Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Season of Hope

This will be the fourth year our Stephen Ministry group has handed out paper-craft ornaments during Advent. For those who don't know, Stephen Ministry provides one-on-one, confidential care for people who are hurting. There are currently Stephen Ministry groups in over 12,000 congregations world-wide and in over 180 denominations. Our church, First United Methodist of Springboro, has been a Stephen Ministry congregation for over six years.

At Christmas, people who are suffering grief, loss of a job, divorce, illness, or any number of other problems often feel even more isolated and lonely than in other seasons. The joy of the season highlights their lack of joy, painfully.

During worship service one Sunday in Advent, our Stephen group gives a presentation and hands out ornaments as a reminder to the congregation of our responsibility as Christians to reach out to those who are hurting in whatever way we can. We also remind them that Stephen Ministers are here to help, too. If they or someone they know might benefit from having a formal caring relationship with a trained Stephen Minister, we invite them to talk with us or our pastor. No one should suffer alone.

I'm pretty much the only crafty member of our group (one lady scraps, but she doesn't stamp), and over the years, my design for our ornaments has become increasingly, ahem, basic. Y'all know I intensely dislike mass-production, even for an amazingly awesome cause. This year, I found some ready-made tags at Marco's Paper, bought 250 of them, and set to work designing our easiest ornament yet.

I'll admit I'd be happier if the tags were white, but hey, they don't even require cutting and tying on strings (you'd be surprised the complaining I heard last year regarding that step!).

This year, our presentation will be on Advent's first Sunday...the Sunday we light the Candle of Hope on the Advent wreath. I stamped the tags with an old Impression Obsession alphabet and Brilliance cosmic copper ink. The verse we're putting on the back of each ornament is Jeremiah 29:11, one of my favorites:

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope and a future."

What a lovely, comforting thought. I'll write a speech to go along with that and post it on my other blog (transforming common days) that Sunday.

We're printing the verses on Avery address labels and attaching them to the back of the tags. One of the Stephen Ministers volunteered to help with that...she's nicely OCD and will put them on straight!

I cannot begin to tell you the amazing ripples sent out by this small thing. We have people ask for extras to send to their family and friends who are grieving or who have some other challenge in their lives. We have at least a few referrals to start new caring relationships with Stephen Ministers. We see the ornaments used as bookmarks in Bibles. We've received thanks from the most unusual sources...all for providing a simple, paper ornament that offers comfort to those who need it.

I'd love to hear from my readers about things they, their churches/synagogues/mosques/temples, or other religious or community groups do to reach out to hurting people during the holiday season. The comments for this post could become a wonderful idea board for others to take up the challenge of reaching out to the holiday season and throughout the year.

And if you're interested in more information about Stephen Ministry, visit the links below or email me. I'm a passionate advocate for this ministry!

What is Stephen Ministry?
Care Receivers Tell Their Stories (all the videos are amazing...have a hankie handy!)


  1. This sounds like a great idea Susan. I blogged last year about a lady who did 40 random acts of kindness for her 40th birthday and I am planning to do 50 in advent for my 50th birthday this year. An ornament would be a lovely gift as part of my project and I hope I'll get some more good ideas from other replies.

  2. Perhaps, sadly, the lack of responses show the lack of purposeful reaching out. I can't think of a particular thing that my church does to reach the people who are hurting. I know they do things for the needy ... for children in the nearby slum, they give gifts and a party, for families in need they give boxes of food. But thanks for the ideas. I don't think Stephen's Ministry has reached us yet in this part of the world

  3. Our fellowship hosts a potluck (turkey provided) on Thanksgiving day for those who will not be gathering with extended family. It seems to well attended and appreciated, though I have never gone since we have the opposite problem of too many gatherings and too little time.

    We also "adopt" two Head Start classes for the holidays each year. You choose a name(s) and the tag tells you gender, age, clothing size, and needed/wanted toys. Gifts are wrapped, labeled with the tag, and then left in the church library to be delivered to the class all at once. It's always fun to have my kids help with the shopping and as a parent I know that it is a gift to the parents as well as the child.

  4. Let me apologize if this comment is a repeat! Sometimes I hate technology!!
    One out reach our church has is prayer quilts. There are several ladies who love to quilt and they get together and will make and pray for a specific recipient. The quilt is then taken to church and members are then given the opportunity to tie a prayer knot on the quilt. The idea is that the recipient will not only be wrapped in the physical warmth of the quilt, but also warmed by the thoughts and prayers represented by the prayer knots. These quilts have not only gone to those in poor health, but those who have lost homes in fires, lost loved ones and hurting in ways that only a few know of.

  5. Our church has adopted 14 families to provide Thanksgiving baskets and then are providing gifts for their Christmas along with another food basket.. We are also having a Blue Christmas service this Thursday to help people having a difficult time for any reason and a ride to this for shut-ins. The tags are a great idea!


Thank you so much for taking time to comment!