By Barb Arland-Fye
CORALVILLE — Fourteen members of St. Thomas More Parish, who will minister to individuals experiencing difficulties in their lives, have been commissioned as Stephen Ministers.
Father Walter Helms, pastor, commissioned the Stephen Ministers during the 11 a.m. Mass on May 23 at St. Thomas More Church. These lay Catholics have completed 50 hours of training in preparation for one-on-one, Christ-centered relationships with adult care receivers of the same gender. The ministers also participate in peer supervision and continuing education on an ongoing basis.
Meliza Wise — one of the parish’s three Stephen Ministry Leaders — provided the impetus for St. Thomas More to offer Stephen Ministry. As a new member of St. Thomas More Parish a couple of years ago, she met someone grieving the loss of a loved one. That experience brought to mind Stephen Ministry, which her previous parish in San Antonio, Texas, offered.
The Rev. Kenneth Haugk, Ph.D., a Lutheran pastor and clinical psychologist, developed the St. Louis-based ministry 35 years ago in response to needs he observed in his parish and community, and which he alone could not meet. More than 500,000 laypersons have been trained as Stephen Ministers and more than a million care receivers have benefited from the ministry, according to www.stephenministries.org.
Wise mentioned Stephen Ministry to Fr. Helms, who was familiar with the ministry because a Presbyterian church in the area offers it and another of his parishioners, the late Ann Martin, had suggested it to him. When Wise told Fr. Helms she would be willing to foster Stephen Ministry at St. Thomas More, he accepted her offer.
Melize asked Joan Garrity, a fellow fifth-grade religious education teacher, if she would be interested in helping get the ministry started. Garrity, whose professional background is teaching special education, readily agreed. “It just seemed to be what Christianity is all about.” Wise, Garrity and Connie Goldsmith are the ministry’s three leaders. They traveled to Florida in January for an intensive week of training that focused on listening skills, praying, being assertive as a Christian, maintaining boundaries and confidentiality, Wise said. They trained with nearly 400 other leaders from around the country “who just radiate the presence of God,” Wise said.
The leaders returned home and trained other Stephen Ministers. Their ministry provides care for people experiencing vocational stresses, residents of long-term care facilities, parents whose children present exceptional challenges, families adjusting to change, individuals who are lonely or discouraged, hospitalized, recovering from an accident, dealing with a terminal or chronic illness, caring for an ill or disabled person, grieving the death of a loved one or struggling with being separated, divorced or being a single parent.
“You’re a proactive listener; you pray with the person, but you only pray with them if you have their permission,” Garrity said.
When she was in fourth grade, she recalled, her mother suffered a stillbirth. While relatives were able to provide some comfort, Garrity thinks her mother would have benefited from Stephen Ministry had it been available.
“It’s just a Christian presence in people’s lives,” said Goldsmith, who serves as the referral coordinator for the parish’s program. She matches those needing care with the appropriate Stephen Ministers.
Another of the newly commissioned Stephen Ministers is Chris McCusker, a physical therapist who works in long-term care. In her work, she has the privilege of getting to know her patients and to care about them. Sometimes they open up their souls, and she simply listens. She believes Stephen Ministry would benefit people in long-term care. “God is a big part of healing,” she said.
The 14 members of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville who were commissioned as Stephen Ministers on May 23 were:
Joan Garrity, Connie Goldsmith, Bill Graf, Sandy Griebel, Lee Gullickson, Janet Happel, Chris Harris, Laurie Harris, Chris McCusker, Bob Squires, Char Svoboda, Mary Thompson, Meliza Wise and LuAnn Yanecek.