By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
CORALVILLE — An empty nester, a new parishioner and a nurse stood beaming before a full St. Thomas More Church on Jan. 25 as Father Stephen Page, the pastor, commissioned them as Stephen Ministers.
“They have been equipped with the necessary skills to be compassionate, faith-filled and non-judgmental caregivers to those who need support in their times of grief or life challenges,” Stephen Ministry leader Meliza Wise told the parish.
In preparation for the commissioning, the three new Stephen Ministers participated in 50 hours of training for the St. Louis-based caring ministry. When someone calls the parish to request a Stephen Minister, the leaders, Wise and Lee Gullickson, consult with the individual requesting help and decide which Stephen Minister would be the best match. The ministry is not intended to replace psychiatric care or professional counseling, but to offer a listening ear, faith-based hope and encouragement. Confidentiality is maintained.
Though bonded by a common interest in serving others, each of the newly commissioned Stephen Ministers has a unique reason for serving.
A new empty nester, Pam Bourjaily, had been interested in the ministry since it was first offered at the parish in 2011. With free time available, she made the commitment to become a Stephen Minister and will participate in bi-weekly Stephen Ministry meetings in addition to serving individuals requesting help.
“It seemed like a way to serve others and think about what it means for me to say ‘I’m a Christian’ and minister to someone else,” she said, adding that the training challenged her desire to “fix things.” Stephen Ministers aim to help people sustain hope. “We are not cure givers, we are care givers.”
Ann Petrzelka is new to St. Thomas More Parish and sought out Stephen Ministry training as a way to get involved with the faith community. She felt the ministry was a good fit for her interest in people. “I love to listen to peoples’ stories. When you are present to people, you get to hear those stories. I get to share my love for others and receive their love in return.”
Ann Elsbecker, a registered nurse, said she enjoys caring for people. She thought Stephen Ministry would be a way to nurture people in a different way. “I like to be there for people. It is enlightening to learn how to just be there for someone.”
Wise is excited to add the three new Stephen Ministers to parish ministry, especially as word of the program spreads. While many callers are parish members, more and more callers are from other parishes or are non-Catholics in the Coralville area. “People are hearing about what (Stephen Ministry) can do and what we can offer. Word is getting out.”
With the addition of the women, 28 St. Thomas More parishioners have been trained since the ministry’s inception. Like the other Stephen Ministers, Wise said the three new ministers have the potential to offer a listening ear to persons in a variety of situations, including parental struggles, unemployment and spiritual crises. “We try to walk with them as they go on their journey.”
To learn more about Stephen Ministry contact Lee Gullickson at (319) 331-5620 or Meliza Wise at (319) 351-9297.