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Closing worship during the PC(USA)’s The Immersion conference asks worshipers to take note of their blind spots

The Rev. DeEtte Decker, acting director of the PMA’s Communications ministry, tears a page from a medical textbook and offers up an Rx

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. DeEtte Decker, acting director of Communications in the Presbyterian Mission Agency, preached during closing worship at The Immersion conference. (Photo by Rich Copley)

LOUISVILLE — The Immersion conference ended Thursday with worship that included inspired preaching and inspiring music, the latter by Dr. Tony McNeill, a sought-after workshop clinician, lecturer, consultant, mentor and guest choral conductor.

The two-day hybrid conference was put on by the Office of Vital Congregations at Montreat Conference Center in Montreat, North Carolina. It also featured keynote addresses by the Rev. Dr. Gary Neal Hansen, the Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart and Dr. Obery M. Hendricks, Jr.

The closing worship preacher was the Rev. DeEtte Decker, acting senior director of Communications in the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Decker opened with a description of Anton Syndrome, named for neurologist Dr. Gabriel Anton. It describes a patient’s complete lack of self-perception to their blindness. Decker described it as “a deficit in self-awareness.”

“I wonder,” Decker asked those gathered for worship, “do we have Anton Syndrome? Have we lost sight of what it means to follow Jesus out into our communities, to love our neighbor as ourself? Are we blind to our blindness?”

Decker preached on Romans 12:9-18, Paul’s requirements of the faithful in Rome to “hate what is evil” and “hold fast to what is good,” to “bless those who persecute you” and to “take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.”

“Paul is saying, ‘this is what y’all need to be doing. This is what following Christ looks like,’” Decker said, “and central to those relationships is love.”

Life can be “messy and frustrating,” and often “the greatest reason for this messiness is us, humanity,” she said. “People have their own ideas, opinions and perspectives … People want different things. Often, we disagree, and sometimes fiercely.”

With those outside of our family and friends group, “we pretend a little bit. We avoid a conversation. We look the other way … or we go through the motions of loving them. … Do we pay lip service to loving others? Soon we become blind to them. We just can’t see them anymore.”

Decker listed four keys to being in loving relationships:

  • Risk, the act of “stepping out of our comfort zone and being willing to take a chance on another.” Jesus, she noted, “took a risk on a bunch of fishermen.”
  • Vulnerability, showing “who you are 100% authentically,” putting “your whole self and all the baggage into every relationship.”
  • Commitment, “making a promise and keeping it.”
  • Trust, which is “confidence and faith in another.”

All four are “completely interdependent,” she said. For example, to be vulnerable, we need some level of trust. But “vulnerability is risky, and so we hedge until we know there is commitment from the other person,” Decker said. That can place relationships — even with God — at a distance.

Like Anton’s patient, Ursula, “we can be blind to our blindness, but this is in fact what we’re doing. … We are stuck in our dying churches and we wonder, where did God go off to?”

Dr. Tony McNeill led music during The Immersion conference, held Wednesday and Thursday online and at Montreat Conference Center. (Photo by Rich Copley)

The Immersion reminded conference-goers that “we can be made better together,” Decker said, and that “out of our relationship with God our genuine love will flow.”

“How’s that going for you?” she asked. “Is that a blind spot for you?”

She asked: What are we risking with Jesus? Do we become vulnerable by taking off our mask before Christ? Are we “deeply committed to abiding daily with Christ?” Do we “trust that God has us” in “this thing called the church?”

There is a cost to blindness, Decker told those gathered for worship, a cost when our faith communities are closed-off places and we treat our churches more like social clubs. “The cost is lack of intimacy,” she said, especially when programs are prioritized over people.

“The trouble is, we may not even recognize this is where we are,” Decker said, inviting worshipers to reflect: Am I like Ursula? Do we believe we are loving genuinely and “giving it all in our relationship with Christ and others” and “going out and transforming communities?”

There is a cost to our blindness, but there’s also a solution to it, Decker said. “As we leave here after two days of blessing of incredible proportions, let us also go promising ourselves we will open our lives and take time to consider, are we like Ursula, blind to our own blindness? Amen.”

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