by Gary Beech
I would like to share an exciting program I took part in last summer. It is called the Stephen Ministry and participants attend classes at the United Methodist Church Center under the direction of Chaplain Frank Dew. The purpose of this program is to train lay people to provide caring to those who are homeless. The ministry began in Greensboro in the 1990s and works with Greensboro Urban Ministry in different capacities. One such place Stephen ministers work is Weaver House Shelter, a place that has emergency housing for one hundred adults for stays of up to sixty seven days. Other areas include Pathways which supports seventy families and Partnership Village, located downtown, which houses thirty eight families in studio housing.
Training to become a Stephen Minister begins the first Tuesday in September with weekly classes and finishes the following February with a commissioning service. Our group included 15 students, both young and old, from a variety of denominations and with different experiences in their Christian walk. Our training teaches us to “make caregiving a way of life”. We learn to understand feelings – those of the caregiver as well as of the care receiver. We concentrate on learning to listen. We spend time reading, praying and roll playing. I thought I was a pretty good listener but I soon realized that I have a long way to go to be a real listener. Frank Dew reminds us that God gave us one mouth and two ears for a reason. Feedback from other students in our roll playing sessions helped me begin to develop the skills that communicate that you are someone who cares.
I have chosen to work with a men’s support group at Weaver House every Thursday evening. We stress that what is said in the room stays there. Topics vary from week to week and are usually initiated by members of the group. There are usually between twelve and twenty residents who participate and three to five Stephen ministers present to give input when needed. The needs of the residents are great. Many have lost everything they value as a consequence of drug and alcohol addiction. Often their problems have been ongoing for several years with multiple attempts at breaking the cycle. Many share their need for God and express thanks that they have been given a second chance to turn their lives in a different direction. I leave there each week humbled and thankful for my family and for the blessings God has given me.
Being a Stephen minister means being a Christian caregiver whose responsibility is to “plant and water” and allow God to provide the growth. To quote one of the phrases we use “Christians are responsible for the care and God is responsible for the cure”.