Being a Stephen Minister is not a lark, it’s a calling.
The diocese took the first steps toward establishing the grief ministry last year at the urging of Sister Kathy Adamski, with the assistance of Joanne Gilmore and Martha Vadney.
They put out the call, held a workshop and conducted training.
Now the first batch of ministers, who describe themselves as friends who will always listen, are ready to begin their work.
In a ceremony at St. Benedict Church on April 3, Sister Kathy, Gilmore and Vadney were commissioned as Stephen Minister leaders, and eight others took the final step to become volunteers in the healing service.
Michael Emanuele, a member of St. Benedict and the only man in the program, said they are anxiously waiting for their first assignment.
He said he is excited, humbled and hopeful.
Sister Kathy, pastoral associate at the church, said Stephen Ministers help in a variety of situations.
“There are many ways to grieve,” she said.
Although the death of a loved one is the most traumatic loss, volunteers also help people going through a divorce, or those caring for an ailing spouse or elderly parents. They offer an ear to those who have lost a job, or who are feeling isolated and lonely.
“We’re not there for a cure, we’re just there to listen,” Emanuele said. “Jesus will cure that person, we’re just there to walk with them until He does.”
Assignments are based on gender and other commonalities, and Emanuele said he has faith that other men will join the effort.
He and his wife Linda are among an eclectic group from parishes across the Lowcountry. One lady, Zenovie Gibson, came from Columbia and plans to start the program at her church.
Other volunteers include Pat Cline, Jan Day, CarolAnn Dumond, Micki O’Connell and Jane Ruggles.
Cline said she heard about the group just a few months after her oldest son died of a viral infection.
Jeffe was only 36, she said, her voice choked with emotion.
“At the time, I felt [hearing about the ministry] was a sign — a small miracle — that perhaps something useful could come out of my son’s death and I could use my experience to help someone else,” she said.
She found a kindred spirit and guiding voice in Gil-more, who also lost a son to an untimely death. Cline followed her advice and went through the training, saying it was healing and helpful. She came out knowing that Stephen Ministry was meant for her.
At the time, she lived in Surfside Beach with her husband Stephen, but a variety of factors brought them to Johns Island, to a small house near her other son Matthew, and his family.
“I feel that this is God’s plan for me,” she said. “Jeffe would want us to move forward and to be happy. I can’t help but think he’s had a hand in this.”
Cline said she has learned that everyone has some form of tragedy in their life. She feels that by helping others, she will help herself and her own family as well.
For Emanuele, the loss of his first career has been the impetus for reaching out to others.
At the time, he was living in New York and said unemployment was not as common as it is now. Then, it was awkward, especially since so much of a man’s conversation centers on what he does for work, Emanuele said.
His wife and two daughters were his constant support, but he said it was a long, lonely time.
“When you’ve got grieving to do, friends take to the hills,” he said.
He had to retrain for a new career and eventually found a job. The family moved south in 2002 when he retired, but Emanuele said he would have loved having a Stephen Minister to talk to during that time of loss.
Emanuele stresses the confidentiality factor of the group, noting that volunteers don’t identify their assignments to anyone, not even each other. He said he hopes that will make it easier for other men to come forward for help.
“To truly be a welcoming community, we have to let people know they’re not abandoned by the community or the Lord,” he said.
Want to help? St. Benedict Church will host a Stephen Ministry informational day on May 21 at the church, open to everyone. Call (843) 216-0039.