When J. Herbert Nelson asked his family if he should accept the nomination as Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA), his daughter made a clarifying comment.
“Daddy, you ought to do it, because you’re a fixer,” she said.
Nelson has been a redevelopment pastor, a church planter in an impoverished setting, and an advocate for social issues dear to the denomination. He is a fixer. And now, as he takes on the role of Stated Clerk for a denomination that has been on the decline for decades, he will find himself facing the ultimate test as a fixer.
During his speech and answers to questions from the General Assembly floor before the election, Nelson gave his assessment of the situation he enters into.
“We are not dying; we are reforming,” he said on several occasions, setting forth his theme for how he views the future of the PCUSA.
“It’s not just a crisis of losing members,” he said of the denomination’s challenges. Noting the changing face of America and the homogeneity of the PCUSA, he added, “We can’t be a 93 percent white denomination in the coming years.” While making denominational history by electing African Americans as both Stated Clerk and Co-Moderator, there was significant disappointment at the lack of any Asian representation among candidates for both offices as noted by several Korean commissioners.
Acknowledging the theological divide within the denomination, Nelson emphasized the need to set aside the tendency to label and thereby dismiss others, including evangelicals.
“Do we have the will to get beyond where we are?” he asked of the impasse. “We are going to do everything possible to mend broken relationships.”
Later, he added, “Pray for me. Work with me, not on me. And we’ll get some things done.”