STS exists to work alongside existing congregations to provide the theological and pastoral support and training that they need. In practical terms this has meant spending time with pastors and church leaders to get to know them to understand their needs and to sensitively provide training and support.
Fewer than 5 pastors in San Martín de los Andes have had any form of theological training, so many pastors are left to gather information from wherever possible. This has opened opportunities for a variety of teachings (from Christian and non-Christian sources) to influence and find ground within the pastoral fraternity. With individual congregations small, and a divided pastoral fraternity, STS has sought to bring grass roots training in a non-denominational and practical way to the region.
Over the past 4-5 years we have been working steadily to build confidence and establish links with local congregations and have effectively engaged with approximately 15 of the local churches and offered training in a range of areas. A key means of establishing connections has been through engagement with the monthly local pastoral fraternity. Our presence there has been to underline that we are available for all and seek to offer services to all, without any denominational agendas. This has been successful, and in 2015 STS was asked by the pastors to host the fraternity´s monthly meetings as it is seen as neutral ground in what can sometimes be a challenging set of relationships.
Workshops that have been provided have addressed themes such as ‘Counselling & Confidentiality’, ‘Developing Listening Skills’ and ‘How to deal with difficult people’, with others covering basic Christology, church life and introductions to bible books. From 2015, where possible, we have worked with other local agencies in order to augment our level of engagement. This has included inviting appropriate agencies, such as Biblica, to hold “one-off” events in the area. When available we have also drawn on other invited speakers to address different themes, such as the workshops on “Covenant” and the Priesthood of all Believers. We have sought in this way to both inform and engage with the wider church community outside of the San Martín area. At a lower, and more personal level, Inductive Bible Study courses have been offered throughout the year to help pastors and congregational members learn the “how to” skills of bible study in a relaxed and informal setting which encourages engagement. This weekly timetable has had to compete with the changing circumstances of individual lives but, for those who are able to attend on a regular basis, it has proved to be a door into a new way of reading scripture for themselves. Confidence is built and the bible is re-discovered in a way which is informative and potentially life-changing.
A 2-stage training course on basic Counselling skills was developed and offered up until 2015, with the aim of helping those in church leadership, at any level, develop listening and pastoral skills and understand the need for confidentiality. This closed group course has been popular, but owing to changes in personnel, continuity beyond 2015 became difficult.
All this has been offered with sensitivity to the cultural and pressing economic needs of the area. In a situation where continued employment is not guaranteed and financial difficulties are commonplace, courses have been adapted to suit changing circumstances and offered at minimal cost. Where issues of need are apparent we have sought to find ways forward and ensure that those who have a desire to explore Scripture and develop skills have the opportunity to do so.
This work is slow. It is relational. It is about building trust and showing that we are there for the ‘long haul’. It is also rewarding to see people discover Scripture and the truth it holds for them and to watch them hunger for more. STS is seeking to meet people where they are at and commit to helping them grow and develop in faith.