The Church of the Holy Family in Sewell commissioned its third group of Stephen Ministers at Masses on Dec. 13-14. The 14 new Stephen Ministers give Holy Family 56 trained parishioners capable of providing confidential Christian caring to members of the parish and surrounding community who have suffered a loss or are going through a difficult time.
Stephen Ministry is a world-wide ministry named after St. Stephen, one of the first seven deacons called by the Apostles to serve the community. Dr. Kenneth Haugk, a Lutheran minister and clinical psychologist, developed the program in 1975 to provide compassionate care to members of his congregation experiencing transitional crises. Today, more than 600,000 Stephen Ministers have been commissioned, representing over 12,000 congregations throughout the United States, Canada and 24 other countries.
Under the leadership of Father Robert Hughes, then pastor in Sewell and now Vicar General of the Camden Diocese, Holy Family became the first parish in the diocese to offer this ministry.
“Having experienced the dedication and caring of the Stephen Ministers at Holy Family Parish, I am convinced that Stephen Ministry has the power to transform lives and renew our parishes,” he said.
“The training received by those selected as Stephen Ministers first changes them and their families. As they minister to those in need of peer support, Stephen Ministers change the hearts and minds of those whom they serve. This in turn awakens the parish to the power of the Holy Spirit at work in their midst,” he said.
“The applications of Stephen Ministry, I believe, are many as the core training is a basic formation in lay ministry,” he continued. “I hope the good work of Stephen Ministry grows throughout the diocese.”
Holy Family’s parochial vicar, Father Sanjai Devis, introduced Stephen Ministry at Holy Family in 2011. The parish commissioned its first group of 26 Stephen Ministers in 2012. Another 16 Stephen Ministers completed the training in 2013.
Holy Family’s Stephen Ministers completed more than 60 hours of formal training on listening, dealing with grief, assertiveness, confidentiality and more specific topics that may affect the care receiver such as difficulties in a relationship, adjusting to a new stage in life, relocation, illness or the death of a loved one.
Stephen Ministers meet weekly with their care receivers. The ministers also meet twice a month for on-going peer supervision and continuing education.
The training emphasizes that Stephen Ministers offer care, and Christ himself offers the cure for the care receivers.
Another key part of the Stephen Ministry is the confidentiality that exists between the caregiver and the care receiver, enabling freer discussion of issues and greater opportunity for healing.
“The Stephen Ministry is a wonderful and very beneficial ministry to our parish. I have been highly impressed with their dedicated, compassionate care for people who are grieving the loss of a loved one, experiencing broken relationships, hardships of life, or any pain or suffering,” said Father John P. Picinic, pastor at Holy Family.
“Many of those who have walked the journey become Stephen Ministers themselves,” he added. “This is one of our largest ministries and it continues to grow. I am very grateful to these committed brothers and sisters who are building up the Body of Christ here at Holy Family. God bless our Stephen Ministry and all of those involved.”
Father Sanjai said he is moved by the response of parishioners to the ministry. “It is deeply inspiring to see the number of people in our parish who have answered God’s call to love one another as He has loved us and to help people through Stephen Ministry. The commitment is a significant one, but it is a joy to watch the ministers accept this mission and become God’s instruments to bring consolation and healing to many in the parish and in the community.”
Frank McAleer, part of the first group of Stephen Ministers at Holy Family and now one of the leaders, noted the effect the program has on the ministers. “I became a Stephen Minister intending to comfort and help people who are experiencing great pain in their lives. But being a Stephen Minister has taught me to have greater trust in the Lord, to pray more effectively, to be a better listener, and to enjoy the fellowship and prayers of other Stephen Ministers. This ministry is truly a blessing for all those it touches.”
Newly commissioned Stephen Minister Cindy Sulla agreed. “I have learned so much about how special this ministry is, not only for our care receivers, but for our own personal growth and spirituality. I feel amazingly blessed to be part of such a ministry.”
Elaine Lucchesi, who also was recently commissioned, noted the role Stephen Ministers can play in supporting the work of the priests, deacons and consecrated religious in the diocese by just “being with those who are suffering and sit with them an hour each week as a compassionate listener.”
Phil Curran, another newly-commissioned Stephen Minister, said “The Stephen Ministry provided tools I needed to help people. The most important is just being there to listen and provide spiritual support.”
For information about the Stephen Ministry at Holy Family, contact Father Sanjai Devis at 856-228-1616.
Bob Sullivan is a parishioner and Stephen Minister at Holy Family Parish, Sewell.