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Working on our blind spots

2019 college conference concludes with worship, hugs — and offers to “see you next year”

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Worshipers take communion during the 2019 College Conference at Montreat. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

MONTREAT, N.C. — Catey Gans, a junior studying public health at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., said the 2019 College Conference at Montreat “was all about compassion” and helped students “focus on their blind spots.”

“It’s been uncomfortable and yet comfortable working on that together,” she said near the end of the four-day conference designed to help students build a compassionate community. The conference, held at the historic retreat center each year Jan. 2-5, concluded Saturday and attracted nearly 1,000 college-age Presbyterians.

“The fact that so many people took off time from their vacation is really encouraging,” Gans said.

The Rev. Aisha Brooks-Lytle, executive presbyter at the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, led worship services throughout the conference.

On Friday, commenting on Luke’s account of Jesus’ prodigal son parable, Brooks-Lytle noted that the people we love the most “can be a pain. The one you fall in love with sometimes makes you want to pull out your eyelashes one at a time.”

In the parable, the father and the “wild child” are reconciled, but not the loyal brother and his sibling, she noted. Was the brother who stayed at home to work the fields “loyal to his father, or loyal to being perfect, being the one to do all the right things?” she asked. “He missed the memo that he needed to be loyal to God by loving God and neighbor. He had an invitation he refused to accept, to follow his daddy’s example and practice forgiveness. He chose to remain fractured and to say no to the party.”

For Brooks-Lytle, the highlight of worship liturgy is when those gathered confess their sins and then hear the assurance of pardon. “No matter what we have done and who we have disappointed, Jesus is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” she said. “That is really, really good news, that God invites you home to start again.”

“We don’t proclaim that too loudly, because then people would have to practice it,” she said. “I am forgiven, and if you hurt me, I’ll forgive you. That reflects God’s mercy and truth.”

During Saturday’s closing worship, Brooks-Lytle’s text was Isaiah’s description of false and true worship found in Isaiah 58, which concludes with “You shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.”

“Make sure the good news of God (you bring home) has some skin and bones on it so people have something to cling to,” she told students minutes before they headed back to their studies. “How will you return home? Will you engage your community with love, compassion and justice? You can no longer hear the cries of those hurting and do nothing if you understand that community is compassion.”

“When you go home a little bit different, watch this world transform, one soul, one movement at a time,” she said, offering this benediction: “May your hearts remain tender and true. May you remember you are never alone. You have a cohort of believers in this room and in every place you will return. We can be courageous and compassionate disciples of Christ together — because this world needs it.”


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