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Stephen Minister

June 18, 2021

What is it like to be a Stephen Minister?

Someone suggested that the term “Minister” can be daunting. Most of us think of a minister as someone with university and seminary training who has studied Greek, Hebrew, theology and other disciplines. Stephen Ministers are also called “care-givers”, which is better description of the role. A Stephen Minister provides on-going support to someone who is going through a tough time such as divorce, serious illness, death of a loved one, losing employment, etc. The primary qualification is having a heart for others and wanting to make a difference in their lives. When Stephen Ministry was founded by Dr. Kenneth C. Haugk in 1975, his first group of Stephen Ministers included a secretary, a teacher, an insurance agent, a businesswoman, a student, an executive, a homemaker, a beautician, and a retiree. From my experience, that’s a pretty typical group.

I was trained as a Stephen Minister at my Presbyterian Church in California. After training, each Stephen Minister (care-giver) is matched up by a leader with a care-receiver who has requested a Stephen Minister. The program is highly confidential. Only the leader and care-giver know the identity of the care-receiver unless the care-receiver chooses to reveal the relationship.

One of my care-receivers was a woman who had recently been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) and openly shared that I was her Stephen Minister. Pat was a retired health-care worker, who was operating a small senior-care facility in her home with the assistance of one employee. She had adopted two teen-aged brothers and raised them to adulthood. They were her only family in the area and were busy with their own lives. When we first met, Pat had only slight symptoms in one arm and was hopeful that her disease would progress slowly. We met for about an hour each week. Pat told me about her doctor’s reports, but she also talked about various decisions she had to make, her experiences raising two black sons in a predominately white, upper-class community, and her concerns for her sons and the elderly folks in her home. After about a year of meeting, when her symptoms had progressed more quickly than expected, she enrolled in a clinical trial. Then, after very serious consideration of the pros and cons, she made the difficult decision to sell her home and move to Arizona to live with her sister. She passed away a few months after moving and her sisters came to our church to hold a memorial service for her, and requested that I give the eulogy. What did I do? I was just there. I couldn’t cure her disease or make decisions for her. But I was a safe space where she could talk about all her fears and hopes and concerns. It was a blessing for me to walk with Pat during her struggles and she constantly expressed her appreciation and thanks for our times together.

As we explore the possibility of starting a Stephen Ministry program at Catonsville Presbyterian Church, we need to have a group of people who are committed to going through the training and serving. If you feel called to help those go- ing through difficult times, this could be your opportunity. Please contact me (Charre Symms at 530-219-5810 or or Pastor Dorothy Boulton, if you would like more information. And mark your calendar to attend our next Zoom meeting to discuss the program on June 17 at 7 pm. You can also find information about the ministry at, including testimonials from care-receivers, care-givers, and Stephen Ministry churches.