Saturday, June 17, dawned sunny, clear, and mild over RVA. It promised to be a wonderful day for any outdoor activity: gardening, golf, kid’s soccer and tee ball, swimming, you name it.

That gorgeous morning found me at the corner of River and Ridge Roads indoors in a lower level room; and I was not alone. The Stephen Ministry Class of 2017 had gathered to commence our training on how to minister to those facing challenges. I somewhat knew what lay ahead. Then I learned that there would be 50 hours of in-class training based in part on 1,050 pages of outside reading. What had I gotten myself into?

Early on, slips of paper were passed out with quotations on them. As soon as I opened and read mine from Stephen Covey I knew I was in the right place.

“Most people listen in order to reply, not understand.”
– Stephen Covey

Listening is at the heart of the Stephen Ministry, and a skill in short supply these days, I fear. Only by listening to our care receivers can Stephen Ministers help them through their troubles, whether they be grief, divorce, financial difficulty, loneliness, a spiritual crisis, terminal illness, or countless other life difficulties.

Stephen Ministers do not assume they have all the “answers” or “solutions” to “fix” things. Rather, they seek to provide emotional and spiritual support to those who are hurting, one person at a time.

“A shared sorrow is half a sorrow.
A shared joy is twice a joy.” 
– Swedish proverb

Sometime this fall six of us will join the dozen plus members of our church’s team of Stephen Ministers. Under the tutelage of experienced, dedicated, and skilled lay care givers and supervised by our ministerial staff, especially Dan Bagby, we will have strived to be prepared to begin a caring, one-on-one relationship in which we listen and encourage.

A cherished Baptist tradition is the priesthood of all believers. By extension all of us are called to be sensitive, ministering to the needs of others. A centuries old prayer is one we all can offer.

“God, grant that I may not so much seek 
to be consoled as to console, 
to be understood as to understand, 
to be loved as to love”
– St. Francis of Assisi

Written by Scott Leake

Originally published in the 2017 Fall Quarterly Explorer

This Sunday we will commission our new Stephen Ministers: Beverly Geissler, Gladys Fleming, Scott Leake, Joyce Lesher, Christie Lessels, and Bill Thurston.