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Want to help those suffering loss? Stephen Ministry workshop set Sept. 29 in Gainesville
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A meeting concerning an upcoming workshop is held Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018, with Stephen Ministry caregivers at Lanier Village Estates. - photo by Austin Steele

David McDowell remembers where he was when he decided to get involved with Stephen Ministry. Some 20 years ago, he was living in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, and was out to dinner at a French bistro with a good friend whose wife had died six months before.

As they sat there, McDowell’s friend began to ask how to get through the grief of losing his wife. Help from his church wasn’t cutting it.

McDowell and his wife, Ann, decided to train to join the Stephen Ministry, which offers one-to-one, Christ-centered care to people in church congregations and communities across the country. Now they’re bringing a training to Gainesville on Sept. 29.

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Ann McDowell leads a meeting Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018, with Stephen Ministry caregivers at Lanier Village Estates concerning an upcoming workshop. - photo by Austin Steele
Stephen Ministry workshop

When: 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 29

Where: Lanier Village Estates, 4000 Village View Drive, Gainesville

How much: $15 per person, $50 for four or more

More info: Ann McDowell,, 678-943-8129; register

Most people who get involved with Stephen Ministry do so because they’ve experienced loss themselves and have come out on the other side, the McDowells said.

“Because of the experiences they’ve had, they’d like to help someone else out who may be having difficulty in what they’re going through,” Ann McDowell said.

Stephen Ministry has three different parts: Stephen leaders, Stephen ministers and care receivers. Leaders help instruct and train the ministers who offer one-on-one sessions to care receivers. It’s not an easy job as the struggles care receivers are going through typically involve death or divorce, among many other things.

Required training teaches volunteers that it’s all about building trust and encouraging the care receivers to speak.

“Most people think we’re supposed to say things that are going to help make their grief go away when in fact what we need to learn is to be active listeners and ask open-ended and reflective questions,” David McDowell said.

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David McDowell speaks during a meeting Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018, concerning an upcoming workshop with Stephen Ministry caregivers at Lanier Village Estates. - photo by Austin Steele

The McDowells have moved around quite a bit and jumped into or started a Stephen Ministry group at every church along the way.

Stephen Ministry is typically found in churches because pastors and other staff members often don’t have the time or resources to reach out to everyone in the congregation needing help.

The McDowells brought it to the Lanier Village Estates continuing care community.

“We started a Stephen Ministry here four years ago,” David McDowell said, “because a (continuing care retirement community) is not a historical venue for Stephen Ministry, but people have awakened in the last several years that there is a perfect opportunity here for people suffering loss in their life, because we’re all older people and it kind of goes hand in hand.”

McDowell and his wife are hosting a representative from the ministry at 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, at Lanier Village. The workshop will be for anyone who wants to learn more about the organization. Invitations were sent to about 1,000 churches within a 50-mile radius, David McDowell said.

“The workshop is geared for churches or organizations that do not presently have a Stephen Ministry group in their church or facility,” Ann McDowell said. “It’s to acquaint them with the benefits of it to their congregation of their community at large.”

The McDowells hope to see churches and communities gather so there is no one left alone during a time of loss. Ann McDowell said being involved with Stephen Ministry is not easy and not for everybody, but she thinks she gets as much out of it as the care receivers.

“The people who train to be leaders for it just have a heart for doing that sort of thing,” Ann McDowell said.

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