Through an extensive nomination process, today the Stated Clerk Nominating Committee officially placed into nomination for Stated Clerk of the General Assembly the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, current director of the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C. The current Stated Clerk, the venerable Rev. Gradye Parsons, sat in his position from which he will stand for the last time this week.
Another candidate, who applied for the position but was not selected by the Nominating Committee, has stood for the position. The Rev. David Baker, who currently serves as Director of Communications and Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of Tampa Bay, has put forth a platform focusing primarily on trying to help the denomination better utilize technology. In fact, the focus of his nomination, presented by *REC Dan Johnson from Tampa Bay, was almost entirely founded on the use of electronic resources to “fix the church.”
In Rev. Baker’s nomination there seemed to be little theological or ecclesiastical emphasis, which is surprising for one of the most prominent positions in the Church. I’m not sure Rev. Baker understands that the State Clerk is more than an administrator and parliamentarian. The Stated Clerk executes the discernments of the General Assembly and represents the PC(USA) as the primary ecumenical, interfaith, and political representative of the denomination. This requires a strong understanding of the positions of the denomination and interpersonal skills to building relationships within the denomination as well as across global ecumenical, interfaith, and political landscapes. I am not convinced, based on what I have read and heard today, that he has what the Church needs.
Rev. Dr. Nelson is a proven bridge-builder and fierce advocate for the work of the Church. His nomination was all about his work for the church. He has served two churches and has been active in issues of social justice that reflect the theological positions of the PC(USA). Over the past few years he has helped shift the work of the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C. toward resourcing and equipping congregations to more effectively advocate for positions supported by the PC(USA) around socio-economic equality, racial justice, and immigration. For decades he has already been a powerful voice for the PC(USA), bridging many of the liberal-conservative divides that have seemingly paralyzed our denomination.
There is a “meet and greet” on Wednesday morning between the candidates and commissioners. It will be interesting to see if Rev. Baker will be able to overcome the vast experience and visibility of Dr. Nelson (who goes by J. Herbert). This decision, along with so many before this and every assembly, will have a lasting impact on the future of our denomination.
The assembly’s vote will be taken as the first item for business Friday morning. For more information about each candidate, you can download the Stated Clerk’s Handbook.
*REC means Ruling Elder Commissioner, as opposed to TEC referring to Teaching Elder Commissioner.