The committee, in a news release issued April 3, announced that it had selected Parsons from among 14 candidates as the nominee it would recommend to the assembly – with committee moderator Steve Grace saying in the news release that Parsons “brings a wonderful blend of experiences and creative leadership” to the position.
The General Assembly, meeting in San Jose in June, will make the actual decision – and it’s likely that other candidates will step forward to challenge Parsons for the position.
Parsons has been an associate stated clerk of the General Assembly for eight years. He has helped in the transition from annual to every-other-year General Assemblies and was the staff liaison to the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the PC(USA).
He also helped develop a new review process for the six agencies of the PC(USA), and provided staff support for all the review committees, except for that involving the Office of the General Assembly.
An avid University of Tennessee fan, Parsons moved to Kentucky from Tennessee, where he was pastor of two churches for 15 years and served as executive presbyter and stated clerk of Holston Presbytery in eastern Tennessee for six years.
In his work with the Office of the General Assembly, Parsons has worked closely with Clifton Kirkpatrick, the current stated clerk, meaning he possesses an insider’s knowledge of how the office functions. The nomination committee also cited Parsons’ commitment to reinvigorating the leadership of elders and his familiarity with the use of discernment in decision-making.
In 2003, Parsons attended the General Assembly of the Uniting Church of Australia, which leans heavily on consensus in its deliberations, and later wrote about what he had observed, saying that with that approach the delegates most needed the skill of listening.
The nomination committee, led by Grace, an elder from Michigan, has been meeting since last fall to consider candidates and to prepare its recommendation to the assembly.
Applications were accepted from Sept. 23 to Dec. 23, 2007, and the committee interviewed all 14 applicants by telephone in February. Five candidates then were invited to meet with the committee for in-person interviews in late March.
In 2006, the General Assembly in Birmingham selected the members of the nomination committee. They are: Grace, the moderator; elders Tom Adger, Pamila Deichmann and Joan Fong; and ministers, Anna Case-Winters, Helen Baily Cochrane, Lyle Hillegas, John Purcell, and Donnie Woods.
Grace said in the news release that “our committee has been through a marvelous discernment process. We truly felt God’s presence with us on our journey. All the applicants had many gifts for ministry, but it is very clear to all of us that Gradye Parsons is the person we believe is being called by God to serve as Stated Clerk of the General Assembly. We enthusiastically endorse his nomination.”
The General Assembly will receive the nomination committee’s recommendation, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be other candidates to consider. Only candidates who went through the committee’s process and weren’t selected as the nominee can stand for the office; they have until May 7 to notify the committee if they intend to do so.
The election process is under restrictions on how the candidates can conduct themselves. But the election can also raise strong feelings – in part because the stated clerk’s office sometimes bumps into touchy issues, including such things as declining membership in the denomination, the use of per capita funding, the release of congregations from the PC(USA) to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and the ongoing disagreement about whether the PC(USA) should ordain gays and lesbians.
Kirpatrick, the current stated clerk, announced last September that he would not seek a fourth four-year term. He was first elected to the office in 1996, and he described his tenure in that position as an “incredible blessing” and “the best job I have ever had.”
The stated clerk is the chief executive officer of the Office of the General Assembly. The job includes interpreting the Book of Order, the church’s Constitution; serving as the PC(USA)’s chief ecumenical officer; and organizing meetings of the General Assembly.