A Trifecta of Caring

Date Posted: 10/22/2015

Three Bryan-College Station churches have expanded their lay training and pooled resources to equip a growing number of Stephen Ministers providing one-to-one care.

Stephen ministers are often referred to as the “after people.”  They provide weekly one-to-one confidential Christian support – often after a divorce, hospitalization, job interruption or other personal crisis, and for as long as the need is there. “Most difficulties in life are not resolved in a day or two. Stephen ministers work with people over the long haul. They help our pastoral staff provide ongoing quality care,” says Rev. John Reasons, A&M UMC.
 “The need for this ministry is tremendous,” says Rev. David Porterfield of First UMC Bryan, “and helping meet the needs of people not only changes their lives, it changes the lives of those who train to care for them.”  In recent weeks, these two churches in the West District have been collaborating along Christ UMC, College Station to strengthen their individual ministries by sharing resources and offering joint trainings. “Training is essential,” says ministry coordinator and spokesperson Jane Stowell, a Stephen Ministry leader at A&M UMC. “Stephen ministers are lay people who receive 50 hours training in Christian care-giving skills on topics such as active listening, confidentiality, crisis theory, feelings and distinctively Christian care. After Stephen ministers begin providing care, they meet twice monthly for continuing education and supervision that enhances their ability to provide high-quality Christian care. By collaborating, the three churches have the opportunity to do workshops together, and continuing education with outside speakers.”

Stephen ministers from all the churches meet together and share ideas and experiences that enrich each other’s insight into caregiving. Adds Jane, “At our supervision meetings, we might share issues we’ve come across in our relationships and discuss ideas on how to provide the best support. The training we get focuses on how to best listen as care givers and allow God to be the cure giver,” she says.

“Our congregation began Stephen Ministry in 2012,” reports Karen McNeely, a Stephen Ministry leader at Christ UMC. “Earlier this year some of our Stephen ministers received an additional eight hours training in care of veterans and their families experiencing the trauma of war.” First UMC Bryan is training Stephen ministers to establish long-term relationships with elderly members who value that weekly touch point and to develop deeper relationships.

Stephen Ministry was founded in 1975 by Dr. Kenneth C. Haugk, a pastor and clinical psychologist seeking to provide care connections in his congregation. Since then, it has become a trans-denominational ministry expanding to 12,245 congregations in 25 countries. More than 1.5 million people have received care from more than 600,000 trained Stephen ministers. 

One of the enemies of this ministry is the American rugged individualism that fosters the do-it-myself attitude, Jane explains. “Most of us are squeamish about opening up to someone, but that doesn’t stop us from offering this ministry, and ensuring its confidential nature.  We are taught how to break through that hesitancy and we receive our confidence from the many testimonials on the Stephen Ministry website that attest to the value of this Christian support.”

Even if Stephen ministers are not paired with anyone for a period of time, they still attend the training sessions to keep their skills up. Sometimes an older caregiver is paired with a college student, for example, and sometimes the match is made when the caregiver has shared a similar experience with the one seeking care.  

“Stephen Ministry is an example of Christ caring for people through people” says Jane. “Among our churches we have very small Stephen Ministry teams and those with a dozen or more – helping each other. It may seem a bit unusual, but this partnership is working well for us.”
For more information about Stephen Ministry or starting one at your church, go to www.stephenministries.org