To reach out to more people in their church communities, two Province parishes are establishing Stephen Ministry programs, a lay ministry that provides a listening ear to people in need.
St. Mary’s Church in Pompton Lakes, N.J., has recently started the program, and Sacred Heart Parish in Tampa, Fla., is exploring the possibility.
Named for St. Stephen, one of the early Church’s first deacons who helped the apostles care for widows and the poor, Stephen Ministry trains lay leaders and volunteers to lend a listening ear to those in need. Ministers extend mercy, kindness and compassion.
Started by the Lutheran Church in the 1970s, the program trains and commissions lay people to help the clergy by reaching out as friends to those in need. Stephen Ministers usually receive approximately 50 hours of classroom training.
In New Jersey
Almost 25 members of St. Mary’s Church were commissioned this spring by Lawrence Anderson, OFM, and then-pastor Kevin Downey, OFM, as ministers, equipping them to meet with parishioners and extend hope in Christ during difficult times. People often need someone to talk to during a crisis — job transition, care of an aging parent, grief, divorce, relocation or illness — and a church’s pastor can’t always meet every need.
Kevin introduced the program to St. Mary’s, after running it at a Raleigh, N.C., church where he previously served. Beverly Delleart was recruited as the parish’s new Stephen Minister director.
“These men and women have answered a special call to use their gifts to follow in Jesus’ caring footsteps as Christian caregivers,” said Larry in the church bulletin. “They are equipped to enter into confidential, one-on-one relationships where they will listen, pray, extend acceptance and provide distinctively Christian care as they walk beside someone facing one of life’s many challenges. They put their faith into action as doers of the Gospel.”
Audrey Pinches, a nurse, widowed mother of four and grandmother, was one of the recently commissioned parishioners. “I want to walk with people through a dark period,” she said. As a Eucharistic minister, she said she felt that people want Christ in their lives. “People need to feel God’s love. We can do that more by listening.” Pinches was quoted in the May 12 issue of The Beacon, the weekly publication of the Paterson, N.J., Diocese, titled “Stephen Ministry lends people in emotional crisis a compassionate ear.”
In the South
In Tampa, Fla., Sacred Heart Parish is considering starting the program. The growing community with expanding member needs advertised in the July 17 bulletin for ministers to reach out to “those who suffer.” The parish, the bulletin said, is limited in its ability to contact all parishioners who may need individual attention.
Pastor George Corrigan, OFM, is looking to explore the idea with a small core of volunteers.
Since the program is new at St. Mary’s, Delleart said learning will continue. Stephen Ministers, she said, will learn more about their ministry through ongoing coursework, spiritual events and retreats. Twice monthly, they will gather for peer supervision meetings to discuss confidentially their ministry.
Ministers usually meet with parishioners for an hour a week, either at a person’s home, out for coffee or a meal, or in a hospital room or nursing home.
“Many parishioners want a ministry where they can use their quiet gifts of mercy, kindness, listening and compassion,” said Delleart.
The photo above shows the 24 members of the St. Mary’s Stephen Ministry after being commissioned in the church. Larry Anderson, parochial vicar, is holding the banner, and Frank Critch, OFM, can be seen in the top row of the group.
Around the Province
Other parishes around the Province offer services to help their communities. In Providence, the recent Church of St. Mary on Broadway bulletin announced parishioners who have family members homebound or hospitalized to call Scott Brookbank, OFM, to “make an arrangement for a Minister of Care visit.”
At New York City’s St. Francis of Assisi Church, a Caregivers Assistance Program is being started, to help those caring for sick relatives and friends.
— Wendy Healy is a freelance writer based in Connecticut. Jocelyn Thomas contributed to this article.