Opening plenary of PC(USA) mid council gathering inspires cultivation, growth

Holly Inglis speaks on the role of church leaders in shaping culture

October 14, 2017

St. Louis

“Flexibility is key to good leadership.”

So began remarks by the Rev. Holly Inglis, president of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators and associate pastor for community and connection at Palms Church in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, as she introduced her session during the opening plenary of the Mid Council Leaders Gathering of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) here October 13.

“If something [we want] doesn’t happen, we need to change,” Inglis said.

Speaking directly to the gathering’s theme -- “Building from the Roots Up” – Inglis used the biblical story commonly known as “The Parable of the Sower” from Matthew 13:1-8 as a framework for the Bible study series she will present in several sessions over the course of the gathering. Inglis explored the context of the parable for the 300 regional Presbyterian leaders.

“A parable raises more questions than it answers. It doesn’t have just one answer,” she said. “A parable is a seed waiting to bloom and grow inside the hearer.”

Delving into the parable, in which seed is planted on several types of soil, each producing a different result, she wondered with her listeners whether the question of how the sower – the one planting the seed – is also a cultivator of the soil.

Citing examples of the several types of soil she’s encountered while living in different areas of the United States, Inglis spoke of the relative easy gardening she encountered in the rich black soil of Illinois. Comparing that to the effort required to break up clay-borne soil in Colorado, or plating among rocky terraces in the mountains or finally to the sandy soil in her current home of Florida, she affirmed that gardening was possible in each location, but only if she approached the soil and her seed selection carefully.

“Each soil required different care,” she said. “Each location had unique characteristics. As the sower my job wasn’t just to plant the seed, but to understand the soil if I wanted those seeds to grow. Gardening is really about the interplay between the sower, the seed and the soil.”

Inglis then led the group in modified Lectio Divina (repeated reading) reflection on the parable, asking hearers to “resist the temptation to treat the text as an allegory… Enter into dialog with the God-breathed word.”

Through three successive readings of the text by different readers, she asked participants to identify a word of phrase that caught their attention, enter the story with all their senses and identify questions they have of the scripture.

“There are three key actors: sower, seed, soil,” Inglis pointed out. “As sowers, you sow countless seeds and you encounter many different kinds of soil. I find this parable much more engaging when I try to imagine the soil as an active element in the story.

“Soil is active and full of life,” she said. “Soil health equals human health. If we take care of our soil, we take care of our environment.”

Drawing the parallel with common reading of the parable that equates the sower with evangelism, the seed with the message of Christianity and the soil with those being evangelized, Inglis mused in her conclusion on the oft-conveyed notion that the soil, i.e. recipients of the message, is immutable.

“I wonder how our ministries would change, as sowers, if we considered the relationship between our sowing, the seed and the soil – the environment – in which we are planting,” she said.

Inglis’ Bible study followed opening worship and an introduction by Kerry Rice, deputy stated clerk of the PC(USA), to the conference of new mid council support staff including Laurie Griffith as associate director of constitutional interpretation, the Rev. Tricia Dykers Koenig, as the associate director of mid council relations, the Rev. Luke Choi as manager for Korean-speaking councils support and Amanda Craft as manager for immigration advocacy.

The Rev. Dr. Craig Howard, transitional presbytery leader of the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy, welcomed attendees to the St. Louis area. He spoke of the significance of the Gateway Arch, only separated from the conference hotel by a highway, and the founding of the presbytery “on the principles of evangelism and social justice.”

Calling on the example of Presbyterian clergy participation in ongoing peaceful protests against racial bias in the St. Louis police force, he encouraged mid council leaders to “imagine how to lead by building community from the roots up.”

“Faith and action are still happening here in Giddings-Lovejoy,” he said. That presbytery will be host to the 223rd General Assembly next summer in St. Louis. The Assembly runs June 16-23, 2018.

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