MURPHYSBORO — In the aftermath of the derecho that had toppled a tree on the Tierney property n May 2009, Mary Ellen Tierney was more concerned about the triple-bypass heart surgery her husband was undergoing.

She spent countless time by his bedside and at the hospital where he was undergoing surgery. During that time, a fellow church member visited her and her husband each day, sitting with Mary Ellen, listening to her share her heart and concerns.

One of the things she was concerned about was the cleanup at her property; some fallen trees and branches had been picked up an deposited curbside, but then Tierney said she learned the county would not be picking them up.

Her sitting-buddy told her about a Mennonite chainsaw ministry, who could help her; Tierney said she contacted them, and four of them showed up at her home, with their backhoe, spending an entire day clearing away fallen trees and other debris from  her yard, storing it behind her home where it could be removed later.

The whole experience made such an impression upon her, that Tierney said when she heard her church was organizing a new ministry that might offer such hand-holding during crisis times, she thought to become involved. She and her husband are among the eight people pioneering a Stephen Ministry at First Methodist Church in Murphysboro.

The charter group is being led by Michelle Parker-Clark, the church's minister of visitation who went through her own training in April 2016 in St. Louis.

"It's a distinctive care-giving, Christian care-giving ministry, and individuals are paired up, one-to-one, with individuals who are going through crisis," Parker-Clark said.  "We acknowledge that we are the caregivers, and God is the Cure-Giver."

The Stephen Ministry was founded in 1975 and is in more than 170 Christian denominations in the United States, Canada and 29 other countries.

The "Stephen Ministry is the one-to-one lay caring ministry that takes place in congregations that use the Stephen Series system," according to the organization's website.  "Stephen Ministry congregations equip and empower lay caregivers — called Stephen Ministers — to provide high-quality, confidential, Christ-centered care to people who are hurting."

The adults involved have committed to 50 hours of instruction, meeting this past week and the upcoming week from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.

On Friday, they sat in a large circle on the lower level of Murphysboro United Methodist Church off Pine Street, going over lessons provided as part of the Stephen Ministry series.

They are going through models in the Stephen Ministry training manual, reviewing a scenario in which a man is alternately upset and saddened about a back surgery he needs and having to get public assistance to help while he is out of work and talking about maintaining the confidentiality of the care-recipient with whom they are partnered; among other issues.

During a break during the lesson, Tierney's husband, Richard, the only male in this group, shares why he decided to become a charter member of the ministry.

"I just wanted to give back to the people who gave to me when I was in crisis," Richard Tierney said.

For more information about this ministry, contact Murphysboro United Methodist Church at 618.687.2317 or visit


On Twitter: @scribeest



Stephanie Esters is a reporter covering Jackson and Union counties.

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