Dean’s Letter: Seeking Stephen Ministers

Hello St. Paul’s,

I’ve talked about Stephen Ministry in a previous letter, but I want to bring it up again because we are hoping to schedule a training course of Stephen Ministers starting at the end of the summer. So, to start with, here’s a refresher:

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 my experience, Stephen Ministers gain at least as much as they give: it’s a powerful way to grow in your faith and to find fulfillment in using your spiritual gifts.

If you are a good listener, if you are looking for a way to develop your pastoral gifts, please consider discerning a possible call to become a Stephen Minister. At present we are planning to start the training with a weekend retreat at the end of August, jointly with our current Stephen Ministers. The classes will then continue on a schedule to be worked out, but likely every couple of weekends for several months. We are currently building a list of potential trainees, and you can recommend someone if you think they have the requisite gifts. The first step is to indicate your interest or recommendation to me, or one of the other Stephen Leaders: Brooks Mason, Terry Kelly, or Roxanne Perfect-Knight.

See you on Sunday!

Your sister in Christ,

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