Lord of Life Lutheran Church will train congregation members to help those who are hurting.

The Baxter church provides faith-based training to those who volunteer to become Stephen ministers.

“While our Stephen ministers make it clear they are not professional counselors, their role is to walk with the individual in these difficult times and be there to support and listen to them,” explained Tyler Jensen, communications coordinator for Lord of Life.

The training program is a method of organizing, equipping and supervising a team of congregation members, who are called Stephen ministers, to provide “high-quality, one-to-one, Christ-centered care” to congregation members experiencing life difficulties.

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“After their training is complete, they are paired one-on-one with people who need someone to walk with them through difficult times, such as trauma, grief due to the death of a family member or illnesses like cancer,” Jensen said.

Lord of Life Lutheran Church

Lolly Kalinoski is a 69-year-old wife and mother from Brainerd who belongs to Lord of Life Lutheran Church.

“The values of the people who are on staff at the church and the people that are members of the church correspond to the things that are most important in my life,” said Kalinoski, a retired medical transcriptionist. The church’s stated mission is “to inspire a deeper and richer connection to Christ, our community and each other.”

Kalinoski is a Stephen leader. Stephen leaders are church staff, lay leaders and pastors trained to provide ongoing leadership for their congregation’s Stephen Ministry.

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“Stephen leaders are trained in a very intense six-day training course. ... And I was trained so that I could teach other people everything they need to know about how to be a Stephen minister,” Kalinoski said.

Stephen ministers are lay congregation members trained to care for those experiencing a difficult time in life, such as grief, divorce, job loss, chronic or terminal illness or relocation, according to the St. Louis-based nonprofit Christian education organization founded in 1975.

Stephen Leaders Lolly Kalinoski (left), Pastor Erika Nilsen, and Deb Bergstrom talk with Stephen Minister Pam Cook Thursday, Jan 21, at Lord of Life Lutheran Church. The Baxter church offers the ministry to its congregation during times of struggle.  Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
Stephen Leaders Lolly Kalinoski (left), Pastor Erika Nilsen, and Deb Bergstrom talk with Stephen Minister Pam Cook Thursday, Jan 21, at Lord of Life Lutheran Church. The Baxter church offers the ministry to its congregation during times of struggle. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“Stephen leaders are trained in a very intense six-day training course. ... And I was trained so that I could teach other people everything they need to know about how to be a Stephen minister,” Kalinoski said.

Stephen ministers are lay congregation members trained to care for those experiencing a difficult time in life, such as grief, divorce, job loss, chronic or terminal illness or relocation, according to the St. Louis-based nonprofit Christian education organization founded in 1975.

“Stephen leaders give a very intense 50 hours of training to Stephen ministers to equip them with everything they need to walk along somebody with compassion and confidentiality … based on Jesus’ commandment to share one another’s burdens,” Kalinoski said.

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The Baxter church’s initial class of Stephen ministers graduated two years ago after four months of training and was composed of five congregation members, according to Kalinoski, with the next class set to begin at the end of February or the beginning of March.

“Needless to say, COVID coming in and shutting down the church for quite a while really got in the way of training and stuff. We hope to have at least maybe five to 10 people in our new class,” Kalinoski said.

The training is provided for free, but the training materials cost about $50 per student, which the church has covered.

“When I look back at the times when my life was the toughest — as everybody is, at some point, — there were people that were walking alongside me in this way, supporting me in so many ways, so I’m so grateful to give back,” Kalinoski said of the help Stephen Ministries provides.

The church has hosted the training sessions in the past but will likely conduct them via Zoom during the pandemic for safety reasons.

Stephen Leaders Lolly kalinoski (left) Pastor Erika Nilsen and Deb Bergstrom talk with Stephen Minister Pam Cook  Thursday, Jan. 21, in the sanctuary of Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Baxter. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
Stephen Leaders Lolly kalinoski (left) Pastor Erika Nilsen and Deb Bergstrom talk with Stephen Minister Pam Cook Thursday, Jan. 21, in the sanctuary of Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Baxter. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Stephen Ministries

“In the book of Acts, Stephen was chosen to provide caring ministry to those in need. Caring ministry has been always considered a hallmark of the Christian faith community,” according to Stephen Ministries, which produces training material and resources.

“They include the art of listening, which is critical, the most important part,” Kalinoski said. “Stephen ministers never try to solve problems for the people that they are caring for. It’s about listening and offering support as the person, himself, makes these decisions.”

After being matched with a person experiencing a life crisis, the Stephen minister meets with that person on a weekly basis to listen, care, encourage and provide emotional and spiritual support. The caring relationship lasts as long as the need for care exists.

“I’ve gained so much also by talking with people who are going through a big challenge. … It’s one of those situations where when you volunteer to do something you often get more out of it than the person you’re assisting,” Kalinoski said.

Pam Cook, a congregation member and Stephen minister said, “What’s rewarding is being able to help somebody get through their crisis.”

Cook said helping others is in her blood. She works as a paraprofessional at Forestview Middle School.

“Meetings with care receivers used to be face to face, but now we do a lot of phone calls,” Cook said of social distancing during the pandemic.

Lord of Life Lutheran Church is located at 6190 Fairview Road in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Lord of Life Lutheran Church is located at 6190 Fairview Road in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Stephen ministers come from all walks of life, but they all share a passion for bringing Christ’s love and care to people during a time of need, and more than 180 denominations, not just Lutheran, are using Stephen Ministry, according to the nonprofit.

“There is the satisfaction of knowing that even though we can’t always solve that person’s problem, we are giving that person something everybody needs when they’re going through a crisis or any tough time in life — someone to listen with compassion,” Kalinoski said.

Cook, a wife and mother from Baxter, said, “The Stephen ministers take on people that are going through a crisis who may feel stuck. … That helps out a lot to have other people in the same situation working alongside us. It makes a big difference.”

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Other Stephen leaders include the Rev. Steven Rye and the Rev. Erika Nilsen, who are the senior pastor and the associate pastor, respectively, and Deb Bergstrom, the parish nurse. Nilsen is responsible for pairing up a Stephen minister with the care receiver asking for help.

“As we start to come out of the pandemic … we expect — we’ve talked about this, the Stephen leaders — that probably more toward next summer and the following year there will be even more requests, more people who really need somebody to be with them,” Kalinoski said.

About Stephen Ministry

  • Stephen Ministry began in 1975.

  • Stephen Ministry is now in more than 13,000 congregations from more than 180 Christian denominations, in all 50 states in the U.S., 10 Canadian provinces and 30 other countries.

  • More than 75,000 pastors, church staff and laypeople have trained as Stephen leaders (those who oversee and direct Stephen Ministry in the congregation) at a leader’s training course.

  • More than 600,000 people have trained as Stephen ministers (layperson who provide care to those who are hurting) in their congregations.

  • More than 1.5 million people have received care from a Stephen minister in a formal one-to-one Stephen Ministry caring relationship, and millions more have been touched by Stephen Ministry in informal ways.

Source: Stephen Ministries.



FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL.