Lay ministers share in pastoral responsibilities

05/04/2013 7:29 AM

05/04/2013 7:30 AM

BATH TOWNSHIP, Ohio — The Stephen Ministry is looking for compassionate men and women who want to help people who are hurting.

“God is the cure giver. Stephen ministers are the caregivers,” said the Rev. Maureen Webber, associate minister of pastoral care at The Bath Church — United Church of Christ. “Stephen ministers are not counselors or therapists. They are people who are present to listen and to walk alongside someone who is going through a trial in life. It could be divorce, loss of a job, loss of a loved one, illness or other difficult situations.

“Stephen ministers live out Jesus’ commandment to ‘love one another as I have loved you.’ ”

The St. Louis-based lay ministry provides trained caregivers to give confidential one-on-one help to people who are going through a life crisis. It was founded in 1975, when the Rev. Kenneth C. Haugk, a pastor and clinical psychologist, trained nine lay people at his church to assist him in providing Christian care for members of their congregation and community.

The ministry — named for St. Stephen — has grown to include more than 500,000 ministers in more than 11,000 congregations from 150 denominations in every state, 10 Canadian provinces and 24 other countries.

Although the ministry is Christian-based, Webber said anyone can benefit from the skills that are taught.

Karen Brandt, 56, another Stephen Ministry leader at Bath UCC, agrees. She said the ministry training has helped her become a better listener as a public school teacher and at home.

“People want to be heard, and as a Stephen minister, your role is to listen. You’re not there to supply all the answers or to give advice,” said Brandt, of Copley Township, Ohio. “One of the beautiful things about the ministry is that you get to build relationships with people and make a difference in their lives.”

Stephen ministers receive 50 hours of training to equip them with practical skills to help develop a trusting bond with care receivers. Those skills include non-judgmental listening, practicing assertiveness, observing confidentiality, establishing boundaries and recognizing the limits of care that they can offer.

Spiritually, they are encouraged to form prayer-partner relationships with other Stephen ministers. They are also trained to use Scripture to help identify ways that Christ cared for others. Although Stephen ministers may openly reflect their Christian identity, they strive to do so without proselytizing.

Stephen ministers commit themselves to two years of caregiving but can extend that commitment.

Meg Lamb, of Bath Township, became a Stephen minister in 2008 and is now a ministry leader who trains others.

“I was drawn to the ministry by my own personal life experiences. There have been a lot of times when I could have used someone in my corner,” said Lamb, 52. “The Stephen Ministry is a way for me to be that support person for someone else. What I have found is that my care receivers actually inspire me with their strength to keep pushing on when life throws them a curve ball.”

Like Lamb, Barry Lamkin believes he is sometimes getting more out of the relationship than the care receiver.

“I became a Stephen minister because I wanted to help people who are going through a difficult time. I’m a pretty good listener, so it’s a good fit for me,” said Lamkin, 63, of Richfield, Ohio. “I see myself as being there to help people feel God’s love and presence in times when they may feel alone. It’s amazing how just sitting and listening, being present and supportive of people, can help them along as they find a way to work through a tough time.”

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