than goals, keeping confidentiality, and tapping into Christian resources. The training is led by Stephen Leaders, who have attended a seven day residential course. At the end of the training a Stephen Minister is commissioned and then, when someone expresses a need for additional support, they are matched with a suitable Stephen Minister for care. The relationship is confidential and individual, and the Stephen Minister meets with the care receiver, usually for about an hour once a week, in person or virtually, for as long as needed, up to about two years.

The Stephen Minister listens, reflects back what they are hearing, does not try to fix or solve, prays with and for the care receiver, and provides a reliable presence, representing Jesus for that person. A Stephen Minister is not a therapist, nurse, or housekeeper; in fact, if a care receiver is already in a relationship with a therapist or psychiatrist, we request permission from that professional to engage in the caring relationship, as we don’t want to inadvertently undermine any treatment. Occasionally we will refer someone to professional care, if we discern that their needs are more than a Stephen Minister can provide.

Stephen Ministers meet regularly with a peer group to debrief on their own experience of ministry and to receive continuing education. They do not share details of their care receivers but focus on what they need in order to be effective carers.

In the six years we have been offering Stephen Ministry we have held several training courses, and we currently have 15 active Stephen Ministers and four active Stephen Leaders, including Brooks and myself. Our Stephen Ministers have cared for dozens of people, both parishioners and others. Besides the obvious benefit to the care receivers, I have watched with delight as our Stephen Ministers have grown in their own faith and spiritual depth, becoming more confident in their ability to pray aloud and to make a difference in someone’s life. I am extremely grateful for all those who have made this commitment to a ministry which strengthens our community in countless ways.

During the pandemic our Stephen Ministers have continued to meet with their care receivers; however, over the course of the year some care receivers have died or moved on, and we have several ministers who are available. If you or someone you know is going through a difficult time, please consider contacting me, Brooks, Terry Kelly, or Roxanne Perfect-Knight to learn more. And if you think this ministry might be for you, let us know so that we can build a list of candidates for the next training course, which has not yet been scheduled.

See you on Sunday!

Your sister in Christ,
Penny

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