By Marion Hanold
Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
This Sunday at Kenilworth Union Church we will celebrate Stephen Ministry. As many of you may know, Stephen Ministry is the confidential lay caring ministry program that matches specially-trained men and women to walk with others when they are experiencing grief, illness, divorce, unemployment, infertility, and many other of life’s difficulties. Look for the blue name badges.
I started down the Stephen Ministry path about 4 years ago when I joined the 50-hour training program along with 9 other trainees. But the truth is that God had been guiding me to the program long before. My first five decades on the planet had plenty of genuine joys but also many sorrows. I’d had my share of financial, professional, and personal success and setbacks, but the loss of a best friend to cancer hit me particularly hard. As I turned 50 and finally left a job that wasn’t meaningful to me, I felt like God had finally gotten my attention. It was time to direct my spiritual center to His will for me rather than my own.
At a particularly desperate time in my friend’s final days, I sought out Jane Lionberger, our congregational care minister at the time, and she gave me a copy of the Stephen Ministry book, Don’t Sing Songs to a Heavy Heart. I practically devoured it; its message was so much what I needed to hear.
Once I’d had some time to grieve and recover, I realized that I wanted to learn more about how to be a good friend and spiritual partner during a crisis. My friend didn’t really have that, and I didn’t either. God gave me a caring heart, and I lean towards generosity and loyalty with my time and attention. I listened to Stephen Ministry testimonials from the pulpit and then talked with a pair of Stephen Leaders. I felt ready to help do God’s work in a private/confidential manner.
Those of us becoming a Stephen Minister have found our lives enriched in countless ways. We have become much better listeners. We look into a hurting person’s eyes with love and care, rather than looking away. Some kind of sacred space is created when you are totally present with someone in pain.
For an hour each week, our job is to care for our care receivers; God will provide the “cure” in His own time and in His own way. I pray a lot—often in silence, but increasingly out loud…where did my self-consciousness about this go? We are humbled by the daily courage we witness during meetings with our care receivers. We talk, we laugh, we cry, we pray. The trust we share is profound. And when I feel overwhelmed by the suffering of another, I feel lifted by God’s own care and patience with me. The community and collective wisdom of the other Stephen Ministers nourishes me in ways I didn’t anticipate.
Mostly, I am grateful for the program’s ever-present conviction that you are not alone during life’s darkest times. In giving you receive.
With appreciation for Stephen Ministry at Kenilworth Union Church, Marion