The Conyers First United Methodist Church Stephen Ministry includes, front from left, Stephen Leader Gail Haney, Kay Ulmer, Stephen Leader Charlotte Kinsey, back from left, Cathy Keller, Keith Keller, and Stephen Leader Phoebe Coryea. Other Stephen Ministers not shown are Glenda George, Beth Russell, Kris Harwood, Carol Schuier, Nadine Yoder, Cecil Goodroe, John Hyde, Pat Slaughter, Toni Gibbs, Hunter Penton and John Ulmer. (Staff Photo: Karen Rohr)
Guests will go home with trips to the beach, meals at area restaurants, unique art and more than 200 other items up for auction when Conyers First United Methodist Church hosts a community-wide event March 22 benefiting the Stephen Ministry.
Tickets are on sale now at the church for the silent auction and dinner, which begin that Saturday at 6:30 p.m. The $12 ticket includes admission into the silent auction and an Italian buffet dinner.
In addition to vacation trips to the beach and mountains, the auction will feature antiques, furniture, catered meals, spa services, home accessories, specialty cakes, sports memorabilia, original art, prints, restaurant gift certificates, manicures, gift certificates from local merchants and dental services, as well as many other items.
“We did one about three years ago and it turned out really successful,” Conyers First UMC Director of Lay Involvement Gail Haney said. “We’re hoping to do the same thing this time.”
Haney said vacation trips are always popular with bidders, but said there are many other items people also like, such as certificates for an attorney to prepare a will or for tax preparation by a certified public accountant.
“We really have a wide variety,” she said. “We’re still working on getting donations, but we’ll probably end up with a couple of hundred. We use our fellowship hall and it’ll fill up with the items and then the dinner is served there. There will be a buffet where people can enjoy the dinner while browsing for items.”
Haney said tickets must be purchased in advance. Those interested may call the church at 770-483-4236. Conyers First UMC is located at 921 N. Main Street in Conyers.
“In 2011, we were starting the Stephen Ministry and raising funds to begin the ministry,” Haney said.
Funds are used to train the Stephen ministers through specially prepared curriculum and to help meet the needs of those in the community. The first silent auction raised $16,000, according to church leaders.
“The Stephen Ministry is basically a caregiving ministry that is one-to-one, so that if a person has a need for someone to talk to… we’ll pair a person who is a trained Stephen minister to meet with that person once a week for about an hour,” Haney said.
“They do a lot of listening and help that person through their crisis time. It could be a month or could be a year. These are just congregation members who are very compassionate who have gone through some extensive training we provide at our church.”
Conyers First UMC has 13 trained Stephen lay ministers and four Stephen lay leaders.
“Those they help are perhaps going through a difficult time in life,” Haney said. “They might have lost a loved one. It’s very common for us to help people who are grieving. They might be going through divorce, long-term unemployment, facing long-term illness, adopted a child or having difficulty having a child or have relocated to the area and there’s some challenge there.”
The list of those who are helped by these lay ministers is extensive and includes terminally ill people and their families; individuals who are homebound; victims of disasters; those who are lonely or discouraged; people who are separated or divorced; those in a job crisis and people facing major life transitions.
“We provide Stephen ministers not only to the people in our church, but for the community,” Haney said. “This is a program offered all over the world and in all types of denominations.”
Haney said proceeds from the upcoming auction will help the local ministry expand and allow training for additional volunteers to become Stephen ministers who are able to offer one-on-one care as they assist those in need throughout the community.
The ministry gets its name from Stephen, a follower of Jesus, who, as told in the book of Acts, chapter 6, provided caring ministry to those in need. Since the time of the apostles, caring ministry has been considered a hallmark of the Christian faith which led Dr. Kenneth C. Haugk to found Stephen Ministries.
“It was 1974 (and I was) fresh out of seminary and graduate school in clinical psychology,” Haugk states on the ministry’s website. “I had high hopes for providing pastoral care to people in my congregation and community. That’s where my gifts were. That’s why I felt called to the pastoral ministry — to bring Christ’s love to hurting people.”
Haugk goes on to say how “reality set in” and he realized there were more needs than he alone could handle. He said the Stephen Ministry was then born based on the verse in Ephesians 4:12, “Equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”
The first nine lay caregivers he trained included a secretary, teacher, insurance agent, businesswoman, student, executive, homemaker, beautician and a retiree. Such are the kinds of volunteers who serve as local Stephen ministers at Conyers First UMC.
Today, more than 11,000 congregations and other organizations have enrolled in the Stephen Ministry program, representing more than 160 Christian denominations, all 50 states, 10 Canadian provinces and 24 other countries.
More than 65,000 pastors, staff and lay leaders have been trained as Stephen leaders and they, in turn, have trained more than 600,000 lay people as Stephen ministers.
Those lay ministers have then provided one-on-one Christian care and support to more than one million care receivers in Stephen Ministry caring relationships and ministered to millions more in less formal ways.
Beth Slaughter Sexton is a freelance writer based in Gwinnett County. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.