The hymn "Seek Ye First" echoed during the Vespers Service at Epworth Villa. This was no ordinary gathering. On March 6, the stained-glass chapel was packed with residents of the United Methodist-related retirement community and their families.
They watched as nine residents were commissioned into the Stephen Ministry, a lay ministry that provides emotional and spiritual care for individuals facing crises or difficulties.
"We are intentional about creating a caring community. It means we empower staff and residents to work together as a team, lifting up those who are experiencing difficulty," said Lisa Crone, an Epworth Villa chaplain and UM clergywoman.
Epworth Villa President John Harned encouraged Rev. Crone to start Stephen Ministry after hearing about the ministry’s success in other retirement communities.
Each of the Stephen Ministers received 50 hours of special training to provide confidential, one-on-one Christian care to people on the Epworth Villa campus who are experiencing grief, loneliness, divorce, hospitalization, disability, and other life difficulties. They listen, encourage, and provide emotional and spiritual support.
Each minister meets with the person receiving care at least once a week for an hour and also as needed. They sharpen their skills with monthly continuing education and peer supervision.
Pastors often serve on the front lines of care. This new team of laypeople further extends that faith-based connection.
The nine Stephen Ministers who were commissioned at Epworth Villa are: Dot Blew, Johnnie Martin, Marilyn Williams, Sharon Wetwiska, Jessica Tanner, Jimette McLean, Winona Madison, Elaine Reid, and Joy Ansley. Stephen Leaders included D.H. Ford and Crone.
"We all experience challenges in life. There are times when we could benefit from the support of a caring Christian friend," said Crone.
The ministry is invaluable to this Oklahoma City retirement community, home to 425 residents and growing. The campus is undergoing a $65-million renovation and expansion, which soon will increase total residential space to house 550 people.
Stephen Ministry "fits beautifully into the culture we are creating at Epworth Villa through the Eden Alternative: We are committed to inspiring individuals and organizations to eliminate loneliness, helplessness, and boredom by shifting from a traditional model of care to creating a community where life is worth living," Crone said.
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Standing from left, new Stephen Ministers at Epworth Villa are: Dot Blew, Joy Ansley, Johnnie Martin, Jessica Tanner, Jimette McLean, Winona Madison, Marilyn Williams, and Elaine Reid. Not shown is Sharon Wetwiska. Seated from left are Chaplain Lisa Crone, President John Harned, Matt Meinke, and Stephen Leader D.H. Ford.