Stephen Ministry was founded in 1975 in St. Louis by Dr. Kenneth C. Hough, who remains its Executive Director today. It has become a worldwide organization with more than 13,000 congregations in all 50 states, all 10 Canadian provinces, and 30 other countries. The ministry takes its name from Stephen, one of the first deacons (Acts 6:5), who was chosen by the apostles to provide caring ministry to those in need.

River Road Church began planning for Stephen Ministry in 2001 when three members and one minister went to Orlando for a week of intensive training to become Stephen Ministry leaders. In early 2002, the first training classes (50 hours) were held. Jean Cauble and Susan Phillips were in that first class. They are still active.

The art of listening is basic to being a Stephen Minister, who is instructed to listen 90% of the time. No attempts are made to suggest solutions to all problems. A former Stephen Minister at River Road, the late Linda Harmon, expressed it this way: “I am your Christian listening friend.” Typically, a Stephen minister and care receiver will meet for an hour every week, but sometimes two hours every two weeks works well. Everything a care receiver tells the Stephen Minister is completely confidential. A Stephen Minister does not know the names of the Care Receivers who are assigned to other Stephen Ministers.

Stephen Ministers have been trained to meet with those who are facing a wide variety of challenges. These include personal illness, illness of a family member, depression, grief, hospitalization, long-term care, divorce, child custody problems, changing relationships among family members, moving to a new community, loss of job, financial problems, and intense loneliness.

After training, new Stephen Ministers are commissioned by the congregation. They are then ready to be assigned to a care receiver. The care receivers have been in communication with the Minister of Pastoral Care, Dr. David Breckenridge, and/or one or more of the Stephen Leaders. The relationships usually last between four months and two years, though many times resulting friendships are maintained much longer. Our Stephen ministers often speak of receiving as much or more from the ministry as those they serve.

River Road has a very close-knit group of sixteen Stephen Ministers and Stephen Leaders who enjoy working together. In addition to monthly supervision meetings, Stephen ministers attend continuing education sessions four times a year. Recent sessions have included presentations on substance abuse, Alzheimers, and mindfulness.

In 18 years, 30 River Road members have served as Stephen Ministers. These have served approximately 115 care receivers. The total number of those impacted by the ministry cannot be calculated as such would include the families, friends, neighbors and colleagues of all of our Stephen ministers and care receivers.

If you are interested in becoming a Stephen Minister or you know someone who might need a Stephen Minister, you are encouraged to contact Dr. Breckenridge or one of the Stephen Leaders: Jean Cauble, Joyce Gibson, or Bette Schwall.

Written by Joyce Gibson

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