There are times when we all face a crisis. There are times we all feel broken. At Blue Ridge, broken people are welcome.
“It’s part of the DNA of Blue Ridge…. it’s a safe place for hurting people. Every leader here would say we want to make it a safe place, a place for healing,” said Jack Dunn, Lifeline pastor. That healing often requires much prayer, listening skills, compassion and empathy.
In 2010, a group of Blue Ridgers saw the increasing needs of those coming to our church in crisis. This group, which included pastors, counselors and caregivers, began praying together about how to serve those in need of spiritual and emotional support and direction.
From those prayers, God led them to begin a caregiving ministry called Lifeline. Lifeline provides lay counseling for those going through a crisis — a crisis is defined by whatever a person considers a crisis.
The purpose of this ministry is to provide spiritual care, support, encouragement, and referral services in a safe and confidential manner. While in the midst of crisis, a Lifeline caregiver can help bring clarity to the issues involved and define the priorities of care. Caregiving is confidential and the length of time in Lifeline depends on the person, but typically lasts two to three months.
It’s like a lifeguard who swims out to help a drowning person out of the pounding waves. The lifeguard resuscitates the person and helps him or her get back up. The lifeguard doesn’t stay on the beach and teach the person to swim, but may direct him or her to a place for next steps.
Dr. Eric Scalise, who had more than thirty years of clinical and professional experience in the mental health field, was a part of the initial group and helped develop a curriculum for caregivers. The first information meeting for caregivers meeting drew seventy people. Since then, training has been offered each year, beginning in January or February.
Kristi Duncan, who is now the Lifeline administrative assistant and a caregiver herself, came to that first meeting. She explains what Lifeline does this way: “It’s not counseling. It’s coming alongside someone, listening, praying with them, and helping them in a time of crisis. We also try to connect them with places where they can grow.”
Kristi said participants find the training helps them navigate caregiving.
“For many people, they’re already giving care to people they know. They think they need to know all the answers. But often people need someone to listen and pray with them,” she said.
Blue Ridge usually has about 40-50 active caregivers at any given time.
“We may just be one of the largest, most organized lay-counseling ministries in our region,” Jack explained. “We often have people say, ‘I don’t know that I could ever do that because I’m not an educated counselor.’ While we do have some folks who are licensed or have counseling degrees, the majority are mature Christ followers with gifts of encouragement, compassion, wisdom, discernment, patience and empathy,” Jack added.
Gail Eatmon, who leads Restoring the Foundations at Blue Ridge and is a Lifeline Coordinator, was part of the founding group for Lifeline. She said the ministry also provides a place where caregivers can grow.
“God uses our own journey in order to empathize with others’ situations. We’ve been there or we have family who have been there. God is even using the pain in our lives to encourage and come alongside someone else,” she said.
As God has worked through Lifeline, He’s also led the group to birth other support ministries, including GriefShare, Premarital Counseling and a new group beginning called Marriage ICU.
“It’s a matter of looking at and seeing the needs of the community and the congregation and saying how can we meet these needs so people become fully devoted followers of Christ, ” Jack said.
Lifeline supports people within Blue Ridge, but also throughout the community. About a third of Lifeline participants come from outside of Blue Ridge.
“We see it as opportunity to share Christ,” Jack said. “If you’re going to find a place to be real during hard times, it ought to be the church.”
Lifeline caregiver training is now underway. However, new participants are still being accepted. To learn more, email firstname.lastname@example.org.