Written by: Peter Sanchez, Catholic Star Herald Reporter.
In 2011, Sewell’s Church of the Holy Family was the first parish in the diocese of Camden to utilize the Stephen Ministry program, a worldwide initiative that trains Christian men and women to help their spiritual brothers and sisters in difficult times.
Today, the diocese has a total of 12 parishes in different stages of the program, from leadership training, to parishioner training, and to full-fledged ministry.
Four parish communities recently completed their first Stephen Ministry training: Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton in Absecon, Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Galloway Township, Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Lindenwold, and Church of the Incarnation in Mantua.
The ministry’s namesake, Saint Stephen, was one of the first deacons to be called by the apostles to serve others. There are currently more than 600,000 Stephen Ministers serving in 12,000 church congregations in the United States, Canada and 24 other countries.
The parish Stephen Ministries in the Diocese of Camden are under the guidance of the diocese’s Vitality Catholic Healthcare Services.
Carla and Frank Hanley are Stephen leaders at Our Lady of Guadalupe. In April 2015, they traveled to St. Louis for leadership training and brought it back to their parish. On June 5, 10 individuals were commissioned at Our Lady of Guadalupe, after undergoing 50 hours of training designed to help them understand how to aid those going through spiritual hardship, divorce, job loss or grieving the loss of a loved one.
The parish is currently trying to raise awareness for its new initiative.
“We want people to know that it helps to talk to someone who is a skilled, Christ-centered, compassionate listener, who can help them resolve their issues,” Frank said.
“Our job is an extension of the pastor’s work” in reaching out to hurt people, said Peter Guzzetti, Stephen leader at Church of the Incarnation, and former hospital administrator at Crozer Keystone Health System.
Like the Lindenwold community, his parish is trying to get the word out about the new ministry through bulletin notices, pulpit announcements and meetings with leaders of other parish ministries.
For 63-year-old Clay Stiles, his work at Our Lady of Guadalupe is a way of giving back for the blessings he received.
After he and his wife lost their first child due to spina bifida, when she was just 5 years old, “I was lost for a long time,” he said.
Already a cantor during Sunday Masses, Stiles figured that the Stephen Ministry “would be a good way to help someone in trouble, just as my faith and community helped me.”
Jack Pfeifer is a minister with nine others at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, and says he and his fellow care-givers “have an empathetic, compassionate nature.”
“We want people to know that there are people ready, willing, and able to listen, and let people know that there’s a light out there,” he said.
Father Sanjai Devis, VC, Director of Stephen Ministry for VITALity Catholic Healthcare Services in the Diocese of Camden, with the Stephen Ministers of Holy Family Parish in Sewell.