A Philadelphia pastor, the Rev. James A. Belle, is the fifth candidate for moderator of the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Belle, pastor since November 2005 of Holy Trinity-Bethlehem Presbyterian Church, notified the Office of the General Assembly last week of his intent to seek the post. A vote to endorse his candidacy is scheduled when the Presbytery of Philadelphia meets May 25.
“I see biblical and confessional ‘illiteracy’ as the major obstacles facing our church today,” Belle wrote in a statement on key theological issues. “I hold ministers of the Word and Sacrament directly responsible within the last 20 years for the lack of confessional and polity training to and for our laity. Without an understanding of the Scriptures and their historic linkage to the confessions, the Book of Confessions is difficult to understand.”
Ordained in 1996 by Coastal Carolina Presbytery, Belle has held pastorates in North Carolina, Nebraska and Pennsylvania. He is a fourth-generation Presbyterian. His father, the late Rev. Milton Moses Belle Sr., was a Presbyterian pastor and civil rights activist in North Carolina.
Outgoing moderator the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow selected Belle as vice moderator of the Middle Governing Body Issues committee for the 2010 General Assembly. He was also a minister commissioner to the 2002 GA and a theological student advisory delegate to the 1995 GA.
The ministry is Belle’s second career. After graduating with a degree in music from the University of North Carolina, he served for 10 years in the U.S. Army band as a pianist, vocalist, auxiliary percussionist, arranger and resident composer. He has performed for three U.S. presidents and appeared in numerous productions, singing the leading roles in Porgy and Bess and Jesus Christ Superstar, among others. While earning master of divinity and master of church music degrees from Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary, he also served as chapel musician and accompanist at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. His interest and participation in music continues through his second career.
Belle is divorced and the father of one teenage daughter.
The other moderator candidates are elder Cynthia Bolbach (National Capital Presbytery), the Rev. Jin S. Kim (Twin Cities Area Presbytery), the Rev. Maggie Lauterer (Western North Carolina Presbytery) and the Rev. Eric G. Nielsen (Northern Waters Presbytery).
The new moderator, to be elected July 3, the first day of the weeklong biennial meeting in Minneapolis, will succeed Reyes-Chow, moderator of the 218th GA (2008).