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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Taking her cue from 29,000 cycling enthusiasts


The Rev. DeEtte Decker leads Synod School’s opening worship after pedaling down the center aisle

September 23, 2023

To the surprise of more than 500 people, the Rev. DeEtte Decker entered Schaller Memorial Chapel on a borrowed bicycle Sunday. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

With a nod to the 29,000 or so RAGBRAI riders who’d arrived in Storm Lake, Iowa, hours earlier, the Rev. DeEtte Decker showed up for opening worship at the 69th Annual Synod School on a borrowed bicycle that she pedaled down the center aisle of Buena Vista University’s Schaller Memorial Chapel.

Decker, communications director for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, led worship all week at the event held annually by the Synod of Lakes and Prairies. More than 500 people attended Synod School. This year’s theme was “Our Family Story.”

“What would you say if I told you the Holy Bible is a library?” Decker told children gathered to think and learn along with the adults who brought them. “Some folks think of the Bible as a library of our family stories.”

With 2 Timothy 3:14–17 as her selected text, Decker went back to a cherished memory from childhood, spending time with her maternal grandmother.

“She told me stories of her faith and how it had transformed her life,” Decker said. “She was always sure to let me know our family story included Jesus, about our faith family as found in the Bible — stories of justice, love, mercy and forgiveness.”

When we’re wondering where we came from or why anything matters, “our answers come from this uniquely human thing we do, and that’s telling stories,” Decker said. “When we tell stories, especially to groups, we get collective agency, a shared understanding of who we are and where we came from and what we can do together.”

The Rev. DeEtte Decker, communications director for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, turned up for opening worship at Synod School Sunday on a borrowed bicycle. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

Decker knows people who read the Bible through different lenses: like it’s a history book, an inkblot “as a means of affirming who they are,” as a law book laying down what we can and cannot do, and “as a collection of myths and fables that doesn’t have a lot of relevance in my life today.”

“For me, it can feel like a puzzle. I’m trying to figure out the missing piece so I can make sense of the whole picture,” Decker said.

Decker wondered: Rather than reading the Bible like it’s a puzzle, what if we read it as a mystery? “We have plenty of information on hand. The problem is how to figure out what it all means. … When we read the Bible and reflect on our family stories, it can provoke us to see the kin-dom of heaven and propel us on how we are to live our lives here on Earth.”

Decker’s seminary adviser taught her that family stories can be interpreted using three chairs, which Decker used as props.

The first chair, the historical chair, stands behind the text. We ask, who is the author? What was the cultural and political climate? What were the family dynamics? Using this model, we stand behind the text looking through a historical lens.

High-energy music under the direction of the Rev. Burns Stanfield helped drive worship forward Sunday at Synod School. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

The second chair is the literary chair, a model we’re actually sitting in the text, Decker said, looking at its type: poetry, a letter, wisdom literature, the priestly code. “Who is speaking and who’s not speaking?” she asked. “We look at the rhythm and the metaphors. We are in the text.”

The third chair is the theological chair. Here we’re standing in front of the text. Meaning is based on how the audience receives the text. You’ll receive the text differently if you’re a liberation theologian or a womanist theologian.

“A lot of folks have a favorite chair. My adviser taught me it’s OK to have a favorite, but what we really need to get the most out of the text, to really understand the mystery,” she said, is to lie down on all three at the same time, which Decker did.

Decker offered a pair of questions for reflection Sunday evening:

  • What would it look like for you to approach Scripture using the three chairs to interpret the meaning behind the mystery?
  • When was the last time our faith story propelled you to live out the kin-dom of heaven here on Earth?

“Our family story has a lot to tell us about our past, a whole lot to tell us about our present and how we can order our steps into the future,” she said.

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Rev. DeEtte Decker leads Synod School’s opening worship

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Jessica Maudlin, Mission Associate II, Sustainable Living & Earth Care Concerns, Presbyterian Hunger Program, Presbyterian Mission Agency
David Maxwell, VP/Geneva Press & Church Relations, Presbyterian Publishing Corporation

Let us pray

Heavenly Father, help us to become more formative, so we may introduce more people to your loving grace. Amen.