Stephen Ministry celebrates 25 years of service

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Guttenberg Stephen's Ministers are, front from left, Julie O'Rourke, Diane Shilling, and Carolyn Hoffmann; second row, Ammi Hugo, Darla Zittergruen, M.J. Smith, Charlie Finch, Nancy Heitman and Julie Parker. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

"The Stephen Ministry's principal belief is that we are the caregiver and God is the cure-giver." 

Minister and clinical psychologist Rev. Kenneth C. Haugk founded the ministry in 1975. The organization is named for Saint Stephen, one of seven deacons appointed by the Apostles to distribute food and charitable aid to poorer members of the community in the early church. 

25 years of service

It was Pastor Harold McMillin who brought this model for caring to Guttenberg. Current Stephen Leaders Carolyn Hoffmann and M.J. Smith were among the first he trained, having been commissioned in 1994. Since that time, Diane Schilling and Diane Baumgartner have also completed the week-long course to become Stephen Leaders. 

For the past 25 years, community members from all walks of life, and a variety of faith beliefs, have answered the call to give compassionate, caring, one-on-one interaction to area residents who are facing adversity in their lives.  


M.J. Smith, Stephen Minister chairperson and 25-year member, shared their philosophy: "As caregivers we meet individually with members of the community who are being challenged by a life-changing event. Individual sessions are non-judgmental. We provide those in need with compassion, trust, and respect.  We do not offer advice. We simply listen, and draw on the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to guide us in our relationship to bring about positive change."


Stephen Ministers receive extensive training before they are able to meet with an individual one-on-one. Smith explained, "The training involved to become a Stephen Minister is a serious commitment. Candidates meet weekly for six months for extensive training. Once a candidate completes the course they are encouraged to attend a monthly peer learning study group. Peer learning enables us to stay up-to-date on subject matter that will help us meet challenges that may arise during our Stephen Ministry work, and to keep us centered on the spiritual aspect of the program." She noted, "This year we are training in the love of Christ. Our book study is Speaking Truth With Love. The book discusses how we as Christians can have any kind of conversation with love." 

Members share inspiration

Long-standing Stephen Ministers Charles Finch, Julie Parker, Darla Zittergruen, Julie O'Rourke, Ammi Hugo, Nancy Heitman and Diane Shilling expressed their heartfelt gratitude for Smith's and Hoffmann's dedication throughout the years. 

When the group was asked what inspired them to become Stephen Ministers many of them lightheartedly exclaimed, "M.J. kept after  us until we agreed!" 

Darla Zittergruen commented, "I enjoy the monthly sessions. M.J. is very good at organizing our group. She picks out our yearly study material, and assigns each of us a portion of the text for consideration before the next meeting." She went on to say, "Sometimes the paths you cross are challenging and take you out of your comfort zone, but you just work through it." 

Julie O'Rourke, who is talented in music shared, "Sometimes people respond well to music. I like to use my God-given talent as a way to soothe the soul." 

Diane Schilling shared, "After I lost my husband I needed someone to talk to. My neighbor, Mary Lou Wilson, was a Stephen Minister. She was a great inspiration and a wonderful role model. She helped me through my own grieving process. The experience inspired me to give back to my community in the same way."

Charles Finch stated, "It's always a good feeling. Fifty percent of the time it's a two-way street." All members of the group agreed with Finch wholeheartedly. 

Three of the group's members are nurses by trade. Julie Parker told The Press, "It's what I do. As a nurse I am drawn to be a compassionate caregiver. It was just a logical fit for me."

Ammi Hugo shared, "It's right up my alley as a psychiatric nurse and a Christian."

Nancy Heitman expressed her sentiments,  "I have been able to connect with people and walk with them through difficult times. I show them there is another aspect to life. I get a sense of reward and satisfaction when I receive feedback from family members who  are grateful for my help."

Hoffmann and Zittergruen added, "It is a continuous bond. It is very meaningful." 

The Christian group collectively agreed, "We are led by the Holy Spirit. We ask for His guidance before we meet with each individual."

In addition to one-on-one meetings, the Stephen Ministers also reach out to area residents with a series of booklets titled Coping with Grief.  The comforting series helps individual who are going through the first year of bereavement. The group also has a letter-writing prison ministry, bringing the love of Christ to those who are incarcerated. 

Hoffmann concluded, "I enjoy offering comfort and help in mending hearts. This ecumenical group is a blessing to all of us."

A service of thanksgiving for this ministry will be held on Sunday, Nov. 10, at St. John Lutheran Church during the 10:15 a.m. worship service.


The group welcomes referrals from the community, service providers or directly from individuals who feel a need for care and listening.  Those inquiries go to M.J. Smith at 563-880-9992.

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