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Stephen Ministry - Faith Community Support for the Behavioral Health Community

6/20/2012 8:00:00 AM
Written By:
James “Jay” Faggart

In 1975, Dr. Kenneth C. Haugk, a pastor and clinical psychologist, developed training for caregivers who could assist him in providing "distinctively Christian care" to members of his congregation. After training nine people to be Stephen Ministers, these enthusiastic caregivers encouraged Dr. Haugk to offer the Stephen Ministry training to other congregations. As of 2012, over 500,000 Stephen Ministers and 60,000 Stephen Leaders have been trained, representing over 150 Christian denominations, in all 50 states, 10 Canadian provinces and 23 other countries.

After a 2-year commitment of service and completing 50 hours of training, which includes "When and How to Use Mental Health Professionals and Other Community Resources," a Stephen Minister is commissioned by church leadership, then assigned care receivers of the same gender. They attend a peer supervision group twice a month for support, accountability and guidance. They also attend continuing education classes several times a year to maintain and enhance their care-giving skills.

So what exactly do Stephen Ministers do? Stephen Ministry is a confidential ministry, for those who are struggling with a crisis, such as:

  • Grieving the death of a loved one
  • Hospitalized or recovering from hospitalization
  • Lonely or discouraged
  • Coping with a terminal illness
  • Unemployed or in a job crisis
  • Experiencing a spiritual crisis

When in crisis, we all need someone with whom we can share, in confidence, our deepest feelings of hurts, frustrations, anxieties and fears without being judged, admonished or ignored. A Stephen Minister is the attentive, non-judgmental and compassionate listener who provides Christian support and care, who will walk with us during times of crisis. We meet once a week for an hour, and it is not unusual to provide caring support for a year or more.

Most importantly, we believe God is the Healer in this relationship. We are open and willing to talk about spiritual issues, but we do not impose our beliefs on others. You do not have to be a member of "our" church, or even attend a church to have a Stephen Minister.

Stephen Ministers are not counselors, therapists or physicians. Some care receivers need professional care which is beyond the knowledge and skills of a Stephen Minister. If a Stephen Minister recognizes that their care receiver has a behavioral health issue, e.g., severe depression, addiction, suicidal tendencies, they must refer them to the appropriate behavioral health organization.

When it is determined that professional care is necessary, the Stephen Minister or a Stephen Leader will inform the care receiver and assist him or her in obtaining the required care. Depending upon the circumstances, the caring relationship with the Stephen Minister may have to be interrupted or terminated to allow for effective care by a professional. When professional care is required, the relationship with the Stephen Minister may only resume after the care receiver has met with the professional and has received permission from the professional for the Stephen Ministry relationship to continue.

As a Stephen Minister, I have had care receivers who were receiving care from a Psychiatrist or Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and attending group therapy.

In 2007, the Williamsburg Stephen Ministry Network was formed to exchange ministry information among congregations, conduct joint core training of Stephen Ministers, and share continuing education opportunities. A major benefit of the network is the ability to consider our Stephen Ministers as a resource to meet the needs of a member church or the community at large.

Need a Stephen Minister? Contact one of our network members: Bruton Parish Episcopal, King of Glory Lutheran, New Town United Methodist Church (UMC), Our Saviour's Evangelical Lutheran (Norge), St. Martin's Episcopal, St. Stephen Lutheran, Wellspring UMC, Williamsburg Community Chapel and Williamsburg UMC.

Want to know more about Stephen Ministry? Visit   http://www.stephenministries.org/ and PBS Religion and Ethics, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/episodes/april-9-2010/stephen-ministry/6044/ , and view these videos:

Jay Faggart has been a Stephen Minister and Leader for 12 years. He applies his 45+ years of government, corporate, personal, and ministry experience as an advocate and volunteer in the Behavioral Health Community, focusing on those in need of Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services. Activities include:

  • Behavioral Health Community Advocate for Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services Williamsburg-James City County, Virginia
  • SpiritWorks Foundation Recovery Advisory Council
  • Virginia Community Re-entry Initiative Council
  • Colonial Area Crisis Intervention Team (CIT)  Implementation Stakeholder, CIT Certified
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