• To learn more about the Stephen Ministry, go online at www.stephenministries.org.
• To request help from a local Stephen minister, contact any of the following churches: Christ the King Lutheran, (770) 889-5328; Concord Baptist, (770) 887-9482; Cumming First United Methodist, (770) 889-4580; First Baptist Cumming, (770) 887-2428; Parkway Presbyterian, (770) 889-8694; or St. Brendan’s Catholic, (770) 205-7969.
Two heads are usually better than one, and some area churches believe the same can be said of denominations.
Six Forsyth County churches have banded together through a national ministry to serve those in need from the community.
The churches, representing five denominations, each had participated in the Stephen Ministry for some time.
Through the program, church members receive an “intensive” 50 hours of training over five months to learn how to minister on a one-on-one basis. They then attend ongoing educational sessions two times per month.
The name Stephen comes from St. Stephen, the first lay person commissioned by the apostles to provide caring in the biblical book of Acts.
According to information from its headquarters in St. Louis, Mo., Stephen Ministry is “a national, nonprofit, transdenominational, religious and educational organization founded in 1975.”
More than 10,000 congregations worldwide are enrolled in the program.
Locally, Stephen leaders at First Baptist Cumming were developing their own Stephen Ministry earlier this year when they decided to contact the national office for a list of other local churches enrolled in the program.
“We knew [Cumming First United Methodist] had a ministry because they had helped us when we were getting started,” said
Paula Gault, a Stephen leader at First Baptist. “But we didn’t know a lot of the other churches had the program.”
The other churches — Christ the King Lutheran, Concord Baptist, Parkway Presbyterian and St. Brendan’s Catholic — were all happy to join forces.
“We started having network meetings in the late winter,” Gault said. “We now meet quarterly.”
Between the six churches, there are close to 100 trained Stephen ministers in the county.
Ron Preuss with Cumming First UMC said the ministers are assigned one “care receiver” at a time.
The care receivers are people going through difficult times such as a death in their family, divorce, hospitalization, unemployment or loneliness.
Care receivers must request assistance from the ministry for themselves.
Stephen Ministers will refer people with clinical issues such as depression or psychosis to professional mental health professionals.
“The main mission of Stephen Ministry is just to be Christian listeners,” Preuss said. “We’re not trained counselors.
“Our real ministry is for people with no church home. This is evangelism at its very best.”
Through the group’s networking meetings, Stephen leaders work together to provide a greater outreach to the community.
For instance, the churches have split the costs of advertising in local media outlets.
They also have created and distributed brochures featuring all the churches’ contact information to area nursing homes, assisted living facilities and funeral homes.
Another important aspect of the network is sharing ideas for the ongoing educational aspects of the programs.
Some of the ideas bounced around during a recent network meeting included contacting agencies such as the United Way and Community Connections for speakers.
“These meetings are great because you get other people’s ideas and you’re able to share your ideas with the other programs,” said Norman Baker, a Stephen leader at Parkway Presbyterian.
“We can make each program stronger by having this community with others.”