My wife and I have been members of St. Stephen for a little over a year and we have grown spiritually here and love this church more than any we have attended.
I’m pretty old…I’m even older than Pastor Ballentine…but in all of those years and despite attending a number of churches, I don’t think that I have seen so many positive ministries undertaken within a church on behalf of others in the church or in the surrounding community.
Let me give you some examples of ministries at St. Stephen…
Some of the ministries have been large cooperative efforts with other churches and groups in Williamsburg aimed at helping those who are less fortunate. Our participation with Community of Faith Missions to help shelter and prepare meals for the homeless in Williamsburg is a wonderful ministry that has a huge impact. Seeing the appreciation those individuals have for a great well-rounded hot meal and a good safe place to sleep after a tough day is a huge reward!
Some of our members work with the FISH program to make sure others in the community have food, clothing and other necessities that they may not otherwise be able to buy for themselves.
Other ministries are very visible and greatly enhance the spirituality of our worship. The Music Ministry within our church is nothing short of amazing. Thanks not only to Karen but also to the incredible talents of the other musicians in our midst, we are lifted up on a weekly basis.
There are also ministries that we don’t always realize are there…until they are not there, like George Vonderheide keeping the air conditioning going on these hot days, or Chris and Randy Punchard with their Gardening and Lawn Mowing crews that have the outside looking beautiful and manicured each Sunday. And don’t forget the behind the scenes work of those arranging acolyte schedules, usher schedules, lectors, alter guild, communion bread baking, and all the other details that keep our services running so well week after week. And Reed Nestor keeping us informed with the Quill in our mailboxes each month.
One very successful ministry in our church that has us well known throughout Williamsburg is the Preschool, which continues to provide an excellent early learning experience. That experience doesn’t just happen….It is carefully nurtured and overseen by the administrator, by the teaching staff, by an advisory board and by the pastors. And I am always delighted to see how well the church turns out to eat at the fundraisers for the school… Well, maybe a good turnout for food isn’t that surprising…
The College Ministry, coordinated by Pastor Ballentine, has been hugely successful as demonstrated by the beautiful service conducted by our William and Mary Students just before graduation a few weeks ago. The weekly meals provided to the college students by the good cooks in our congregation also add a great deal to that ministry.
The Health Ministry has the important task of reaching out to those medically challenged in our congregation. They also help those of us fortunate enough to be in good health, stay that way.
The Social Ministry helps to make our church a home, often supplying wonderful food in times of celebration or in times of bereavement.
There are a number of other ministries I have noted in our church that have made me incredibly proud to be here…
Like the crew led by Harlan Schone that typically builds ramps for shut-ins, but when a house burned down and a man and his ailing wife were left stranded, they “ramped up” their game and built a house instead of a ramp…
Or the members of the church buying new gym shoes for whole classes of school kids that would otherwise have to go without…
Or the large number of volunteers that without fanfare, go and check on shut-ins, often taking communion for those who have not been able to get to church for a while…
Or the goodly number of congregation members who are caretakers for family members in failing health or with various stages of dementia.
The outpouring of love by the congregation in adopting an immigrant family, who otherwise would not have a Christmas last December, and the generosity and thoughtfulness in the gifts they selected for each family member…
I know of one artist in our church who had a recent art show and made a donation to the church for each painting sold…
And how much have we benefitted when experts in our congregation enlighten us with programs such as Nancy Egloff’s presentation on “Tenacity” at Jamestown, or the timely legal insights on immigration law from Sharon Powell.
Needless to say, the caring and the ministries within St. Stephen are endless.
Well, now let me get down to what I particularly want to highlight in our congregation today…
This year, our congregation has reached a great milestone. We at St. Stephen have now been a Stephen Ministry congregation for twenty-five years.
Let’s think about that for a few minutes…
That means that for the last twenty five years, lay members of this congregation, like Kathy, Pete and Alison who were commissioned today, have committed to and completed extensive training in order to help men or women who may be down and struggling.
Those receiving care from a Stephen Minister may have lost a loved one, gone through a divorce, felt lonely or depressed, gone through a major or debilitating illness, lost a job, or may have had some other major challenging life experience. They may be the caretaker of someone with dementia or failing health.
In such situations, Stephen Ministers in our congregation have met with their care receivers regularly, usually weekly, for months, sometimes even for years, to carry on a supportive, caring, spiritual relationship. They have helped others through challenges that many of us will have to face at one time or another as we go forward through life.
These woman-to-woman or man-to-man ministries have been caring and thoughtful, free of charge but alwayspriceless.
These ministries are veryconfidential. Even in supervision groups, identifying information or details are not revealed; only non-identifying information that allows each individual to receive the best ministry possible is discussed. Therefore, each care receiver can feel confident in sharing their innermost concerns with their Stephen Minister, knowing that those concerns will remain confidential.
The Pastors and the Stephen Leaders coordinate the Stephen Ministers within the Congregation, and keep the Stephen Ministry going strong. At St Stephen, Pastor Ballentine, Pastor Griffin and Stephen Leader Jane Wills deserve tremendous credit. They, with God’s help, have done great work and have helped many individuals by working with and through the Stephen Ministers.
In addition, the many Stephen Ministers who have served our congregation over the years truly have been sent by God. The Stephen Ministers have great trust placed in them by their care receivers, their pastors, their Stephen Leaders and our congregation. They truly are given the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Christ and to help many of us in the most difficult times of our lives. Stephen Ministers are not there to replace psychiatric care or professional counseling but are often a welcome addition to add spiritual support and long-term care through extended challenges.
The care extended by the Stephen Ministers is Christ-centered. As Jesus prayed according to the Gospel of John, “I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” He has taught believers in him to go forward with Christ-centered caring relationships in his name.
Congratulations and thanks to all Stephen Ministers of the Congregation for your contributions to this twenty-five year milestone.
Now for the challenge going forward…
We have a job for every adult in the congregation!
Don’t worry! Not everyone needs to become a Stephen Minister…
However, we do need a few more good men and women to consider becoming Stephen Ministers.
Yes, there is a fairly major time commitment for training, meeting with your care receiver, and for supervision
But the rewards are great…..Most Stephen Ministers would tell you it is one of the most rewarding things they have ever done.
We aren’t necessarily looking for big talkers…..We are looking for good listeners, who can internalize and take to heart what their care receiver is experiencing and provide strength and spiritual support to help with his or her challenges. But most importantly, we need someone who can reliably be there for him or her in a time of need.
Another task available….
We always need people in the congregation who can sense when things are not right for their friends: Who can tell when their friends are under stress or duress. Those friends may be individuals who would greatly benefit from having a Stephen Minister. If you know of anyone who could be helped by a pastoral visit or possibly having a Stephen Minister, call Pastor Griffin.
And finally, another important task…
If someone suggests to you that you consider getting a Stephen Minister yourself, give it some careful thought. They probably have looked at you lovingly and have seen you suffering or have seen you alone, possibly dejected. We men are particularly slow at admitting that we could use a little help. Be open to your friend’s suggestion.
One last important note about the Stephen Ministry…Of upmost importance to the continued success of the Stephen Ministry is confidentiality. If you have concerns about a friend and are seeking help, please do so by direct conversation or by phone but not by e-mail or social media.
Again, I congratulate our congregation on this great anniversary and on its many wonderful, large and small, collective and individual, but all caring and heartfelt ministries.
God is with us all.
June 2, 2019