At a community reception in his honor Monday evening (November 27), Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson, II, pledged that “we’re moving out of [the Presbyterian Center] because there’s a need to get out into the community to make partners so people’s lives are better.”
The reception in the Presbyterian Center atrium came some sixteen months after Nelson, former director of the church’s Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C., was the first African American to be elected to the PC(USA)’s top post. “Thanks for your sustaining prayers,” Nelson told about 150 local church, business, and political leaders. “I guess this means you actually think I may be able to do this job,” he said to sustained laughter.
In his call to community partnerships to improve the lives of Louisvillians, Nelson said, “We believe in a God who is greater than all of us, whose grace sustains us … let us be about the work of making miracle stories because we know what God can do. Our journey is driven by faith.”
Barbara Sexton-Smith, the Louisville Metro councilwoman in whose district the Presbyterian Center sits, congratulated Nelson on “the history that was set by your election” and welcomed his call to community partnership. “We create a connected community wherever we go,” she said, “and we love doing that together.
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Gerald Neal, a revered Kentucky state senator whose district also includes the Presbyterian Center, told Nelson: “You come at a very timely moment in our community,” noting the political winds and financial pressures that currently make expanding urban community services problematic. “Thanks for offering your leadership,” Neal told Nelson.
Also present at the reception were representatives from Humana and UPS, two of the largest employers in the city.
Smiling broadly, Nelson said, “When I call, don’t pretend you don’t know me, because we are partners and there is much to do.”
Nelson’s pledge to the Louisville community leaders echoed commitments he has made to leaders in the host cities of the next three General Assemblies—St. Louis (2018), Baltimore (2020), and Columbus, Ohio (2022)—to engage Presbyterians in intensive service-learning opportunities in communities of need through the Hands and Feet Initiative.
“I am thankful to represent this denomination,” Nelson said, “which is blessed by God with grace and glory.”