By Retta Blaney
I was commissioned as a Stephen Minister in September 2021 at Marble Collegiate Church. Stephen Ministers are highly-trained, highly-supervised lay ministers. I had 50 hours of classroom (Zoom) training and about 50 hours of reading. It’s Christ-centered with a heavy emphasis on psychology.
Stephen Ministry was founded in 1976 by a St. Louis minister who didn’t have enough time to meet all the pastoral needs of his large congregation, so he developed a program to train lay people. Because he was also a psychologist he wove in a solid psychological dimension.
Based in St. Louis, Stephen Ministry has become international. I bought my materials from headquarters — a huge two-volume training manual and three other books, Speaking the Truth in Love: How to Be an Assertive Christian, Christian Caregiving: A Way of Life and When & How to Use Mental Health Resources.
We’re trained to meet once a week for an hour with our care receiver (CR) one-on-one to handle a wide variety of issues: someone dealing with an illness, grief, death, possible suicide or harm to self or others, divorce, depression, adding a child to the family and all possible emotional needs for which a person would seek support. The relationship usually lasts about a year.
Our approach is process-oriented. We don’t try to fix anything. We listen. We are the care givers who acknowledge that God is the cure giver.
To ensure we are giving the best care, we have supervision twice a month for 90 minutes in which we share our experiences with our CR and receive guidance and encouragement from Stephen Ministery leaders and our peers. We also have continuing education every few months.
If you feel a call to explore this powerful form of ministry, visit the SM website to ask about classes forming near you. If you ultimately decide this is too large of a commitment, you will not regret the time you spent preparing. The training is life-changing.
Retta Blaney is an award-winning journalist and author of Working on the Inside: The Spiritual Life Through the Eyes of Actors, which features interviews with Kristin Chenoweth, Ann Dowd, Edward Herrmann, Liam Neeson, Phylicia Rashad, Vanessa Willams and many others. She has been an Associate since 2001.