After receiving overwhelming support in the advisory votes of youth (66%), theological students (75%), mission co-workers (57%) and ecumenical delegates (50%), he earned 57% of the actual commissioners’ votes. His 405 votes compared to 176 for Winfield “Casey” Jones of Pearland, Texas, 110 for Edward Koster of Detroit, and 21 for William Tarbell of Saluda, S.C. All four candidates are ministers of Word and Sacrament.
Parsons has been serving as associate stated clerk and director of operations for the Office of the General Assembly, that is, the senior associate staff person working alongside outgoing Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick.
The new stated clerk opened his speech by introducing the moment: “Today is our time for discernment, and I look forward to our time together.” He outlined the skills he offers to the church by telling about people in his past who were a gift to him and, ultimately, to the church.
Among them, Leroy, who commanded a thorough knowledge of the Book of Order; Betty, a med tech, who worked in hospital scrubs and then went home, “put on her Presbyterian uniform,” and went out to do mission. “Betty taught me missional theology,” Parsons said. “We just didn’t know what it was called then.”
Also, Tracy, whom he met at last September’s National Elders Conference, is determined to be a “dangerous elder,” as Parsons had urged at the conference.
In response to questions raised by the commissioners, Parsons highlighted the 700 Reformed denominations around the world, from which “we have much to learn.” He referenced the church “down under” in Australia that makes heavy use of discernment in its deliberations.
When asked about the authority of the Bible, he stated, “Scripture is God’s great word to us. It is the Word unparalleled.” … It is “our starting place, my starting place when I’m trying to discern God’s word to me.” Then he added, “It is a book that is not easy to read because it is always reading us.”
In response to a question regarding international missions, Casey Jones referenced his efforts to greet people in other languages. Parsons followed with, “I’ve tried to speak other languages, but it all sounds like Tennessee when I get done with it.”
Regarding the steady loss of church members, he said, “The number one reason I hear people say they don’t go to our churches is not our issues or our social justice positions. It’s ‘Nobody talked to me.’” He added that Presbyterians need to transform their introverted ways to become more welcoming toward those visiting their churches.
Addressing the fear that tends to arise around the denomination, he said that folks all around worry — whether they are in a large church with a big endowment or a very small church — that their church is going to go out of business in two weeks. His mantra, he said, is “Get in the boat. Go across the lake. There will be a storm. You will not die.”
Immediately after the election, the assembly installed Parsons as stated clerk – as he was joined on the platform by his wife, Kathy, an elementary-school teacher; son, Josh, a lawyer; and daughter Rachel, a graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary, and by other family and friends. Kathy led the assembly in prayer.
His first word after the installation: “Hi, Mom!” a shout-out to his mother in Tennessee, who was watching the live streaming of the proceedings.
Parsons told the assembly, “I’m deeply honored beyond words to be your stated clerk. I’m not perfect … but I do pledge to give you my very best.”
And he said to Presbyterians: “We’re all in this together, because God has put us together. Let’s make Jesus proud of this church.”