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21st century ministry in a repurposed denominational HQ

The Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA) talks up ideas on reinventing the Presbyterian Center in downtown Louisville

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, is Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

LOUISVILLE — Like the Presbyterian Mission Agency, the Office of the General Assembly has been rethinking what it means to do ministry in the 21st century, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), told PMA board members Wednesday.

“We are learning it’s tough in society to build bridges of hope in the midst of rancor and discord,” Nelson said.

Nelson told the board he’s been spending time of late with former Louisville elected and appointed officials who were instrumental in helping bring the denomination to Louisville in the late 1980s. Those officials described for Nelson “the great excitement the city had that we were coming.”

“It said a lot,” Nelson said, “about what it meant to embrace the PC(USA) and the hard work they put in to help us get here.”

“They know we’re still here,” Nelson said, “and they know there is still a possibility we can be a transformative change agent in the community of Louisville.”

Part of the answer to building a 21st century church, Nelson said, is thoughtful consideration of how the Presbyterian Center, the denomination’s headquarters building in downtown Louisville, might be repurposed.

“It’s not just for us and our work. It’s about opening doors to a city in need of a church,” Nelson said. “We are now being called to embrace the city and do the work called for in the 21st century. I suggest the building has something to do with it.”

There are hotels “right down the street” from the Presbyterian Center that might well rent meeting meeting space in the Center once a $2.4 million renovation is complete next year, Nelson said.

“After the next assembly, we can utilize it as more than a place for the life of the community,” Nelson said. “The very work we could have been doing years ago, we have the opportunity now to engage in … God has given us the opportunity to be a transformative building by which we can invite people in.”

One example: The Center has a Chapel, one that can be used by others as a downtown church.

“It’s about building a presence that can deal with the contextual realities in a place called Louisville and how to lift up the name of Jesus Christ in a church house with a passion for ministry,” Nelson said.

“Our calling,” Nelson told the board, “is to reach deeply into the well of Jesus calling us as a church. Whether we do the work of administration or mission, we have a responsibility to lift up Jesus Christ as Lord and savior.”

The Presbyterian Center, at 100 Witherspoon Street in Louisville, Kentucky, is set for a $2.4 million renovation to prepare the denominational headquarters to host the 225th General Assembly in 2022. (Contributed photo)

“Gone are the days we can be effective being an office building,” Nelson said. After last year’s police killing of Breonna Taylor and the demonstrations and boarding up of downtown windows and doorways, Louisville “is going through an opportunity as a city, and we have the opportunity to be part of that … It’s about how effective the church of Jesus Christ will be as a transformative agent, lifting up the name of Jesus Christ in all things and being able to say, ‘We know the world is changing, and it calls us to transformative change as well.’”

“It’s not about a building. It’s about loving Jesus Christ and his work,” Nelson said. “God calls us to something a lot different in this present age. We have been given the opportunity to do something powerful.”

He praised the work of the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, the PMA’s president and executive director. “We will continue to build on relationships, which are important in lifting up the banner of Jesus Christ, in whom there is no east or west, in him no south or north, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide Earth.

In a brief question-and-answer session that followed Nelson’s half-hour talk, Moffett told the board that although some people have expressed concern with the price tag of the renovation of the Presbyterian Center, “many don’t know the tremendous cost” of holding an in-person General Assembly in a different city every two years.

“A lot of times people don’t understand that for just a little bit more, we will have something that can be used nationally and even internationally, with [studios] designed for streaming,” Moffett said. “We are trying to be futurists so we don’t need to build the bridge and paint it, too. We spend quite a lot every two years to meet in person. This way, we will have some money left over.”

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