Reflecting reality

Spanish-language lay training at Louisville Seminary provides biblical, theological education, contextual curriculum

January 6, 2011


The need to minister to the ever-growing population of Spanish-speaking people in the south central United States has resulted in a collaborative lay training program organized by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

“Latinos are the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States,” said the Rev. Antonio (Tony) Aja, coordinator of Hispanic/Latino Ministries for Mid-Kentucky Presbytery. The south central region has seen a considerable portion of that growth, he said.

This program is vital to training bi-vocation lay leaders to help meet the spiritual needs of this population, most of whom are immigrants and many of whom are undocumented, Aja said.

Begun in fall 2010, the year-and-a-half program offers a commissioned lay pastor track as well as basic training to provide biblical and theological proficiency for congregational leadership. The program also uses a curriculum contextualized for the area, Aja said.

Courses include “Survey of the Bible,” “Preaching and Homiletics” and “Presbyterian Polity,” in addition to “Pastoral Care,” “Evangelization and Church Growth,” and “Administration and Program Development.”

The course “Building the Beloved Community” addresses social advocacy and ministry, community organizing, immigration issues and intercultural/cross-cultural/multicultural diversity.

The program is a very “culturally sensitized and contextually sensitive curriculum for this part of the country,” Aja said.

Administered through Louisville Seminary’s Office of Lifelong Learning and Advanced Degrees, the program is open to students from partnering presbyteries who are recommended by their congregation, new church development or fellowship. Commissioned lay pastor students must be recommended by their presbytery.

Consideration also is given to students from other Christian denominations, and individual courses can be taken by those who want to further their theological training or to fulfill presbytery requirements.

“It is important for the seminary to continue to reach out to more and more populations,” said the Rev. David Sawyer, director of Lifelong Learning and Advanced Degrees and professor of ministry at Louisville Seminary. The program also is an opportunity “for the seminary community to learn about a particular group of folks who are so important to our country, to let them teach us.”

Five students are currently enrolled, and people can join at any time.

“We have capacity for 10 or 15 students in every class,” Aja said, adding that students have minimal costs because of financial contributions from the various partners.

Significant also is the fact that no student is turned away because of their immigration status.

Many Hispanic Presbyterians in our churches are undocumented, Aja said, adding that the program “reflects the reality in this part of the country.”

Elmer Zavala, a student in the Spanish language lay education and commissioned lay pastor diploma school, knows all too well how great the need is to prepare leaders to serve new Hispanic immigrants in the region. He serves as a temporary pulpit supply pastor at a church in Nashville, Tenn. that ministers to between 50 to 60 Latino people each Sunday.

Almost all of the worshippers are new immigrants, and undocumented citizens are among them, he said. Immigration is a major issue, and in every service prayer concerns are related to something or someone dealing with immigration, said Zavala, who is from Honduras.

Many of the new immigrants come as adults and work seven days a week and don’t have time to learn English. Many don’t even know how to read and write in their own language, added Zavala, who commutes from Louisville to Nashville to serve the congregation.

One has to develop a holistic ministry, he said. “You need leaders that understand the context.”

Toya Richards is a freelance writer and student at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. 

  1. I read an essay of one of your Presbyterian ministers Rev Antonio Aja on Exodus 1. I was deeply disturbed by how he tied this story of the workings of Gods Grace to his covenant people to the unfairness delt to hispanics and some black communities by white opressionist also refrencing rich white people. I think that the Rev should be teaching his flock that the love of our great and glorious God has been extended to all peoples, nations and colors. What a blessing to those who would come to acnowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior. I can say that our country was founded on many cultures, many people with different history, who came to this country for opportunity, they started with nothing but saw opportunity thru hard work as my parents did. They put their trust in God who provides for his beloved, He blessed them in so may ways but they never disdaned those who were rich or had somthing they had not attained they did not sit under pastors who vilified the very people who were able to employ and train them. This essay reminded me of how even our current president attempts to divide the people of our great country where so many go to any length to get to this kind of freedom. Please pass on my comments and the hope that the presbyterian Chrurch and Mission Agency would do its utmost to sow the seeds of thankfulness to our great God who never forsakes his own and blesses those who preach and teach His word. We dont have to stir up hatred toward eachother and different cultures, No one people or race can frustrate the purposes of God. Rom 8:31 says If God is for us who can be against us? We are his people by grace lets rejoice in that. Blessings in your studies

    by Rick faber

    October 14, 2012