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In historic vote, PC(USA) elects J. Herbert Nelson denomination’s top ecclesiastical officer


PORTLAND – The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, the son, grandson and nephew of Presbyterian pastors, was overwhelmingly elected Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on Friday. The action came from the 222nd General Assembly (2016) meeting June 18-25 in Portland, Oregon.

Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson

Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson

His election is historic. In the more than 300-year history of Presbyterianism in the United States, a black man has never been elected as the top ecclesial officer of the church. The denomination is more than 90 percent white.

Nelson, director of the PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C., succeeds the Rev. Gradye Parsons in the four-year term. He was installed immediately after being elected and will begin his new position Aug. 1.

“This is a powerful day, a powerful day in my life and for many people of color who did not envision the possibility of this ever happening,” said Nelson, a teaching elder and member of National Capital Presbytery. “

Nelson was the pick of the Stated Clerk Nomination Committee, tasked with presenting a nominee to the assembly, which it did on June 19. He was challenged by the Rev. David M. Baker, stated clerk and communications director for the Presbytery of Tampa Bay, whose name was placed into nomination by Ruling Elder Dan Johnson from Tampa Bay presbytery.

In accepting the new positIon, Nelson acknowledged his strong foundation as a Presbyterian, and asked the assembly to walk with him in this new journey.

“I would not be standing here without a Presbyterian family,” he said. “Pray for me, work with me, and not on me.”

Described by the nomination committee chair as someone who “will be both priest and prophet,” Nelson will help guide the Reformed denomination’s 1,572,660 members and 9,642 churches.

He has a long history of service to the denomination, including as pastor of St. James Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, and organizing pastor for Liberation Community Church in Memphis, Tennessee. He has led the PC(USA) Washington office since 2010.

Nelson follows in the footsteps of his father, James Herbert Nelson; grandfather, Warren Julius Nelson; and two uncles, who were all Presbyterian pastors. His mother, Johnalee B. Nelson, was a ruling elder and active on the national level of Presbyterian Women and in global missions work. Nelson is married to the Rev. Gail Porter Nelson, pastor of Northminster Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. They have one adult daughter, Alycia Yvette Nelson.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky, is the largest Reformed denomination in the United States. It has 1,572,660 members and 9,642 churches.

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