New Stephen Ministers answer calling to help the grieving

Father Wally Helms, pastor of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville, commissions five new Stephen Ministers and one Stephen Leader during the 11 a.m. Mass on Aug. 28. They are, from left:  JoAnn Miller, Ron Conner, Carol Lyon, Kim Spading, Theresa Kopatich and Lee Gullickson.

By Barb Arland-Fye

CORALVILLE — When Lee Gullickson retired from his full-time accounting job to enter church ministry, he naturally settled into a niche as finance administrator for his parish, St. Thomas More. Through his participation in the Davenport Diocese’s Ministry Formation Program (MFP), he’s discovered something else about himself.

“I find myself to be a compassionate person, so when I learned about Stephen Ministry, it rang a bell,” he said. The program focuses on one-on-one, Christ-centered relationships between adult caregivers and care receivers of the same gender. His parish inaugurated the program last year with 14 Stephen Ministers, including Gullickson. Having worked with his first care receiver, “I know this is something God was leading me into.”

On Sunday, Aug. 28, Gullickson — who continues to serve as part-time finance administrator at St. Thomas More — was commissioned as a Stephen Leader. Five new Stephen Ministers were commissioned during the same ceremony at the 11 a.m. Mass, bringing the total number of Stephen Ministers and Leaders to 19.


“As Christians who are part of the priesthood of all believers, all of us are called to offer ourselves to our Lord in thanksgiving for what God has done and continues to do for us in Jesus Christ,” Father Wally Helms, the pastor, said during the commissioning service. “But it is also our privilege to recognize and support those who are trained for specific ministries in this congregation, especially today as we recognize and affirm our newest Stephen Ministers as well as this Stephen Leader who will help direct this ministry.”

These lay Catholics completed 50 hours of training in preparation for their ministry and also participate in peer supervision and continuing education on an ongoing basis. Gullickson, one of four Stephen Leaders, completed leadership training this year. The Rev. Kenneth Haugk, Ph.D., a Lutheran pastor and clinical psychologist, developed the St. Louis-based ministry 35 years ago in response to needs he observed in his parish and community.

Stephen Ministers are not professional counselors, and their training teaches them what they can and cannot provide, Gullickson said. They are equipped to talk with and listen to individuals who have suffered a loss – a death, a job, a dream. Caregivers strive to help care receivers make the journey through loss more productive and perhaps shorter than if they were journeying alone. “We are caregivers, not cure givers. God is the cure giver,” Gullickson said.

New Stephen Minister Ron Conner, who lost his wife Carole to cancer two years ago, said that experience — and feeling as if there was no one to turn to — inspired him to want to help others. “I felt like my calling was being there for other people.”

JoAnn Miller, who works at the University of Iowa as a health coach in the faculty and staff wellness program, first learned about Stephen Ministry from friends at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Iowa City who were involved in the program there. “This is something I really want to do; I felt called to it,” the new Stephen Minister said.

Husband and wife Chris and Laurie Harris, who were commissioned as Stephen Ministers last year, feel honored to serve. When Chris and his first care receiver said goodbye at the conclusion of their care-giving relationship, Chris became teary-eyed when the other man expressed his appreciation. “I got a lot out of it; he got a lot out of it,” Chris said.

Twelve years ago, when she was going through a very difficult time, a Stephen Minister helped Laurie to heal by being nonjudgmental and a good listener. “It’s wonderful to give back and help somebody else,” Laurie said.

Stephen Minister Sandy Griebel, also commissioned last year, has worked with two care receivers at one time. “It’s been a privilege,” the wife and mother of three teenagers said. “I feel like prayer is such a huge part of it. It’s just an experience I’ll never forget. I’ve bonded with these people and I’ll know them for the rest of my life.”

Meliza Wise, one of the parish’s four Stephen Ministry Leaders, said about 15 individuals have received care. About six are receiving care from Stephen Ministers now.

“We offer Stephen Ministry to anyone in the community facing a challenge or crisis in life,” she said.

For more information about St. Thomas More’s Stephen Ministry, call Connie Goldsmith at (402) 932-3702, Lee Gullickson at (319) 331-5620 or Joan Garrity at (319) 339-9896.

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