Lutherans in Minnesota

Pastoral care — it’s not just for pastors anymore

Being a nonjudgmental listener can be a rare commodity in today’s busy
world. But, Bloomington, Minnesota-based BeFriender Ministry–A Listening
Presence is promoting listening capabilities through leadership training and
program support for lay pastoral care listening ministries.

BeFriender Ministry (with roots dating to the early 1980s) has been providing
skilled pastoral care training to congregations throughout the nation. And,
now in September of this year, BeFrienders held a workshop at a U.S. air base
in Italy, making it truly international.

BeFriender Ministry traces its origin to dual organizations with that name at
Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSS) and St. Thomas University. The LSS
BeFriender Ministry became a part of Oasis Reflections Center in 2005. The
latter ceased operation in mid-2006, and support for BeFriender programs
now comes from the Bloomington-based national ecumenical organization.
The next local workshop for training leaders is scheduled for late January at
Calvary Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Golden Valley, Minnesota.

Currently 56 Lutheran congregations in Minnesota have active BeFriender
programs; 166 Lutherans have gone through the foundation’s training since
1999, usually two to five per congregation. In addition to Calvary, other
Lutheran congregations with BeFriender Ministry groups include St. Michael’s
Lutheran Church (LCMS), Bloomington, and Augustana Lutheran Church
(ELCA), West St. Paul.

Cheryl Thompson at St. Michael’s, a lay coordinator in the program,
commented, “I thought when I went into it that it was doing something nice
for others, but it turns out that it’s very rewarding for ministry team
members, too.”

St. Michael’s BeFriender Ministry program was organized in 2001. The team
consists of 14 persons, including four men. Cheryl recalls hearing of one
woman who at first declined to have a BeFriender visit her and later, after
relenting, said, “You saved my life.” Chaplain Dick Day is the staff coordinator
at St. Michael’s and can be reached at 952/831-5276. Cheryl Thompson is
available at 952/946-1872. Nancy Bretzman is the second lay coordinator
and can be reached at 952/831-6163.

Mary Nordtvedt, parish nurse at Augustana, said, “BeFriender Ministry works
very well in our congregation. We’ve had the program for over 10 years and
are currently in a revitalization phase. We have eight active in the ministry
and are looking to increase the number.” Mary Nordtvedt’s phone number is
651/457-3373 ext. 29.

Annette Langdon, parish nurse at Calvary, says, “BeFrienders is a wonderful
program for us; we have 45 to 50 BeFrienders in our program. Some of the
more unusual situations have included the challenges of being a listener for a
person with mental illness. We’ve also worked with a single mom through her
pregnancy. Right now, we’re in discussion with a retired pastor with military
experience about extending the program to military families and veterans.”
Two lay volunteers help to coordinate of the Calvary program. Annette
Langdon can be reached at 763/231-2955.

And, just who would need a BeFriender? It could be a single parent struggling
with raising children, a person living with a chronic illness, someone grieving
a death in the family, an unemployed head of a household weary from job
hunting, or a new mom adjusting to caring for a baby. BeFrienders are
trained lay volunteers who extend the care of a faith community by:

• Listening with compassion,
• Accepting people as they are,
• Respecting another’s spiritual journey, and
• Embodying the caring presence of God.

For churches, a BeFriender Ministry can:

• Extend high-quality pastoral care to more people,
• Build and deepen the sense of Christian community for the church,
• Provide ministry opportunities for people to live out their baptismal call,
• Enhance lay members’ leadership skills, and
• Encourage spiritual growth for those involved in ministry.

Barb Schwery, executive co-director and program manager at the national
office, says, “Many BeFrienders report that their personal lives and
relationships have been enhanced by the listening skills they’ve gained
through this form of lay ministry.” Even pastors can benefit. One told
Schwery: “Since going through training I’m ministering differently this week
than ever before.”

In some congregations this program comes under the direction of a parish
nurse. But, Schwery says smaller congregations can form a cluster of two or
three churches to support this lay ministry. While a staffperson supports the
BeFriender Ministry, the BeFrienders themselves are always volunteers.

Congregations only need to let members know about their BeFriender
Ministry to generate interest. Visits may be as few as one or two times…or
sometimes longer-term relationships develop.

Schwery says, “Lay ministers embody the caring presence of God and of the
faith community. The heart of the ministry includes [these tenets]:

• God is present in every encounter with another person.
• Active listening and nonjudgmental attitude are critical to being present
with another person and truly hearing with empathy the other’s story.
• Pastoral care is about caring, not curing.”

Those interested in knowing more about BeFriender Ministry may check the
BeFriender Ministry Web site at or call Barb
Schwery at 952/767-0246.