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A conversation with Phyllis Holt Davis


Phyllis Holt Davis comes from a long line of prominent preachers. She is the great-granddaughter of renowned evangelist George Philip Bowser and the daughter of minister G.P. Holt. Her mother, Olivia, is a preacher’s daughter, and many of her uncles also are ministers.
For 30 years, Davis helped train future generations of preachers and church members at Southwestern Christian College. She recently retired as professor of social science and history from the Terrell, Texas, college.
She attended Michigan Christian College before earning a bachelor’s from Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., where she also earned a master’s in sociology.
A lifelong advocate for adoption and foster care, she has served as a caseworker for public agencies including the Red Cross and as a recruiter and parent trainer for the Dallas Minority Adoption Council.
She and her husband of 42 years, Willie, attend the Marsalis Avenue Church of Christ in Dallas, where they have taught marriage classes and assist in college ministry. They have three children and five grandchildren.
What was it like growing up in the home of a well-known preacher?
One of my fondest memories is sneaking out of bed, sitting in the dark hallway and listening to my dad and visiting preachers talk about the Bible and go over sermon outlines way into the night and early morning. They were enthusiastic and excited about the Word.
Dad, in his preaching, was a wonderful storyteller. My favorite sermon was “The Scarlet Line.” I must have heard it a hundred times and never tired of it. Dad often worked other jobs in addition to preaching. He filled vending machines, sold Amway, fire extinguishers and lots of other things so Mom could stay at home.
How did traveling with your father influence your life?
We traveled by car to so many states. California was our favorite. Dad was usually en route to conducting a Gospel meeting, many of which were held under a tent and lasted from two to four weeks.
When traveling through the South, we could not stop at hotels or restaurants, so Dad would stop and buy his favorite food: cheese, crackers and bologna.
We slept in the car, but it never seemed like a burden. Actually, we had fun and sang most of the way. Wherever we went, people were good to us.
What did you learn from the students you taught at Southwestern Christian College?
Southwestern is unique in so many ways. The teachers are dedicated and determined to give students the best of themselves. They challenge their creativity by encouraging them to write, perform, organize and serve their communities.
It thrills my heart to travel this country and have students come and tell me that I made a difference in their lives or gave them a word of encouragement — or even a shoulder to cry on. I have enjoyed having them in my home, traveling with student groups, sponsoring projects and campus events.
If I have become a good teacher, it is because God saw fit to lead me to Southwestern and to send such wonderful people into my life.
How can Christian women better prepare younger women for active lives in the kingdom?
Young women are crying for good examples — not perfect examples, but honest ones who will share their successes and weaknesses and give them hope.
We must reflect the Holy Spirit in our walk. Successful kingdom living is centered in God’s word and is demonstrated by obedience. We must mentor in such a way as to give them opportunity and encouragement to prepare to take our places, and we must not be intimidated by new ideas and methods.
Please name some Christian women who played a role in your spiritual development.
At the age of 16, I was taken under the wing of a wonderful sister, Ella Shows. She let me be her assistant in Vacation Bible School and taught me how to organize and prepare a lesson outline. Sister Evelyn Proctor in Oklahoma City had no children, but took time out of her busy life to attend my school programs and open her home for slumber parties and music rehearsal.
Their involvement may have seemed small to them, but to me they were saying I was important and worthy of their time and love.
When I moved to Dallas, I met Yvonne Rosenquist, who studied the Bible with me and others in her home, helping us better understand the Word but also helping us see the bountiful grace and mercy of God.
Joan Thurmond, a fantastic teacher, taught me to consider what the text meant when it was written and what is its meaning for us today. She also taught me to go deeper —to find the response God wanted from me and the steps I should take in fulfilling his purpose and will.
There are many others who contributed to my growth by allowing me to see God more clearly. I thank God for the women he has placed in my path.
How does life in the church today compare with past years?
I remember some pretty lively discussions about whether or not the announcements were actually part of the worship and whether they should be included at the beginning or the end of the service.
I visited a congregation 30 years ago where a woman made the announcements at the end. I also worshiped in a congregation that allowed women to guide us to our seats. They didn’t call them ushers, so nobody complained.
As someone said, “You can do it if you don’t name it.” I never associated either practice as being a determining factor as to whether or not I could go to heaven. It seems that we are still uncertain as to whether what we choose to do is about doctrine or tradition.
What is your assessment of race relations within the church today compared to 20 years ago?
I am encouraged by the open, frank dialogue I hear about the past and how it has hurt the church.
I attend the unity rallies and forums and enjoy them. However, when they are over, we all go back to our comfortable corners and wait for the next event. It is wonderful to be able to acknowledge our hurts, fears and doubts, but just as important to come to a place of repentance and make a sincere step toward change.
What needs to happen to draw us all closer together in God’s kingdom?
Every sincere change must take us back to our God — who he is and what he desires.
It means seeing ourselves and others through the cross. Our conversation must change. Our tolerance of bigotry and hate must cease. We must no longer laugh at jokes and inappropriate comments about race.
I am not sure we can go to heaven from our comfort zones.

Filed under: Dialogue

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