Piecing a denomination together after years of losing churches, infighting, and struggle is a challenge, according to the Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Nelson preached at the closing worship of the Mid Council Leaders Gathering in Baltimore on Sunday.
He told the group God is “tearing us down” in order for the church to see a new reality.
“None of us have gone through this. This is a time of creativity, imagination, and the ability to see what is not evident and move in the direction God leads,” said Nelson. “We must take a risk for the Lord, a risk of failing, but not stopping. We must learn from the mistakes and know there is a God that has never failed, never left us alone, and will not leave us alone now.”
Nelson’s sermon was based on Second Corinthians and the struggles within the early church. He said the church in that day was beginning to see a new light and learning what it meant to be a new church.
The PC(USA) has come to Baltimore twice in the last two months and, like the early church, Nelson says Presbyterians are hearing the Lord speak loudly.
“I’m glad God brought us to Baltimore and glad that God brought us to the urban ghetto. Fifteen miles down the road is Baltimore City, one of the wealthiest places in this country. It reminds us of the inequalities of life and the real work that needs to be done,” said Nelson. “It reminds us what Jesus Christ did and reminds us we have work to do, not just here, but in our own villages, churches, and congregations, to rethink ministry in the 21st century.”
Nelson said this is a time of transition, of being uncomfortable, of getting up and failing again and struggling to determine what the church’s direction will be.
“This is a new day, requiring new possibilities and a new spirit and that only comes when we hold fast to Jesus Christ our Lord who calls us in this hour to be relevant,” said Nelson. “As a warning, if we decide not to, the Lord will simply go to another denomination and use it for the purpose God is calling us to right now.”
Nelson says he believes God has called the church to engage the issues right where it is now, knowing the church won’t be alone.
“We are building new work in new ministry, trying to figure it out as we go along. It will take head, heart, and mind and getting over ourselves to serve Jesus Christ,” he said. “It will mean putting our pride in our back pocket and standing before an awesome God who uses us just as we are. It will mean putting the past behind us and opening our hearts to the new realities we are facing. We should be praying that our soul will change.”
Nelson said this is the church’s time and that the Lord is beckoning Presbyterians forward but added some things must be left behind on the journey.
The Stated Clerk also made brief mention of U.S. Congressman Elijah Cummings of Baltimore, who died last week after a brief illness.
“Here we come a second time, a time when the great emancipator, congressman, a person who fought for righteousness, justice, truth, a person who questioned the hierarchy of our nation, is remembered,” said Nelson. “A man, who when insulted, with a great sense of humanity and spirit of love, corrected those who would insult him.”
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