In our previous blog, Maryanne talked about how human beings were created to be a part of a community. We cannot do this thing called life on our own. Being a part of a caring community is especially important when a crisis comes along and turns our lives upside down. We cannot survive a crisis without the physical, emotional, and spiritual support of those around us. In our series on loneliness, we discussed how loneliness can produce adverse health effects and how being part a community is crucial for our physical and emotional health.
I was about 20 years old and a college student with an interest in all things psychology when I was invited to sit in on a group meeting of people in our church who were trained to care for those whose who were dealing with a personal crisis. I was very intrigued to see how everyone in the group used excellent listening skills to provide relief and support to those in need of support. The name of the group was Stephen Ministry, and I had no idea just how much it would change my personal and professional life.
Stephen Ministry was started in 1975 by Dr. Kenneth Haugk. He was a young pastor at a church and became very overwhelmed as he was caring for the spiritual and emotional needs of his congregation by himself. He had the idea to train a group of people in listening skills, so that they could help him care for those going through a difficult time. Stephen Ministry grew from there and is now in over 13,000 congregations and 30 countries!
Stephen Ministry is a whole system for training congregation members to provide one-on-one care for someone going through a life crisis. Stephen ministers undergo over 52 hours of training on how be a non-anxious presence and how to listen and be present without taking over and giving unwanted advice. Doesn’t that sound amazing? I wish we all could have a Stephen minister when we are faced with a difficult situation!
Stephen ministers provide a very different kind of support than friends or family. They meet regularly with the people they care for. The whole meeting is focused on supporting and listening to the person in crisis. Because Stephen Ministry is confidential, the people receiving care feel free to share exactly what’s on their minds knowing that it is guarded as a sacred process. The person receiving care doesn’t have to diminish or protect the Stephen minister from their true and sometimes very difficult feelings, like they might for a family member or close friend. They can be truly honest and truly heard.
I have been a Stephen minister and a Stephen Ministry leader for over 20 years now. After my initial “come and see” meeting, I was hooked. I joke that I never left and I am still doing it now. Being a part of Stephen Ministry has made me grow personally and spiritually. The gifts I receive back from serving are so much greater than what I give to the ministry! I am now also working as a national presenter for the Stephen Ministry organization, giving me the great joy and privilege to go and spread the word about Stephen Ministry and its many benefits. To find out more about the Stephen Ministry program, go to www.stephenministries.org.
Stephen Ministry and support teams are two of the great ways that we can support each other in our communities. In what way do you see yourself serving and caring for your community? We always welcome comments and ideas below!