About eleven years ago I was looking for a new church home. On my very first visit to O’Fallon First United Methodist Church, Linda Isbell got up and asked for volunteers to train for Stephen Ministry. I had been interested in becoming a Stephen Minister, after learning of the program from a friend. I thought it would be an excellent substitute as I had first majored in psychology. I had found my new church home and a new journey.
During training we shared personal information while pairing off in a semblance of Stephen Ministry encounters. The bonds formed with my fellow trainees during role playing remains in effect to this day. This was a particularly great outcome for me as a newcomer.
The first time I met with a new care receiver, I was nervous. How could I expect a stranger to confide in me? But we are trained to pray before each encounter and that got me through every time. It really taught me to focus on the other person’s needs. I would like to think that has carried over into my private life as well.
Over the years I have had several care receivers and they have all been remarkably resilient women. I have been privileged to witness their personal faith journey during some very difficult times. Whether it was dealing with the grief of multiple deaths or divorce or an abusive husband or medical problems, I was there to offer support as a confidential friend. Training teaches us that we are the care givers, but Jesus is the cure giver!
These women have trusted me with painful confidences and with their friendship. Any age differences were never a factor. Even after the organized caring relationship has ended most relationships continue as friendships.
Sharing with someone during this process can be difficult, particularly if the care receiver is having a really bad time or they can’t envision an end to their problems. A friend of mine talks about walking around the park for two hours while the care receiver said the same thing over and over and over again. Most of us have friends who will come to our aid in a minute. However, those same friends might not be willing to listen to you rehash your woes. It can be difficult to be an active, caring listener, so Stephen Ministry has built in Peer Supervision once or twice a month that provides the Stephen Ministers an outlet. We gather to de-stress and support each other. These people have become my friends and my “small group”.
Nine years ago I attended the leadership training course, which among other things was supposed to give me the tools to make referrals; match a new care receiver with a care giver. Well it doesn’t. Prayer is the only tool that works. I believe all the care receivers I have matched with care givers, received the best bonding because of answered prayers. Those prayers provided the care receiver with someone of the right temperament, acceptance and faith to be the right care giver for them, especially when you consider they begin as strangers and the bonding can span years.
Several years ago the Stephen Ministers, at the request of the pastors, visited hospitalized church members. We even read a very practical book, Bedside Manners by Katie Maxwell. Most of the visits I made were not too difficult; however one elderly patient who was extremely hard of hearing and had a roommate wanted me to pray out loud. Praying out loud is not one of my gifts, but as has happened in every situation Stephen Ministry has placed me in, God provided what was needed.
When I started writing this piece, I did not know what direction it would take. All of the Stephen Ministers have their own reason for being a Stephen Minister and they each have learned and/or gained something from it. For me it has been a prayer journey.