After seven years as the chief ecclesial officer of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, has announced plans to step down from his role as Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA) effective June 30, 2023. The decision, he says, came after long conversations with his family and extended time in prayer. The announcement comes just days after he told the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly that he would not seek a third term as Stated Clerk.
“I have sought God’s will my entire life, following in the footsteps of my father and grandfather to preach the gospel in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) I believe that God calls us into new seasons in our life of discipleship. Following many conversations with my wife and daughter, I believe I have entered into this new season,” Nelson said. “This was not an easy decision, but I feel it is the right one to make for my family and the church in this time of change.”
Nelson said that serving as Stated Clerk has been one of the greatest experiences of his life and drew strength from his visits across the country and the world with churches, pastors, presbytery and mid council leaders, and ecumenical partners.
“We have brought attention to some of our greatest social justice challenges such as poverty, discrimination, and gun violence. We drew attention to the unfair cash bail system that has left many individuals, mostly people of color, charged and jailed with no means to post bail and support their families. We faced the greatest health crisis of a generation and yet found new ways to conduct the business of the church,” he said. “We were innovative in our ability to restructure General Assembly in such a way that the work could continue at minimum risk to commissioners and advisory delegates.”
Nelson adds that through technology, the PC(USA) made it possible for other denominations and businesses to conduct virtual gatherings.
“From my first day on this job, I have said that the PC(USA) is not dying but is reforming. In the next few years, the national church will undergo major reform to better meet the needs of our presbyteries and churches. I pledge my continued support for this initiative and pray for the Unification Commission, as well as the leaders and staff of each agency and entity,” he said. “I urge each and every one of you to join hands during this time and look for solutions that go beyond our work and to envision a church outside the walls of any office building, institution, or sanctuary.”
COGA Moderator, the Rev. Eliana Maxim, said Nelson answered the call to serve as Stated Clerk in a prophetic expression that allowed the church to “step outside of her historicity and into a new creation as a reformed body yet again.”
“He engaged the church at all levels to enter into courageous conversations no matter the discomfort, calling the PC(USA) into incarnational ministries that converted the word ‘church’ into a verb," she said. "There will be many facets to J. Herbert Nelson’s legacy in the PC(USA), but perhaps the most deeply personal one for me will be his unfailing commitment to the fullness of our identity as God’s beloved, across race, ethnicity, language, and gender. His advocacy for justice and inclusion of all voices in the church may have been rooted in this country’s civil rights movement, but it speaks the Gospel reality to us all, no matter from where we come."
COGA Vice Moderator, the Rev. Dave Davis, says Nelson faithfully followed God’s call from parish ministry to new church development to Capitol Hill and to the office of Stated Clerk with an unwavering commitment to speak for the most vulnerable and the long silenced in every corner of the church he loves.
“J. Herbert Nelson has served the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) faithfully and with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love. He has followed God’s call from rural South Carolina to a breadth of ministry in the church that has touched and inspired generations of disciples in their love for Jesus and their call to work for justice,” Davis said. “I give thanks to God for J. Herbert’s service, his legacy, and his friendship as he follows God’s call into this next season of life and ministry.”
Per the Standing Rules of the General Assembly, the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly will be designating an Acting Stated Clerk by June 30 (see SR H.2.c.). The Acting Stated Clerk will be in place until the General Assembly elects a new Stated Clerk at the 226th General Assembly in July of 2024.