“I wanted these gathered elders to explore a passage of Scripture and to see how they can help others get into the Bible.”
Gardner taught Christian education at Princeton Theological Seminary for 31 years and served as moderator of the 211th General Assembly (1999) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
The passage she chose was taken from 1 Peter 5:1-11. Participants read it from both the NRSV translation and Eugene Peterson’s THE MESSAGE: New Testament in Contemporary Language.
Using the lectio divina approach to study, which includes repeated reading of the passage, participants contemplated the passage and then quietly told the others the things they found striking about it.
This was done to a backdrop of comments by Gardner that when the Bible is read in groups, we do not all hear a passage in the same way. “The way I hear it and the way you hear it doesn’t necessarily mean one of us is wrong. We bring our lives to the passage and that influences what we hear,” she said.
As people gave their impressions of the passage, their comments, as Gardner had stressed, varied.
“Humility is a trademark of who we are,” offered Elder Eileen Davis of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Meanwhile, the group led by Elder Louella Oakes of Baldwinsville, N.Y., noted that the passage moved them to “talk about our life experiences and how they affect what we see in the passage. We shared about that.”
Gardner then stressed that “the experiences we bring to Scripture give us an opportunity to explore Scripture in new ways.”
She frequently reminded the group that Bible study is not a test, that there are no right or wrong answers when approaching Scripture. “If our attitude is that there is only one way to interpret Scripture then we leave a lot of people out,” she said.
For those called to teach the Bible, as elders are charged to do, part of the task is to help people understand that their interpretations are valid, Gardner concluded. “We want believers to understand that there is a place for their gifts and their ministry in the church.”
JANET TUCK is director of communications for the Synod of Living Waters and a frequent contributor to Presbyterian News Service.