Stephen Ministers help those who are hurting

Friday, September 28, 2018 - Updated: 10:18 am

By JOHN FRANKO Staff Writer

Onome Omabele believes that if you love God and you want to serve him, you must reflect it in your love of others. The Stephen Ministry gives her the opportunity to do it.

“Every time I go out as a Stephen Minister I live Jesus,” she said.

Omebele is one of some 15 Stephen Ministers at St. John Neumann Parish in Franklin Park. The parish is among a handful in the diocese known to sponsor the ministry that equips and empowers lay ministers to provide high-quality, confidential, Christ-centered care to those who are hurting.

“We’re journeying with them,” Omabele said.

The Stephen Ministers meet with care-receivers on average for an hour a week, helping them face challenges such as a death in the family, job loss, loss of mobility and other life situations. They meet woman to woman, and man to man.

“We have the opportunity to listen to what they’re going through and pray with them,” Kathy Buzzard said. “We’ve seen changes in people’s lives through prayer.” 

Some of the relationships are short-term, while others last for longer periods of time. “It’s all about what God has in store,” Linda Young said.

She spoke of meeting with a longtime parishioner who had experienced a death in the family and was unsure of what to do with the family home. They prayed together, and the woman was able to come to see God’s plan for her.

The seeds for the ministry in the parish were planted by Carol Caruso, whose bedside experiences as a hospital nurse led her to wonder about who cares for the caregiver. She joined a group of people who took the 50-hour training course and the ministry was started at St. John Neumann in 2015.

Her husband, Deacon Rick Caruso, directs the ministry. He pointed out that the ministry follows Pope Francis’ mandate for the faithful to go out and minister to others, adding, “It’s a beautiful thing to witness.”

Father Al McGinnis, pastor of St. John Neumann, said the Stephen Ministry has been a blessing to the parish.

“It really goes both ways,” he said. “The trainings are well done and equip the Stephen Minister with tools and confidence to listen, express concern and share prayer. Isn’t this the intentional disciple who puts themselves at the need of others?”

The Stephen Ministers come together regularly to pray and support one another in their own struggles. The ministry is so confidential that they don’t even know the names of the people they are assisting.

The ministers do not provide suicide counseling, and severe cases are referred to professionals. A goal of the program is to help the Stephen Ministers feel comfortable in their role and not feel that they are in over their heads.

Deacon Caruso said that ministers must be assertive, yet compassionate, in challenging people to embrace what God’s plan is for them. They must be willing to “take their hands off the reins” and let God direct them.

Added Carol: “You have to have the confidence to know that God has your back in this.”

Buzzard said being a Stephen Minister has strengthened her prayer life and helped her to see the face of Christ in the people she meets. “You can’t help but be changed,” she said.

Ministers can be called to share “ugly” things, Young said, but must not judge. They are challenged to be the face and hands of Jesus. “To the best of your ability, you are meeting that challenge,” she said.

Omabele noted that she wanted to do something in the parish, and the ministry appealed to her.

“The Lord just kept pressing my heart,” she said. She added that the ministry has helped her to becoming more patient and caring, and has enriched her life. 

St. John Neumann welcomes people from other parishes to be members of the Stephen Ministry. The ministry has provided care to people from other parish communities.

The Franklin Park parish will soon join with Assumption in Bellevue and Sacred Heart in Emsworth as part of On Mission for The Church Alive! Carol Caruso hopes that members of the other parishes will become part of the ministry as ministers and care receivers. It is another way for laypeople to take some of the responsibility of ministry off the backs of clergy, she said.

“All you can do is embrace it, and God will give you the tools,” Carol said.

The Stephen Ministry was founded in St. Louis in 1975. It is used by more than 170 Christian denominations across the United States and Canada and in 30 other countries. More than 600,000 people have received training as ministers. More information is available by visiting www.stephenministries.org.

A training class for new ministers is set to begin in January at St. John Neumann. A workshop outlining the ministry will be Saturday, Sept. 29, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the parish, 2230 Rochester Road.

For information, contact Deacon Caruso at 412-366-2020, ext. 23, or e-mail stephenministrysjn@gmail.com.

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