WEBSTER CITY - The Rev. Craig Blaufuss and Sharon Perry of First Congregational United Church of Christ, Webster City, were among 375 pastors and congregation leaders at a Stephen Series leader's training course July 31 to Aug. 6 in Pittsburgh, Pa.
They attended the one-week event held by the St. Louis-based Stephen Ministries organization. Participants from the United States, Canada and around the world attended to learn how to implement and direct Stephen Ministry, a system of Christian caregiving, in their congregations.
"Stephen Ministry gives First Congregational United Church of Christ an effective way to train and organize members to provide one-to-one Christian care to individuals struggling with a crisis like grief, divorce, loneliness, relocation, hospitalization for a terminal illness or unemployment," said Perry, a lay leader.
Blaufuss added, "The need for this type of care greatly exceeds what pastors alone can provide. All Christians are called to care for and love one another - it's not just the pastor's job. By equipping lay people, we can help them fulfill their calling as Christians and also expand the amount of caring ministry available through our church."
Blaufuss and Perry were trained as Stephen Leaders at the event.
One of their next steps will be to recruit, select and train members of Congregational United Church of Christ to be Stephen ministers, the ones who will provide one-to-one care. They will then match each Stephen minister with an individual in need of care and provide the Stephen ministers with supervision and continuing education.
The Stephen Ministry began in 1975 when Dr. Kenneth C. Haugk, a pastor and clinical psychologist in St. Louis, Mo., trained parishioners to help meet the needs for care in his congregation. The ministry was so successful that other congregations became interested, and Haugk founded the Stephen Ministries organization. Since then more than 10,000 congregations have become involved. They represent more than 150 Christian denominations and come from all 50 states, 10 Canadian provinces and 24 other countries.
The Stephen Ministries organization annually hosts six leader's training courses in the United States. More than 55,000 pastors and church leaders have been trained as Stephen leaders, and they, in turn, have trained more than 500,000 church members.
It is estimated that more than one million people have received the formal care of a Stephen minister, and millions more have been touched in an informal way.