Article and picture by Urban Alliance staff.

The death of a loved one. A job crisis. Hospitalization. Divorce. While one in five people are currently struggling with a diagnosable mental illness, all people will struggle at some point in their lives with emotional distress due to a life transition or difficult life circumstance. Yes, all. We all are broken in one way or another, yet often a lack of understanding of when and where to seek help coupled with a lack of resources prevents many of us from receiving adequate support.

When faced with struggles, the church is where people most commonly go to seek help.

Because of this, Urban Alliance works with local churches, through its Charis initiative, to help increase the impact of their care services, connect with a network of Christian counselors and support groups, and communicate about mental health a way that offers hope and creates a safe environment where people feel comfortable seeking help.

And, The Worship Center in Hebron is home to a team of compassionate care providers who are doing just that.

Last year, the church was awarded Charis grant funding by Urban Alliance that offered the opportunity for two of their members to receive Stephen Ministry leadership training at a 6-day seminar, which equips non-ordained church members to provide distinctively Christian, ongoing, high-quality one-to-one care to those who are experiencing all kinds of life needs and circumstances, both within their churches and community.

“Stephen Ministry is intensive,” shared Patti Dunne, Stephen Ministry leader at The Worship Center and professional counselor at The Healing Tree in Hebron. “It’s a 50-hour training program. It’s top quality and structured in a very professional way.”

Shirley Hewett, who attended the training, added “The man who started Stephen Ministry was a pastor and was also a psychologist. It is an excellent program and the leadership training is amazing.”

“The skills I learned helped me to develop tools to really listen, comfort and help,” shared Shannan Goodwin. “I learned that I can’t ‘fix’ someone, but I can be there for them and help them walk through their struggle spiritually and prayerfully.”

This type of ministry is not new to The Worship Center. In fact, as a direct reflection of their mission statement that echoes Isaiah 61, they’ve been reaching out to the brokenhearted through Stephen Ministry for seven years, and have trained 25 leaders.

“If you’re going to be a good pastor you can’t really be a pastoral counselor at the same time,” explained The Worship Center’s pastor Mark Santostefano. “This ministry is a great resource and I don’t have to feel like people are falling through the cracks. Sometimes a person just needs someone to talk to, and Stephens Ministers are trained really well, so they can discern if something is beyond their capabilities so they can refer to a professional counselor.”

Peter Morse is a Stephen Minister for The Worship Center. “We’re not just looking within our church to offer care to,” he explained. “We’re looking for people outside of our church, too. What we see most often is someone is going through a divorce, a death in the family, or financial needs like losing a job. They are big deals for the people who are going through them but are not necessarily something that they will be dealing with forever. We usually set up someone to receive care for 6 months to two years.”

The training also helped Stephens Ministers from The Worship Center to grow closer.

“We had small groups at the training where we would share our stories and pain,” said Dunne. “It was remarkable how stronger and more connected we grew with one another as we recognized that we’ve all gone through problems.”

They’ve seen firsthand how networks of support and available resources make an incredible difference in helping people.

“As a counselor, I see so many people with complex issues,” shared Dunne. “I’m seeing young adults who are turning to heroin and they are only trying to regulate their emotions. Beautiful people are hooked, so we need the most people who are out there and trained to know about anxiety, mental illness, and knowing that where something is beyond our scope as a counselor there are other counselors who can help.”

With the support of Urban Alliance and the Charis initiative, places like The Worship Center are helping people more effectively cope, have ongoing support, strengthen their marriages and families, feel hope, joy and peace, and persevere despite life challenges.

“There can’t be enough listening, compassionate people,” said Dunne. “If we jump into the ‘mud hole’ with people who are struggling, we need to be holding on to Christ to help that person get out of the hole. We need people to be the voice of God walking beside those who are broken.”

She added, “The stigma is that we all have to be strong and handle things ourselves, but it’s all about the connection. Urban Alliance is connecting people and allowing people to open up their hearts and to heal.”

Click here to learn more about Charis or, if your church is interested in participating in Charis, contact Angela Colantonio, Urban Alliance’s Director of Implementation, Health & Basic Needs Initiatives, at or 860.986.7328.

Click here to access the Charis website, which provides a simple way to connect with a variety of emotional support service providers and support groups in Connecticut.