At our very last Stephen Ministry training class, the fear was palpable. We were known as a lively group - the meetings going on in the classroom next to ours could hear our laughter and wondered what was so funny about this week's chapter on depression. But during this last session, the mood was subdued. After a short class, we were going to go upstairs to the sanctuary and have a commitment ceremony. We had to sign a sheet saying we were really going to do this. We'd spent hours preparing for what we were going to do, but the idea of actually doing it was daunting.
We did role play. We'd done role play many times, always treating it with a sigh and a joke. But this time, we were practicing an initial visit with someone who has asked for our help. We were acting out the first time we meet a total stranger and say, "Nice to meet you, tell me what's troubling you." It was terrifying.
I don't think a role play exercise had ever stumped me like this. I found myself staring, open-mouthed at the person who was pretending to be going through divorce and custody issues. What do I say? At our very first class, we had been told that Stephen Ministers show up. They did a great job telling us all the things we could not expect to be able to do. We can't fix problems, we can't cure people. We can show up, and that helps. I believed that when they told us, but sitting there trying to think of something to say made me feel inadequate. What was I doing here?
One lady shook her head and said over and over that she wasn't sure she could do this. We reassured her and secretly felt the same. In the end, she and I and everyone else signed the paper saying we would try our best, we would show up. Someone said they hoped they got an assignment right away, before they forgot everything. I agreed, and then thought, well, maybe not right away.
We went upstairs for the ceremony. Our classes and meetings are all held at a Methodist church. While a lot of congregations have their own individual Stephen Ministry, we have a combined group of three churches - the Methodists, the Presbyterians, and our scrappy band of Episcopalians. The Methodist church is HUGE. I grew up in a tiny church, and the experience of a big congregation feels too anonymous for me, but I have to admit, they have a lot of cool stuff. Tons of programs, activities, and services, something for everyone.
My tiny home church was also a Methodist church, so the commitment service itself was a warm blanket of familiarity, even in a giant sanctuary with beautiful windows and a gargantuan altar. I knew all the songs. And then, when we had communion, the cup of salvation was filled with grape juice, unfermented. Oh, you Methodists.
And then we were Stephen Ministers, not just trainees. The Presbyterians got name badges, the Methodists got badges and business cards. We were told our badges were on the way.
A few weeks later, though still badgeless, I got the call. Someone was struggling and wanted someone to talk and walk with them. Time to show up.