In 1987, a new ministry was started at FUMC and has been going, non-stop, ever since. Stephen Ministers are compassionate, generous people who give of their time so that someone who is struggling, for whatever reason, does not need to struggle alone. It is a testament to the caring heart of this congregation that this ministry has served so many for so long.

Stephen Ministers go through a 50-hour training program to equip them for service. We are currently finishing up a training program that has been conducted in cooperation with three other churches: Grace Lutheran, Kern UMC, and First Cumberland Presbyterian. There are 10 trainees who have received instruction from 10 different instructors, including pastors and Stephen Leaders from the different participating congregations.

This group has come together for nearly 20 weeks, meeting each time for two-and-a-half hours. Each week a different topic is covered, from effective listening skills and the value of empathy, to the mechanics of the program, to supporting information on potential circumstances that their future care receivers may be facing, such as grief, divorce, job loss and life-threatening illness. The goal of a Stephen Minister is not to fix their care-receiver’s difficulty, nor is it a volunteer counseling service. The goal is to be a caring, listening presence, who, with Christ-like compassion, accompanies their care receiver on their challenging path.

Some have questioned why so much training is necessary just to listen. In part, this is because the unfamiliar tends to heighten anxiety and the familiar lessens anxiety. Being familiar with common feelings and reactions to various circumstances, the Stephen Minister is better equipped to be a non-anxious, listening, caring presence. This compassion serves to remind the person who is in the midst of struggle that they are not alone and that they are indeed precious in God’s sight.

This year’s training will finish at the end of this month, and there will be a commissioning of the new Stephen Ministers at their respective churches. Besides meeting with individual care receivers, Stephen Ministers at FUMC visit people in the hospital, and they take communion to our homebound members.

Many who have served on mission trips return saying they received more than they gave. Similarly, being a Stephen Minister can not only be a personally rewarding experience, it can also deepen one’s faith and the experience of God’s felt presence in the world. Dan Ingersoll writes:

“In my 22 years as a Stephen Minister, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to share Christian caring with men who were grieving, terminally ill, or simply overwhelmed with the challenges of life. It’s hard to know how to express the tremendous feeling of peace and reward that I get from this activity. Most simply, when I visit someone who is struggling with a life crisis, I sense the very presence of God. There is something about intimate person-to-person connection that just feels godly. Some of my most meaningful spiritual moments have been holding my care-receiver’s hand—frequently in silence—as God uses me to comfort a grieving or fearful soul. I hope that I have been a help to my many care-receivers, but regardless, being a Stephen Minister has definitely changed me for good.”

If this sounds intriguing, let us know! If you think you might benefit from a Stephen Minister, or know someone else who might, please share this with us. Be assured that while Care Receivers are free to sing the praises of their Stephen Ministers this does not go both ways – services are provided on a fully confidential basis. Even the other Stephen Ministers do not know the names of their colleagues’ Care Receivers. For more information please reach out to Stephen Leader Dan Ingersoll (865-384-4664, or Pastor Jenny (, 865-483-4357).