Easing pain of a divorce

Counseling: A Marriottsville church offers a comprehensive ministry for separated and divorced people.

Jean Leslie

Special To The Sun

August 16, 2002

Friendly greeters shake hands with separated and divorced persons entering the second floor of Chapelgate Presbyterian Church on Friday nights. The greeters - who have triumphed over the pain of separation and divorce - urge attendees to fill out a name tag and sign up for a mailing list.

Inside the large room are small groups of men and women quietly chatting before sitting down for a meal and an evening program of spiritual guidance mixed with pragmatic advice. This is not an exuberant group, as each person is struggling with issues created by a failed marriage. But the groups share their common problems - emotions, kids, legal issues and money - and bonds are created as they encourage each other through the process.

New Horizons is part of Chapelgate's comprehensive ministry for people with troubled marriages. The meetings, which take place on the second and fourth Fridays of the month throughout the school year and monthly in the summer, run in a two-year cycle - although newly separated people can jump in at any point.

"A lot of my time is involved with counseling," says Rich Starsoneck, who leads a group with his wife, Kathy. "I work with a lot of couples in crisis. I have the opportunity to be in the front-row seat, to see what God is doing in people's lives. It's very stressful, but very rewarding."

New Horizons topics deal from the mundane (creating a family budget) to the spiritual (God's role in suffering). Uplifting singing, talk and group discussion are after the meal. Participants are invited to make prayer requests and to pray for each other.

Firm guidelines are set to prevent the ministry from becoming a mere singles group, as the healing and growth of individuals take center stage. Same sex friendships are encouraged, but dating or pairing off within the group are to be avoided. Absolute confidentiality encourages participants to speak frankly about their lives.

Adult meetings are paired with New Horizons for Children, in which children gather in a structured setting to learn about the Bible and make crafts.

The Divorce Recovery Ministry - the brainchild of Rich and Kathy Starsoneck - was born when each of them passed through a painful divorce, found each other and married in 1985.

"We were approached by Chapelgate in 1986 to run a FreshStart seminar," a divorce recovery weekend, says Rich Starsoneck. "They thought it would be a good thing and had already booked it. Kathy and I said we would pray about it."

The Starsonecks gave the first FreshStart seminar at Chapelgate and then started meeting with groups of 12 to 15 people in their home.

"I was 31 years old, a young kid, had never done ministry before," says Rich Starsoneck, who used to work at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in North Laurel. "I had all of these people in pain."

Meanwhile, his wife was busy working and raising a daughter.

"We would have big dreams and ambitions about the ministry ... ," says Kathy Starsoneck. We virtually took all the phone calls at our house - I was on the phone every night."

Over the years, the Divorce Recovery Ministry has helped about 2,500 people, and the current mailing list contains 300 names. As people expressed their needs, the ministry developed. One example is AutoCare, developed when women in the program needed help with their cars: A mechanic examines an automobile's engine or changes its oil for women in the program. A donation is optional.

Last year, a Ladies' Bible Study evolved. Women get together in a small group to apply Scripture to their life situations and offer support.

After 14 years of volunteering for the Divorce Recovery Ministry, the leadership of Chapelgate Presbyterian asked Rich Starsoneck to work full time at the church. He chose to make this move, thus giving up a 25-year career as an engineer.

"Did I want to sit here playing with numbers, or do I want to make a difference in people's lives?" says Rich Starsoneck, who attends classes in pastoral counseling.

"What's unique about us is that we have a biblical approach," he says. "It's not just a big social group. We want to take people to God to ask: `What is God doing in your life?' All human relationships are going to fail at some point, but God will always be there.

"If we don't address this pain in the church, then where can we talk about it?"

Ministry events

Events at Chapelgate

Single Parent Fellowship: Meets at 7 p.m. the first and third Fridays of the month. New series starts Sept. 6: "The War of Words - Communication Struggles."

New Horizons (adults): Meets at 7 p.m. the second and fourth Fridays (second Friday only during the summer) Dinner is $2. Extensive lending library of books dealing with pertinent topics. Next meeting is Sept. 13: "How Do You Find Strength in a Time of Suffering?"

New Horizons for Children: Runs concurrently with New Horizons meetings.

DivorceCare: A 13-week series of support and seminars meets from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday nights, from Sept. 17 to Dec. 10.

Ladies' Bible Study: Meets the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month. Information: 410-747-8819.

AutoCare: A quarterly car tuneup for separated and divorced women. The next one is Sept. 14.

FreshStart: A seminar one weekend each spring.

Information: 410-442-7677, Ext. 150.

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