Their shirts featured an embroidered, over-the-heart emblem containing a gold cross, a small red heart, a navy blue circle and these words: "ChristCare Small Group Ministry."
The worship service featured the commissioning of 14 laypeople who will serve as small-group leaders. Each group will meet twice a month for community building, Biblical equipping, prayer, worship and mission service.
"Although the leaders are members of Bethesda, these small groups are open to anyone in the community who would like to participate," says Pastor David Hudson.
The ChristCare format was created by Stephen Ministries in St. Louis, Mo., which is known for its separate Stephen Ministry that provides confidential Christian care for people in crisis, regardless of church affiliation. For the last five years, Bethesda Presbyterian has served through the Stephen Ministry in an ecumenical partnership with Emmanuel Episcopal Church and Southern Pines United Methodist Church. These churches have also encouraged the new Stephen Ministry program at Community Presbyterian Church.
The Hudsons learned about ChristCare Small Group Ministry several years ago and encouraged the Session of Bethesda to take another step of faith by sending two couples to leader training in St. Louis, where they would learn how to initiate ChristCare Small Group Ministry in the Sandhills community.
Suzy and Dan Magruder and Alice and Bill Demastus were trained as Equippers in April 2005 and have spent the past year educating the Bethesda congregation about the program, as well as recruiting and training their first class of small group leaders.
"ChristCare Small Group Ministry has the potential of touching the lives of people who are searching for connection and community as well as a place to put their faith in action," Hudson says.
During his sermon, Hudson asked members of his congregation, "When you take a look at yourself, what do you see? As you get beyond the things we normally use to describe ourselves--our education, our children, our homes -- what's at the core? Is there something at the center that's solid, something that endures and lasts? Or is there something missing in our lives? How do we fill those voids?"
He suggested that we need something beyond ourselves.
"We need love that comes through Jesus Christ to fill the void in our lives," Hudson said, noting that ChristCare Small Group leaders have been trained to gently guide people into spiritual relationships. "ChristCare group members will nurture each other in small groups and reach out in mission together."
Group leaders lead by serving others, he said.
"Too many times Christians turn inward, focusing on personal issues, problems, concerns and needs," Hudson said.
He challenged ChristCare leaders to "welcome folks, nurture them, and then turn them out into the world to make disciples of Jesus Christ."
During worship, as time for the commissioning neared, Hudson asked small group leaders and equippers to move to the sanctuary altar and kneel.
"These brothers and sisters have been chosen and trained to go and serve as ChristCare Small Group Leaders," he said. "We celebrate their ministry today, and we send them into service with God's blessings and our prayerful support."
Sue Hudson prayed for the new leaders: Connie Atwell, Charlie Bracey, Carolyn Burns, Johnny Burns, Davis Clark, Kim Clark, Terry Hardison, Jim Mack, Kay Mack, Amy Kushner, Dan Peele, Ruth Peele, Carol Prevatte and Kristy Ransdell.
The congregation pledged support and prayers for this new community ministry.
"We welcome anyone to call the church if they would like to learn more about a particular small group, meeting time, mission focus and availability," Hudson says.
Steve Crain may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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