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The PC(USA)’s Stated Clerk says he’s glad to be ‘in the midst of a powerful gathering of women’

Ahead of the 67th Commission on the Status of Women, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II preaches at Church of the Covenant near UN headquarters   

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), preached Sunday at the Church of the Covenant in New York ahead of the opening of the 67th Commission on the Status of Women. (Photo by Rich Copley/Presbyterian Mission Agency)

LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), offered thanks to God and to those present during worship Sunday at Church of the Covenant in New York City “to be in the midst of a powerful gathering of women.” At the invitation of the church’s interim pastor, the Rev. Dr. Cornell Edmonds, Nelson preached Sunday as part of the 67th Commission on the Status of Women, an in-person and online gathering of about 8,000 people that runs from March 6-17.

About 75 people joined Nelson and Edmonds for in-person worship inside the historic church, while another 50 or so participated online for the two-hour worship service, which included communion served by Nelson alongside the Rev. Althelia H. Pond of Mt. Morris Ascension Presbyterian Church, as well as presentations and inspired music. Watch Nelson’s sermon here.

“It was men who were leading the churches” during the time of the first chapter of the Book of Acts, from which Nelson read before preaching during Sunday worship at the church, which is just around the corner from the United Nations Building. “I’m so glad that’s not the way it is now. … Jesus Christ continues to call men and women, boys and girls, to do the work in this place and time. There’s power and liberation in that.”

Women have “for a long period of history been the backbone for churches to be the witness to Jesus Christ,” noted the son and grandson of Presbyterian preachers, who said his mother and grandmother “would rise out of their graves” had he not accepted Edmonds’ invitation to preach Sunday.

Nelson preached Sunday at the invitation of the Rev. Dr. Cornell Edmonds, the interim pastor at the Church of the Covenant. (Photo by Rich Copley/Presbyterian Mission Agency)

Nelson briefly examined the transformation of the apostles who’d shortly before “struggled in the Upper Room,” men and women alike. “I can imagine what that looked like,” Nelson said. Those who’d gathered following Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion “were arguing with each other. They were afraid. They saw what happened at crucifixion time and said, ‘This could happen to us.’”

“In the midst of all that came the Holy Spirit, an unseen presence who walked with them” and would never leave them alone, Nelson said. God wakes us up each morning “not because we are great, not because we are good, but because God’s love is everlasting. God says, ‘Man, woman, boy, girl — we need you.’”

Who’s worthy? “Those who are created in the image of God,” said Nelson, offering this definition for what it means to be faithful: “to invite everyone to the space, to speak truth in love to power, and to continue to do what God calls us to do — to be faithful and love everyone. We live not because of ourselves, but because of God who never lets us walk alone.”

“I’m convinced the church of Jesus Christ today is in the Upper Room,” Nelson said, and many of Jesus’ modern-day followers are every bit as frightened as those who did ministry alongside the Lord. Many are caught up in concerns including diminishing church membership and worship attendance. “We’re locked up somewhere and we can’t figure it out,” Nelson said. “Should we go to church, or go to Bedside Presbyterian Church on Sunday mornings?”

“The church finds itself in a place where we have to look much different than we do now,” Nelson said. Instead, too often we struggle with “who’s in and who’s out. Every part of the human family ought to have a part in faith in Jesus Christ. No one is excluded.”

Young people especially, said the PC(USA)’s top ecclesial officer.

“Young people, I am convinced, are in many ways a lot smarter than I ever was at their age,” Nelson said. The people who planned the online portion of the 225th General Assembly held last summer made “a startling discovery about the life of the church: We recognized that the people who really know how to do this were a whole lot of college students. They know technology. If we had stopped listening to them, we would never have gotten through the General Assembly, and we would not know what we’re going to do during the next General Assembly.” Whenever Nelson would have a technology question during the Assembly, he’d hand the device over to a young person. “I’ve got it,” they’d assure Nelson. “I had no idea what they handed back to me, but I sure am thankful,” Nelson said. “People should be put somewhere where they can make a difference.”

“We say, ‘If you don’t come with us, we can’t make it without you,’” Nelson said. “Everyone has a story, a story [that speaks] to the possibilities and the struggles we find ourselves in. I think that’s what Jesus was talking about, and it’s what the Bible has always been talking about.”

“What we serve and who we serve is the greatest experience we will ever have,” Nelson said, praising the CSW one last time because “we will be known for how we treat others. It takes time, energy and advocacy, and sometimes it calls us to lay down our life, if just for a moment.”

About 75 people were on hand to worship at the Church of the Covenant, with another 50 or so people joining online. (Photo by Rich Copley/Presbyterian Mission Agency)

“Don’t ever give up on the Lord. This is our day,” Nelson said, with the congregation approving his point one last time with calls of “Amen!”

“Thanks be to God,” Nelson said, later offering a charge and a benediction that included these words: “Make a difference for the kin-dom of God in the way we are called in this specific time in life to shake up the world and for being daring enough to engage the powers and the principalities. Go, my friends, in peace. Don’t ever look back, for the Lord is driving us there to be the orchestration of love. Amen.”

Presbyterian News Service will be covering many #CSW67 events. Read news accounts in the coming days here and here.

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