Ministry aids those in crisis - Catholic Courier

Ministry aids those in crisis

Deacon Jerry Skerrett and his wife, Lee, have been involved in Stephen Ministry at St. Mary’s of the Lake Parish in Ontario for almost 20 years. The Skerretts, who serve as pastoral associates at the parish, are Stephen Ministry leaders, helping to coordinate the ministry and leading training classes for parishioners wishing to join.

Stephen Ministers are lay people who have been trained to provide Christian care to individuals in crisis, Lee said. Each Stephen Minister is only assigned one individual — or care recipient — at a time, and the pair meets once a week for an hour, Deacon Skerrett added. A care recipient can be anyone going through a difficult time, including but not limited to illness, the death of a loved one, divorce or the loss of a job.

Stephen Ministers learn to listen carefully and non-judgmentally, which allows the care recipients to speak openly about their feelings and experiences. This often helps the care recipients begin to heal themselves, he said.

“The linchpin of a Stephen Minister’s training is to learn how to listen,” Deacon Skerrett said.

After listening, a Stephen Minister will pray for his or her care recipient, Lee Skerrett said. The minister will pray out loud to God, repeating the concerns the recipient expressed. People going through crises often feel that God has abandoned them or is ignoring them, and it’s powerful for them to see someone else communicating their concerns to God, she said. Stephen Ministers help care recipients see that God is not working against them, but is trying to help them through the crisis.

“Prayer is a big part of our ministry. We pray to God for them, using the words that they’ve just given us,” she said.

It is this focus on prayer that separates Stephen Ministry from run-of-the-mill counseling, Deacon Skerrett said.

“The nice thing with Stephen Ministry is we have the tools of our Christianity that we can use. Most counselors can’t do that,” he observed. The Stephen Minister “provides the atmosphere in which the person in crisis can tap into their own resources and open themselves up to God, who is the healer. We’re not lone soldiers out here, working with our own devices. God is in us and works through us.”

The goal of a Stephen Minister is not to offer a solution to the care recipient’s problem, but to help the recipient work through the problem and realize that God is on his or her side, said Sister Doreen Glynn, a Stephen Ministry leader and pastoral administrator at the parish.

Stephen Ministers often visit hospitals to see care recipients who are ill, and doctors and hospital staff are always happy to see the ministers come, said Betty Brayer, another Stephen Ministry leader at the parish.

“They treat us so well, and we are welcomed. We bring something that their technology and all their training can’t bring,” Brayer said. “They know that the spirit is very powerful and it works. When the person is spirit-filled, they get better faster.”

A Stephen Minister will meet with the care recipient until both parties have agreed that the situation has improved, Deacon Skerrett said. This can sometimes take months or even a year, as a person sometimes drifts from one crisis situation to the next, Lee Skerrett added. For example, the death of a child can have a snowball effect on a family, relatives have to deal not only with grief, but also with such consequences as family problems and loss of employment, she said.

More than 50 parishioners have become trained Stephen Ministers since the mid-1980s, and the ministers have handled nearly 300 cases since then, Lee Skerrett said. Currently, about 15 Stephen Ministers are active, with nine more going through the training process, she added.

“One thing to know is that God has chosen you,” Lee Skerrett told the nine trainees during a Jan. 3 class. “God has chosen each of us. I firmly believe that. There’s somebody out there that he knows is going to need your special gifts, your skills.”

Anne Saavedra, a member of the training class, said that the more she learns about the ministry, the more she believes that she was chosen for it.

“God has been calling me for two reasons — for me to help someone else, and for someone else to help me,” Saavedra said.

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