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Nelson: training, education of leaders is key to transformation

New era requires different work, Stated Clerk tells COGA

by Jerry Van Marter | Special to Presbyterian News Service

The COGA meeting convenes on Feb. 6 in St. Louis.  Attending are, from left, the Rev. Denise Anderson, Co-Moderator of the 222nd General Assembly (2016); the Rev. Dr. Barbara Gaddis, COGA moderator; and the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the PC(USA) General Assembly. (Photo by Jerry Van Marter)

ST. LOUIS — The education and training of church leaders is key to the transformation of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), General Assembly Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson, II, told the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) at its winter meeting Feb. 6.

“We are somewhat scattered as a church,” Nelson told the group, which is meeting at the St. Louis Convention Center — the site of this summer’s 223rd General Assembly (2018), June 16–23. “There are some shining lights, but in some instances we are leadership-poor,” Nelson said, “creating challenges for many of our mid councils.”

For many years the PC(USA) has placed a premium on management skills, Nelson noted, “but we need individuals who can do significant problem-solving and visioning. We need those who think outside the box, who have the deep desire to do transformative work, often in face of resistance.”

To transform the denomination, Nelson said, “We need to educate and train people for practical ministry. We are doing a terrible job of teaching … in areas such as Presbyterian/Reformed history and our tradition of public engagement. We have not done the groundwork needed for transformation of the church in today’s world.”

Nelson lamented the loss of a number of denominational programs designed to support first-call pastors and other innovative leaders. “We need to mentor and coach transformative leaders, because many are struggling. … How do we educate and train for transformative ministry and how do we engage mid councils more actively in this transformative work?”

As an example, Nelson cited the church’s involvement in immigration issues. “Many of the immigrants we are seeking to serve now are ‘us,’ not ‘them,’” he said. “They are Presbyterians whom we have evangelized and are now among us.”

Talking about an Indonesian Presbyterian congregation in Manchester, New Hampshire, whose members are faced with summary deportation, Nelson said, “We are struggling with life and death. How do we address something that is far deeper than just pastoral concern? Congregations are being destroyed and people we have evangelized are facing death by deportation. Our challenge is to think about what big-picture issues are at stake here.”

Nelson reiterated what he has said throughout his first sixteen months as Stated Clerk, which has included 102 trips to congregations, presbyteries, synods, denominational gatherings and mission fields: “I’m excited about where this church is going and has to go … but we’ve got to hurry up. We are poised to turn around, but it’s just that: turning around,” he said.

“We are in a different era and have different work to do.”

The COGA meeting runs Feb. 6–8 and includes visits with Committee on Local Arrangements leaders for the 223rd General Assembly (2018) here and with community leaders engaged with the PC(USA)’s “Hands and Feet” initiative to engage Presbyterians in service-learning activities in St. Louis-area communities of need before, during and after the General Assembly.

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