Stephen ministers train in Cayuga County - Catholic Courier

Stephen ministers train in Cayuga County

Debbie Wayne was intrigued when she read a notice about Stephen Ministry in her parish bulletin a few months ago.

The thought of becoming a Stephen minister — a lay person trained to provide Christian care to individuals in crisis — appealed to her. She felt God was calling her to join the ministry even though she wasn’t sure how she’d fit a new commitment into her already jam-packed schedule. She decided she couldn’t ignore that calling after two different people called to ask if she’d considered becoming a Stephen minister.

"That kind of validated it. Then I had to discern, should I actually do it? We just have a lot going on and I didn’t know if I could do it, but I just said, you know, I’m going to do it," Wayne said.

Wayne is one of four Cayuga County Catholics currently training to become Stephen ministers. All four are being trained by Bernie Tomasso, pastoral minister for Auburn’s St. Hyacinth and St. Francis of Assisi parishes, but the ministry is open to everyone in Auburn and northern Cayuga County.

"The way we’ve described (the program’s mission) is to bring Christ to others in Cayuga county. It’s Christian caregiving. Certainly if you’re (bringing) Christ you go where the need is," Tomasso explained.

Stephen Ministry is a worldwide program that began more than 30 years ago, and there are active Stephen Ministries in Wayne and Tioga counties as well as the Rochester area, Tomasso said. Stephen ministers care for people who are grieving the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or a marriage, or a health crisis such as cancer, among other things. An individual experiencing a crisis often will be surrounded by concerned family and friends in the immediate aftermath of the crisis, but after a few weeks or months that support may peter out, Tomasso said. This is where a Stephen minister’s care comes in handy, he added.

"Sometimes when you’re going through a crisis you just want someone to listen. Part of the healing process is just knowing that someone cares, someone knows you’re still hurting," Wayne added. "It’s not that we can solve someone’s problems, but we can be a support and someone to listen and guide them. I do think a big part is authentic listening, really being there for the person and letting them know you really care."

Listening is one of the many topics covered during the 50 hours of training required for prospective Stephen ministers. The training sessions are spread out over 20 weeks and cover such additional topics as communication, ministering to people dealing with grief and depression, and bringing the caregiver relationship to a close. A good deal of time also is spent on confidentiality, as the relationship between Stephen ministers and their care recipients is always completely confidential, Tomasso said. Care recipients may choose to tell others about their Stephen ministers, but the ministers are not allowed to tell anyone who they’re ministering to or share details of their interactions.

Stephen ministers in training also learn the limits of their ministry. They don’t attempt to counsel suicidal individuals, for example, and immediately refer such people to qualified mental-health professionals, Tomasso said. Ministers in training learn about the various resources available in the community and ways they can connect their future care recipients with those resources.

Prospective ministers must complete an application process and commit to two years of service before beginning their training. Once their training is complete and they go out into the field, they continue to meet together once a month to further their training and support each other, which is one of the many attractive aspects of the program, Tomasso said.

"It’s a unique program where the caregiver also receives ongoing affirmation, ongoing supervision, and the caregiver is not in it alone," he said.

There’s still a lot of training left for Wayne to complete before she becomes a full-fledged Stephen minister, but she’s looking forward to helping people who are suffering and comforting people who are in pain. She views her ministry as a way to thank God for the many blessings she has received.

"They need us to be Christ to them and reach out. We’re not perfect, we’re fallen, but we’re here. We won’t always say or do the right thing, but our intention is good, to reach out," Wayne said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Anyone interested in learning more about the Cayuga County Stephen Ministry should contact Bernie Tomasso at 315-246-3440 or e-mail him at

Tags: Cayuga County News
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