ANNA MARIA -- At 9 a.m. Sunday, Roser Memorial Community Church facility administrator Charles Wade, who does everything for his Anna Maria Island congregation from mowing grass to cleaning floors, will become a Stephen Minister.
It's a moment he says he has been waiting for his whole life.
"I wanted to do this, but I didn't say anything," said Wade, who has been the church's custodian and do-everything handyman for nearly six years. "Then they came to me one day and said, 'Charles, you would be a good asset in Stephen Ministry. We would like you to take the course.' I thought, 'OK, God, this is you telling me this is my time.'"
Named for the first Christian martyr after Christ, Stephen Ministry started nationwide in 1975 and is based in St. Louis.
Thousands of people over the past 39 years have taken a 50-hour course that trains them to counsel hurting people, said Dee O'Brien, one of Ros
er's Stephen Ministry Leaders and a Stephen Minister herself.
"We are lay people," O'Brien said of the roughly 30 Roser Stephen Ministers who have embraced the program since the 1980s.
Roser's Stephen Ministry leaders are O'Brien, Kay Beverly and Lorna Smilde.
"We are not ordained," O'Brien added. "We are people who just have a heart for caring for others and a gift of compassion. We are an extension of the minister."
Roser's transitional minister, the Rev. Sung Lee, will preside over the ceremony Sunday where Wade will be recognized as a Stephen Minister along with four others, including Irene Betancourt, Darlene Head, Christine Major Hicks and Jeanette Rothberg, O'Brien said.
Lee will present the five to the congregation, guide them through their vows, perform a blessing over them, then a commendation, then a laying of hands and then conduct prayers for them.
O'Brien said the five have learned unique skills at weekly classes at the church that ran November through February.
They studied topics including effective listening skills, confidentiality, understanding yourself as a person, the boundaries of a relationship, understanding your feelings as caregiver and those of your care receiver and community resources.
"What Stephen Ministry has given me is a real understanding of how to relate to people with a Christian basis," O'Brien said. "When I'm in a room visiting with people, I feel Christ is by my side so I am not alone."
The training also yields skills in relating to family and friends.
"You learn to be a friend in a way that is non-threatening and encouraging," O'Brien said.
Wade, a graduate of Sarasota's Booker High School who now lives in Bradenton with his wife, Brenda, said he always felt comfortable talking to people. But he didn't know how God would use that skill.
"I like helping people," said Wade. "I love talking to them. I like to be more Christ-like instead of me-like."
Church leaders noticed that, at the church's food pantry, where Wade hands out items, he would also hand out encouragement.
"You have people who have lost their job or are hurting in a relationship," Wade said. "I am the one they are drawn to. They say, 'Charles can I talk to you?' I'm a listener. I would tell them, 'I will pray for you and put you on the church prayer list.'
"It's really freeing," Wade said of the training. "You kind of understand there is no charge to allow God to allow you to help someone else to be free and relieved from bondage."
Wade, who works 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, will be connected to care receivers who can fit into his schedule.
"The referrals for care come through the church," O'Brien said. "These are sometimes people who have just lost a job or a spouse. They may have an extended illness. The relationship with the Stephen Minister is usually of a finite time, but occasionally it can be several years."
Although Roser Memorial will not conduct a new Stephen Ministry class for some time, the St. Louis office of Stephen Ministry can direct those interested in being ministers to a Manatee County church. Call: 314-428-2600.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond.