Befriending persons in need
Bishops Appeal helps to provide training in parishes for those who assist others
Third in a series on Bishop's Appeal 2004
By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor
SHARING MOMENTS: Joan Spielbauer shares thoughts with Yvonne Engelman, whose mother belonged to St. Mary Parish in Menasha until she died recently. (Josh
Whether it's a family grieving the loss of a loved one, the sick in need of comfort or the homebound seeking companionship, Befriender volunteers throughout the Diocese of Green Bay are there to offer a helping hand.
"A Befriender is a person who is a companion to those in need, in special need like during bereavement or other losses that occur during a lifetime," said Joan Spielbauer, a Befriender
volunteer who helps coordinate the program at St. Mary Parish in Menasha. "I find it more rewarding than what I give. I really love spending time with the people I visit. They are generally witty and offer so much to you in return. I enjoy it tremendously."
Mary Sherman, consultant for Pastoral Care for the Diocese of Green Bay has served as the regional convener for Befriender Ministry, a listening ministry that originated in 1981 at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. The diocese has offered Befriender Ministry Coordinator Training to help leadership teams implement the ministry in their parishes. Befriender training and resources are among the many services provided to parishes through the support of the annual Bishop's Appeal.
"I love working with Mary Sherman," said Spielbauer. "You can have all kinds of books, but how do you make it work? When you go on a visit, you don't know what to expect. You don't
know until you fall into it. The diocese helps to prepare you. Mary also does a good job of keeping us going, and Sheila (Schaut, diocesan media center) has excellent videos and materials available. Whenever I'm looking for something, she knows exactly what I need."
The Befriender program at St. Mary developed from the ministry of bringing communion to the homebound.
"We realized there was a greater need," said Dcn. Gerry Cross. "There was an opportunity for us to reach out to people. Joan Spielbauer and Jim Catlin were really the driving forces
behind the program. In the beginning, we gathered names of people who were willing to participate. We asked family members to give us names. Our coordinators made initial contact to see if the person would like someone to visit. The coordinator tries to find out the person's needs and fit a particular Befriender with the person."
"What I see, through the program, is us giving something back, especially to those people who are no longer able to be active at the church," he added. "They built the church. This
is an opportunity to reach back to them and let them know that we haven't forgotten them. There are some beautiful relationships that develop."
Support for the grieving is a significant area of need served by Befrienders at St. Mary.
"We are there with them when they lose a spouse or another loved one," said Spielbauer. "We keep contact for four months after the funeral and connect with the person on the anniversary date. Often, we find that they are on their way to recovery and have strong
family support. In other cases, where family members live far away, we are there to help. Some have their lives uprooted. As surviving widows, they may not be able to keep up with the yard or it's too costly to stay in their own environment. There is a real sadness when they have to give that up. They need camaraderie. It's essential for their ongoing health spiritually, emotionally and physically."
Sr. Carol Haanen, ANG, pastoral associate at St. Pius X Parish, Appleton, and Sr. Annette Koss, OSF, pastoral associate at Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Kimberly, have served as Befriender trainers for parishes in the valley. They are currently involved in training volunteers in Caring Ministry.
In all forms of visiting ministry, there is growth on the part of the volunteers, said Sr. Haanen.
"The visitors grow spiritually and they develop an even deeper sense of compassion," she said. "Often, the best volunteers are people who themselves have been through a challenging
situation. Some retired people make wonderful volunteers. They are looking for a meaningful activity. They want to be involved."
Volunteers who visit people in need help the parish staff, said Sr. Koss.
"Visiting the sick, the hospitals and nursing homes has been an emphasis in this parish," she said. "It's part of my work, but it would be impossible for me to visit everyone. I could never keep up. The volunteers are so valuable to the parish community. We need to keep finding them, keep training them, nourish them and support them."
Befriender volunteers at St. Mary Parish meet monthly. In addition to offering support, the meetings provide an opportunity for continued education. Recently, Spielbauer brought in a presenter from Theda Clark to speak about signs of depression. Each meeting opens with prayer.
"Prayer is an integral part," said Spielbauer, who is featured on the 2004 Bishop's Appeal video. "The Lord is entered into what we are doing."
"My heart is in Befrienders," she added. "We have a wonderful group of volunteers. We never miss a funeral. We are there, and they know who we are and to look for us if they need